Update, July 9, 4:55 p.m. Some people living in RVs and other vehicles responded to the city’s eviction Monday from the former Hs Lordships lot by moving back to their former site along Marina Boulevard.
The city had cleared the campers out from Marina Boulevard, across from the DoubleTree Hotel, in May, and installed k-rails intended to prevent big vehicles from parking there. The RVs, according to photos shared with Berkeleyside, squeezed in behind the k-rails.
Some of the RV dwellers and advocates released a list of demands Monday, calling on the city to halt orders to “have our vehicle towed and impounded with fines that we cannot afford, and, therefore, risk losing the only shelter we have.” They asked Berkeley to provide access to bathrooms and other amenities at the marina and, if that is not possible, identify another location where they can stay legally.
The notices given at Hs Lordships told campers they had to make way for a construction project, similar to the warnings distributed ahead of the k-rail installation on Marina Boulevard.
“That’s not construction, that’s harassment,” said Barbara Brust, an advocate who’s in close contact with the marina residents. Berkeleyside has reached out to some members of the RV group for more information.
The city has long tried to clear out the RV camp, citing numerous safety concerns and behavior they attribute to some of the residents. Mayor Jesse Arreguín and some City Council members are working on finding another spot for a sanctioned camp. Some tried to postpone Monday’s enforcement, but weren’t successful, due to others’ concerns about legality.
Original story, July 2: People who live in RVs and vans have one more week to park overnight at the Berkeley Marina.
Under the initial proposal floated at a special meeting of the Berkeley City Council on Monday morning, campers would have received a month-long reprieve from enforcement of parking rules at 199 Seawall Drive, the former Hs Lordships lot.
But the campers’ fates came down to a vote by Councilman Kriss Worthington, who announced he couldn’t support a “blatantly illegal” sanctioned encampment or the relaxation of city law for certain people but not others.
The councilman was referring to a state law requiring that uses of the marina “must be related to water-dependent uses, such as navigation, commerce, and tourism, and must benefit the people of the state, and not just the local population,” according to a July 1 memo to the council by City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley. The state imposed those conditions when it granted the waterfront area to the city of Berkeley in 1913.
Some of the marina vehicle campers have parked at the waterfront for over a year. Initially, they were lined up on Marina Boulevard across from the DoubleTree Hotel. When the city cleared them out in May, and built smaller parking spaces where they were previously stationed, many moved to the parking lot of the now-shuttered Hs Lordships restaurant.
The city had been set to enforce Berkeley rules against overnight parking again Monday, but the council’s vote buys the campers one more week. Meanwhile, Mayor Jesse Arreguín and others are on the search for a site somewhere outside of the marina where the city could potentially build a permanent trailer park.
In her memo, Williams-Ridley said complaints about the overnight campers have escalated in recent weeks.
“City staff have been harassed, followed, and threatened verbally and physically by campers,” the memo said. “Marina berthers have reported multiple and increasing numbers of altercations and threats around use of the slip-holder restrooms and showers.”
The safety concerns, some coming from the DoubleTree and other tenants up for a new lease or looking to move in, “threaten to undercut some of the city’s leverage in these negotiations,” the city manager wrote. The marina is headed toward a fiscal crisis and relies on that revenue, she said.
Several campers have repeatedly pleaded their cases at City Council meetings and told Berkeleyside they’ve built a stable community at the marina, can’t afford the extraordinary rents in Berkeley and just need a place to sleep. They say they keep to themselves and are not responsible for the issues at the marina. Some yelled “Shame!” from the audience Monday when it was suggested they were.
“Our families are tired from the public harassment and the lack of public understanding,” said camper Yesica Prado at the meeting, who said there are nine children living in the vehicles. The speakers described a group of people who support one another with childcare and vehicle maintenance, and are happy to keep close track of residency and allow police to patrol regularly.
Much of Monday’s meeting focused on the logistics of the proposed month-long suspension of the enforcement that didn’t ultimately come to pass.
Williams-Ridley asked the council to amend the item to include security and additional portable restrooms and hand-washing stations. Police Chief Andrew Greenwood said private security would be necessary, as BPD doesn’t have the resources to cover the site itself.
The council discussed two big upcoming events in the area, the July 4 celebration and the Berkeley Kite Festival at the end of the month. Officials seemed to agree that the campers would be subject to the same parking fees as other visitors, $20 for cars and $50 for large vehicles at each event, though they debated whether they should pay additional rent to the city throughout the month.
Some asked how the city could legally and logistically allow the RV group, but not other campers, to park at 199 Seawall Dr. for a month. According to staff estimates, and the campers themselves, there are currently around 30 RVs parked there, but staff members say there are more than 100 other vehicles parking overnight in the 320-space lot.
“I’m very concerned about potential constitutional issues about selective enforcement,” Greenwood said. There was talk of a first-come-first-served permitting process for campers who paid the event fees up front.
When the month-long reprieve came up for a vote, Councilwoman Linda Maio abstained, and Worthington, who’d been silent the entire meeting, voted against it. Councilwomen Lori Droste, Sophie Hahn and Susan Wengraf were all absent from the special meeting due to prior obligations.
When pushed to explain his vote, Worthington said he felt certain Berkeley would be breaking state law. He referenced Rainbow Village, a sanctioned RV encampment at the Marina in the 1980s, which ended up getting the city sued.
“I am concerned about repeating history,” he said, to boos from the audience. “I have alienated moderates and conservative people for decades by speaking to facts. I’m going to be consistent that laws and facts matter. I am 100% enthusiastic about finding legal locations [elsewhere].” Worthington, along with Arreguín and former Councilman Max Anderson, was often described as the progressive voice on the previous City Council.
Arreguín said he has already been in contact with the state and would have filed a formal request with the State Lands Commission if the council approved the month-long encampment.
Councilwoman Kate Harrison compared the proposal to some officials’ willingness to risk breaking the law or challenging fuzzy rules, by providing gay marriages when they were still illegal. “I have to fall on the side of protecting people,” she said.
Harrison put forth a new motion suspending enforcement until Sunday, still requiring campers to pay the July 4 fee. That motion passed, with only Worthington voting against it.
After the meeting, the councilman said Berkeley should have broached the marina encampment idea with the state “ages ago.” For now, the concept has “a noble purpose, but it’s still illegal.”
Worthington said the city could pursue a trailer park on “any other parking lot.”
With the clock ticking, “it behooves us to find a location” quickly, said Arreguín after the meeting. “We’re still looking.”
The mayor said he believed Berkeley would have been able to argue to the state that a month-long encampment was legal under the city’s emergency shelter rules.
The council just barely had a quorum Monday, and many people criticized the short notice given for the special meeting, held in the morning and during a holiday week when some officials were out of town.
The agenda was posted online and the mayor tweeted it Saturday night. If council members who were out of town had wanted to call into the meeting, they would have struggled to meet city rules requiring them to give a certain amount of public notice, however.
“This is not democracy. You guys should be ashamed of holding this on a workday,” said a member of the public Monday.
Arreguín responded that he’d called the “emergency meeting” because the council decided not to take action on a permanent trailer park last week, and because the city was poised to make the campers leave Monday morning.
“This is a very time-sensitive issue,” he said.
This story originally said the news media was not alerted about the special meeting. The city clerk reached out to Berkeleyside, showing he had notified the press. He attempted to alert Berkeleyside, but no staff members received the notice.