San Francisco Chronicle

Richmond homeless RV plan modified

- By Sarah Ravani Sarah Ravani is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: sravani@ sfchronicl­e.com Twitter: @SarRavani

Richmond reversed plans on opening a “safe” parking program for the homeless at Hilltop Mall after opposition from neighbors, instead opting to move forward with a smaller site that will fit 25 vehicles instead of 100.

The City Council voted late Tuesday night to open the site at the Civic Center parking lot at 25th Street and Barrett Avenue.

Three council members voted against the plan, including Mayor Tom Butt, who said the site is too small to accommodat­e the growing RV population on city streets.

“The Hilltop NIMBYs were triumphant last night,” Butt wrote in his newsletter on Wednesday.

“The City Council was suitably intimidate­d by this show of force and caved in,” he added.

The plan was a response to two growing RV encampment­s on city streets. Staff found 84 vehicles at the two sites in 2019, but said the number had grown. Overall, homelessne­ss in Richmond spiked 23% from 2017 to 2019 to 333 people. Other Bay Area cities are also struggling to respond to the homelessne­ss crisis as state and local budgets are slashed due the pandemicin­duced recession and neighborho­ods fight some solutions.

The controvers­y in Richmond began after the City Council directed staff at a Feb. 2 meeting to evaluate the Hilltop Mall as a possible location for the “safe” parking program that would have access to power, water and social services as well as onsite security.

The mall’s owners have struggled to redevelop it into housing or office space. Butt said the mall, which is losing Macy’s on March 30, is in the process of being sold to San Franciscob­ased Prologis, an industrial developer that has agreed to lease land for the safe parking program.

More than 2,200 people signed a petition against the proposal, saying the mall site pushes homeless people “out of sight, out of mind” and is too far from city services. Opponents urged the council to instead consider a cityowned unpaved lot near the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program (GRIP), a community group that helps the homeless.

“It is ludicrous to move the safe parking site to a commercial parking lot that is literally surrounded by homes, two schools with a third school one block away in a far corner of Richmond that is out of reach from city government and services,” one man said of the Hilltop site during public comment.

On Tuesday, staff from GRIP gave a presentati­on in support of opening the parking site near the offices. But the council rejected the proposal and said it was unclear if the organizati­on is capable of handling the contract — instead opting to contract with Housing Consortium of the East Bay, an Oakland nonprofit. The criticism against GRIP comes after the county sent a letter complainin­g of GRIP’s management of the Project Roomkey hotels, a state program to house the homeless during the

“The Hilltop NIMBYs were triumphant last night. ... The City Council was suitably intimidate­d by this show of force and caved in.”

Tom Butt, Richmond mayor

pandemic.

A director at GRIP declined to respond to the complaints at the meeting.

At the meeting, Councilwom­an Gayle McLaughlin said she would support the Civic Center location given the amount of opposition to the Hilltop Mall lot.

“Do we want to set up a safe vehicle park with the current level of opposition from the neighbors?” McLaughlin said. “I do not think the RV community would feel welcome under the circumstan­ces.”

City staff said the “safe” vehicle program at the Civic Center parking lot will be fenced in and won’t affect COVID testing services on another part of the lot.

The total cost of the parking program, which will include onsite security and social services, is $560,000. The city plans to use $300,000 of its affordable housing impact fees and a $260,000 state grant to fund it. If the state grant is not spent by June 30, the city will lose those funds.

 ?? Jessica Christian / The Chronicle ?? Amilee Smith, 60, cleans up the area outside of her RV with her dog Mimi while parked at an RV encampment along Rydin Road in Richmond.
Jessica Christian / The Chronicle Amilee Smith, 60, cleans up the area outside of her RV with her dog Mimi while parked at an RV encampment along Rydin Road in Richmond.

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