Sep 19, 2019
by Debra Newby, Newby Law
I own a home in Guerneville, and the road to my home is quite “skinny”. My neighbor parks his car “off-road” next to my property, which makes taking out my trash rather challenging. I asked him to move his car, but he said that since he filed for “non-operation” with DMV, he doesn’t want to move it. I called the CHP and was told that because it is “off-road”, it is not their jurisdiction. Help! What can I do?
Signed: Frustrated Frank
Folks hold on to things for sentimental reasons, so we do need to tread carefully, recognizing that indeed one person’s junk is another person’s treasure. I think we would all agree that a person can store and keep whatever they deem special to them on their own property, but there also has to be a balance when public safety is at risk.
My first thought is that if you can’t even maneuver to get your trash taken out, perhaps a fire truck will have some of the same difficulties getting up and down your road in case of fire. Plus, by their very nature, non-operational cars (and even operational ones) pose a fire risk. In addition, they attract rodents. As a sidebar, one of my friend’s neighbors told me she trapped 50 rats that were hovering around her driveway and her operational vehicle in the backroads. Rodents love, love, love motor vehicle wiring and hood insulation.
• Sonoma County operates a voluntary and free junk vehicle removal program that is available to residents in the unincorporated areas of SoCo. This state-funded program will tow, for free, cars, pickups, and vans (no RV’s or large trailers). Call 707-565-1992 or go online to www.sonomacounty.ca.gov/Services/SoCo-Report-It. Obviously, the owner’s consent is needed.
• Sonoma County Ordinances do address abandoned, wrecked, dismantled or inoperative vehicles (see, for example, Article IV, Sec. 18-4 et. seq.) Generally, a vehicle is considered abandoned if it is parked, stored or left on public or private property in excess of seventy-two (72) or more consecutive hours. This Ordinance also gives the county zoning enforcement officer the authority to enter upon private or public property to declare the vehicle a nuisance and remove it (just keep in mind that there is a process that takes time and can take days to months).
• Yes, the DMV does allow a vehicle owner to apply for and receive a “non-operational” permit, but typically that vehicle needs to be stored under a permanent structure. I think we would all agree that your “skinny road” does not qualify as a permanent structure.
To close the loop on my research, I also reached out to our County offices and spoke to Jackie Crawford, Code Enforcement Inspector assigned to the Abandoned Vehicle Abatement program for unincorporated areas of Sonoma County. Ms. Crawford informed me that the county has 10 inspectors and one manager that oversees and enforces code violations for the County of Sonoma. This Program was the one that recently cleaned up all the flooded vehicles in the Monte Rio/Guerneville area (thank you, Jackie and Team)! Ms. Crawford confirmed that sometimes there are some “gray areas” as to whether the property is under the County’s jurisdiction or the CHP’s jurisdiction, but she and her staff work closely with the CHP to best serve the public interest. You should give her a call directly at 707-565-3717 and give her the address of your skinny road and where your neighbor’s inoperable car is parked. She can help you clarify whose jurisdiction it is, and work with CHP if it is their jurisdiction.
Lastly, as a practical matter, I would approach the neighbor one last time and let him/her know that the status quo is not working—that he or she needs to find another place to store their car if they plan to keep it, as it is presenting a safety and environmental hazard to your neighborhood. Great question, Frank….good luck to you!
DEAR READERS: Do you have a legal question on your mind? If so, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your name will remain confidential. This Q & A Legal Column is intended as a community service to discuss general legal principles and does not create an attorney-client relationship.
Debra A. Newby resides near the Russian River and has practiced law for 38 years. She is a member of the California, Texas, and Sonoma County Bar Associations and currently maintains an active law office in Santa Rosa which emphasizes personal injury law (bicycle/motorcycle/motor vehicle accidents, dog bites, trip and falls, etc.). Debra can be reached via email (email@example.com ), phone (707-526-7200), or fax (526-7202).
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