Days are numbered for RVs parked along Marina Boulevard

The city will establish a new parking structure, a final attempt to address issues around overnight parking. RV dwellers say they have nowhere to go.

The city of Berkeley plans to set up a new parking structure that would prevent RVs from parking along Marina Boulevard. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

For the second time in as many months, the city has told the inhabitants of RVs parked at the Berkeley Marina to clear out.

This time, notices posted by the row of vehicles along Marina Boulevard instruct the campers to get on the road before a May 28-June 1 construction project.

“The plan is to create structured parking in that area” to “more effectively use that space and reduce overnight parking,” said city spokesman Matthai Chakko on Wednesday. The city plans to install k-rails, to turn the currently open parking area into a row of parking spaces large enough for cars but too small for RVs, he said.

While the RV dwellers say they keep to themselves and just need a place to live, Chakko said the parking structure is the city’s final attempt of many, over months, to address repeated health and safety complaints connected to the long-term camping.

In early April as well, Berkeley police gave red warning notices to the RV inhabitants, explaining that they were violating a city law prohibiting street parking in one place for more than 72 hours. The notices warned the campers they could be towed, but the city hasn’t followed through on that threat, Chakko said.

“Our approach has been to be patient, consistent and clear,” he said. “We’ve sent staff to try to connect them to services.” The city hired new private security, increased waterfront staff, and ramped up garbage pick-up to address issues at the Marina, to little or no avail, Chakko has said.

“We’ve had break-ins of cars. Visitors and staff have been physically assaulted and verbally threatened. Those who have berths at the Marina reported multiple and increasing numbers of altercations and threats — particularly from people living in these vehicles,” Chakko told Berkeleyside in April.

Restaurants and hotels in the area have also told the city their customers are complaining about the overnight campers. The long row of RVs is across from the DoubleTree Hotel, whose general manager recently addressed the City Council with his concerns.

But residents of the trailers, many who have been parked along the east side of Marina Boulevard for months, say they stay amongst themselves, not bothering other people. Some say they use far fewer city resources, and pose less of a health risk to both themselves and other residents, than they would if they had to live on the streets.

Amber Whitson has been living in her RV at the Marina and said many of her neighbors have nowhere else to go. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Most of the vehicles have bathrooms on board, and most of the residents “are quite happy to drive over to Camp Quest in Richmond and pay the $20 fee to dump our holding tanks,” wrote Amber Whitson, who lives in one of the Marina RVs, in a message to Berkeleyside. The RV owners have their own sources of electricity, including solar panels and generators, she said.

Whitson said the people living in trailers, including some who have kids or serious health problems, and can’t afford steep local rents, have no idea where to go next.

“It’s just such a messy situation,” Whitson wrote. “A real human rights and public health as well as a civil rights and mental health nightmare. If we could just be granted an empty parking lot of some unused property (of which, there are plenty on this end of town, I have researched this), so many problems could be solved/prevented.”

Though the city says staff from Health, Housing & Community Services have visited the vehicles to provide support, Whitson said she was not aware of anyone coming to offer services to most of the residents. And people living in vehicles are often left out of new policies and programs directed at Berkeley’s growing homeless population, she said.

Signs along Marina Boulevard warn RV dwellers they can’t parking there during upcoming construction. Photo: citizen reporter

In about a month, according to Mayor Jesse Arreguín, an elaborate new shelter equipped for about 50 occupants at a time is expected to open its doors in the area. The Pathways Program facility will be located at Second and Cedar streets, near where a long stretch of homeless encampments currently lines the sidewalk. Arreguín and Councilwoman Sophie Hahn, who together designed Pathways, have said the city will launch a new, intensive outreach program targeting specific encampments to fill the shelter’s beds.

A new encampment policy is also in the works, and the City Council recently voted to move forward with new regulations governing when and where people can sit, sleep and keep their personal belongings and pets on Berkeley sidewalks.

Whitson said the controversial policy clearly lays out exactly how people can sleep on the streets legally without the city rousting them. She said she’d like to see the same thing done for people living in vehicles.

Some advocates for homeless people in Berkeley have lent some support to Whitson and her neighbors. Osha Neumann, a lawyer with the East Bay Community Law Center, told Berkeleyside earlier this week that he’d begun exploring the RV residents’ rights, and whether homestead laws could apply and prevent them from being towed.

Whitson said she had already expected the city to kick out the RVs before an upcoming religious festival at Cesar Chavez Park on June 1. Attendees of the event, featuring evangelist Franklin Graham, must pay the city $15 per car or $40 per bus to park at the festival, according to the website.

Chakko has said health and safety issues stemming from overnight parking in the area are not limited to Marina Boulevard, but have come up continually at another waterfront parking lot as well. The new parking structure will just be established along Marina Boulevard.

Comments are closed for this post.

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. She was previously a reporter for Berkeleyside. Email: Twitter: nat_orenstein.