‘We’re tired of be­ing a dump­ing ground’

RV street park­ing is up­set­ting res­i­dents of south­east­ern S.F.

San Francisco Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Rachel Swan

More than a dozen camper vans flanked the Univer­sity Mound Reser­voir in San Fran­cisco’s Por­tola neigh­bor­hood Tues­day, spread­ing along Univer­sity Street, past the an­te­bel­lum se­nior cen­ter and along­side a row of aban­doned green­houses around the block.

To res­i­dents who flocked to a neigh­bor­hood meet­ing that night, the ve­hi­cles are a source of frus­tra­tion and a vex­ing sym­bol of the city’s in­abil­ity to solve its home­less cri­sis. To the peo­ple who live in those vans, they are a last line of de­fense against the streets.

“We re­al­ize th­ese are peo­ple who are down on their luck, and we want the city to pro­vide a safe place where they can have food, wa­ter, show­ers, bath­rooms — stuff like that,” said

Matt Lara, who lives near the RV en­camp­ment.

But Lara and oth­ers say their neigh­bor­hood isn’t a good site for a trailer park. They re­cently be­gan cir­cu­lat­ing a pe­ti­tion to tighten park­ing re­stric­tions, in hope of chas­ing the vans out. It has more than 700 sig­na­tures.

Po­lice and tran­sit of­fi­cials have a cou­ple of le­gal tools to wield against the es­ti­mated 1,200 in­hab­ited RVs that checker San Fran­cisco’s streets — a 1971 or­di­nance against ve­hi­cle habi­ta­tion and an­other that pro­hibits park­ing for more than 72 hours. Four years ago, the Mu­nic­i­pal Trans­porta­tion Agency banned th­ese be­he­moths from park­ing overnight on 61 streets and road­ways, and they’re ef­fec­tively banned from other streets that have park­ing me­ters or time lim­its.

As the eco­nomic boom fills the city’s in­dus­trial streets with de­vel­op­ment and new park­ing re­stric­tions, vans and trail­ers are mov­ing to­ward the fringes. They col­lect in the Bayview, where homes are scat­tered and res­i­dents don’t have the po­lit­i­cal clout to get re­sults from City Hall, or in the Por­tola, a neigh­bor­hood nes­tled between I-280, High­way 101 and McLaren Park, where blocks have long, un­in­ter­rupted curbs and park­ing rules are more le­nient.

RVs sym­bol­ize a per­plex­ing re­gional home­less cri­sis, but in San Fran­cisco, the prob­lem has largely fallen on the MTA’s doorstep, be­cause the agency man­ages park­ing.

“The only way we can force a so­lu­tion is to move th­ese 1,200 ve­hi­cles around, un­til we even­tu­ally run out of streets,” said SFMTA board Chair­woman Cheryl Brinkman. But that doesn’t mean the larger is­sue goes away, she cau­tioned.

The Por­tola res­i­dents who packed a small room at Palega Re­cre­ation Cen­ter on Tues­day ac­cused city of­fi­cials of shunt­ing the prob­lem to their neigh­bor­hood. They say van dwellers gob­ble scarce park­ing, il­le­gally plug into the elec­tri­cal grid and dump gaso­line or brown sewage wa­ter on the street.

Their com­ments seemed to rat­tle Su­per­vi­sor Hil­lary Ro­nen, MTA se­nior an­a­lyst Andy Thorn­ley and other of­fi­cials who at­tended.

“When you have gray or brown wa­ter com­ing from ve­hi­cles, that’s a pub­lic health is­sue,” said Ro­nen, whose dis­trict in­cludes the Por­tola. Fed up with the city’s lack of pol­icy on RV dwellings, she said she will call for a hear­ing next week.

Ro­nen and oth­ers are in­censed that the prob­lem has mi­grated to the south­east ar­eas, where house­holds al­ready strug­gle with poverty and the sen­ti­ment that no one at City Hall is lis­ten­ing. Sev­eral peo­ple who spoke at the meet­ing said the city would re­spond quicker if vans were clog­ging streets in wealthy en­claves like Sea Cliff and Pa­cific Heights.

“We’re tired of be­ing a dump­ing ground,” Ro­nen said.

Although San Fran­cisco has been grap­pling with ve­hi­cle en­camp­ments for years, the prob­lem be­gan sim­mer­ing in re­cent months as more peo­ple adopted this form of tran­si­tory hous­ing. Their rea­sons vary, said Jeff Kosit­sky, direc­tor of the city’s Depart­ment of Home­less­ness and Sup­port­ive Hous­ing.

Some RV dwellers com­mute from the Cen­tral Val­ley to jobs in San Fran­cisco, us­ing their vans as de facto ho­tel rooms dur­ing the week, Kosit­sky said. Oth­ers are one step from home­less­ness — the ve­hi­cles they in­habit ef­fec­tively serve as metal tents. And a small num­ber of peo­ple use trail­ers and vans for crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity, such as bike chop shops, meth kitchens or sex traf­fick­ing.

“Well, no­body re­ally wants to live like this, but what are we sup­posed to do?” asked a man climb­ing out of a Chevy van parked Tues­day af­ter­noon in the Por­tola neigh­bor­hood. He de­clined to give his name. An­other man in a mo­bile home on Univer­sity Street yelled at re­porters to get lost. A child’s bi­cy­cle was af­fixed to the roof of his van.

Kosit­sky’s en­camp­ment res­o­lu­tion team re­cently shifted its fo­cus from tent cities to ve­hi­cle dwellers, who are dis­persed through­out the city but are most preva­lent in south­east neigh­bor­hoods and deep in­dus­trial pock­ets. As Por­tola res­i­dents fume about ve­hi­cles parked along the reser­voir, a sim­i­lar bat­tle is flar­ing on De Wolf Street in the Outer Mis­sion, where about seven vans are wedged on a block-long road­way between a stretch of BART tracks run­ning along­side I-280 and a row of sin­gle­fam­ily homes on Ale­many Boule­vard.

Su­per­vi­sor Ahsha Safai, who rep­re­sents that area, is press­ing for a night­time ban on over­sized ve­hi­cles — any­thing taller than 7 feet, or longer than 22 feet. But when the is­sue came be­fore the SFMTA board last month, its mem­bers split. Three di­rec­tors — Mal­colm Heinicke, Art Tor­res and Lee Hsu — sided with Safai and the be­set neigh­bors, while the other three — Brinkman, Cristina Rubke and Gwyneth Borden — feared a ban would only push the ve­hi­cles some­where else with­out solv­ing the un­der­ly­ing so­cial prob­lem.

A woman who spoke at the meet­ing said she lives in a trailer with her hand­i­capped son.

“Please don’t re­move us,” said Gla­dys Odilia, 67.

In the Por­tola some res­i­dents are call­ing for per­mit park­ing on their streets, a so­lu­tion that made Thorn­ley, the MTA sys­tems an­a­lyst, re­coil. He said it would be con­tentious and costly to im­ple­ment, even if it re­sults in RVs get­ting towed.

“What we have is a park­ing and curb man­age­ment puz­zle, and limited box of tools to solve it,” he told The Chron­i­cle.

The rules are hard to en­force, Thorn­ley said. Most ve­hi­cle oc­cu­pants are savvy enough to re­lo­cate be­fore the three-day park­ing limit is up, and if po­lice want to im­pose the 1971 law, they have to prove that some­one ac­tu­ally lives in the ve­hi­cle. Most oc­cu­pants know not to an­swer the door when po­lice knock, Thorn­ley said.

As tran­sit of­fi­cials throw up their hands, Por­tola res­i­dents are grow­ing im­pa­tient.

“I have young chil­dren, and I just don’t feel safe walk­ing around with them when peo­ple are con­stantly com­ing in and out of th­ese vans,” said Chrisoula Novo, who lives near the Por­tola Gar­dens se­nior home — a prime spot for RV park­ing. She noted that one of the van oc­cu­pants al­lows a pit bull to roam the side­walk with­out a leash.

De­spite her con­cerns, Novo, like many of her neigh­bors, stressed com­pas­sion.

“We do feel bad,” she said.

“When you have gray or brown wa­ter com­ing from ve­hi­cles, that’s a pub­lic health is­sue.” Hil­lary Ro­nen, Dis­trict Nine su­per­vi­sor

Pho­tos by Jes­sica Chris­tian / The Chron­i­cle

Por­tola res­i­dent Ron Par­shall talks at a com­mu­nity meet­ing about RVs be­ing parked in the neigh­bor­hood.

RVs and campers are parked along Univer­sity Street near the Univer­sity Mound reser­voir in the Por­tola dis­trict.

Pho­tos by Jes­sica Chris­tian / The Chron­i­cle

Richard Cairo, with sign, or­ga­nized a pe­ti­tion with more than 700 sig­na­tures to tighten park­ing in the Por­tola neigh­bor­hood.

A sec­re­tary takes notes as Por­tola res­i­dents share their con­cerns dur­ing a meet­ing at the Palega Re­cre­ation Cen­ter to dis­cuss RV and com­mer­cial ve­hi­cle park­ing in the neigh­bor­hood.

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