If you drive through parts of West Berkeley where I have worked and lived for over 30 years, you’ll notice there are dozens of RV’s parked between Harrison and Gilman Streets, not to mention the encampments that have now grown around them. The RVs are spread throughout West Berkeley streets as far over as the West Berkeley Bowl. They take up whole blocks of parking in some areas. Many have out-of-state license plates. Most have not moved in months. The impact on the working businesses, residents and community here is dramatic with human waste being dumped out of the vehicles, increased garbage and trash piling up, not to mention bizarre things like people living in boat trailers, boxes on wheels and more.
You may have also noticed West Berkeley and the burgeoning Gilman district has taken off with many innovative new startups, new breweries, retailers and other amazing businesses that are employing Berkeley citizens, making products and paying taxes. The RV parking issue is having a dramatic and negative impact on this area in West Berkeley.
This all evolved to its current state when the city stopped enforcing the 72-hour no parking rule in the Berkeley Marina across from the houseboats near the Double Tree Hotel last year. At its peak, the marina had nearly 100 RVs lined up with bbq’s, fire pits, and couches all along the road. The city evicted the RVs, citing a state law not allowing camping on waterfront properties. Many, if not most of the RVs, promptly moved across the freeway into West Berkeley.
On Feb. 28, after more than 4 hours of testimony, the City Council passed a new ordinance banning RV and oversized vehicle parking in Berkeley between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. The Council also instructed the city manager to develop an ordinance for a two-week legal permit to park on Berkeley streets. This ordinance provides a practical and reasonable approach to providing visitors to Berkeley the opportunity to come and stay a while. It also limits the impact on local businesses and residents of an enormous community of street residents that has no rules and pays no fees.
This ordinance is compassionate with recommendations for the city to provide assistance to any RV owners who have difficulty making their vehicles operable and who may need other services so they can comply with the new law.
The RV advocates came out in force at the City Council meeting to oppose any restrictions on RV parking and claimed they were homeless residents, “the most vulnerable population” seeking shelter in Berkeley and suffering from the high costs of housing. The bottom line is many of these folks have chosen Berkeley because we are the only city that does not enforce our own 72-hour rule that says you must move your vehicle within that time frame or be towed.
According to the city’s own research, there are no neighboring cities that allow for RV parking on an ongoing basis. (However, the city of Oakland is planning to build a low-income RV parking facility in East Oakland on an older industrial site).
Now, let’s dispel the myths around RV dwellers. Most RV dwellers have made a lifestyle choice as indicated in a previous editorial piece on Berkeleyside by an RV dweller. RV dwellers were NOT evicted from housing in Berkeley and then ended up in an RV (Berkeley has a .01% eviction rate, virtually the lowest in the nation). The RV owners had to buy, register and drive their RV to someplace and that place was Berkeley (there are several Youtube videos promoting Berkeley for RV dwellers). They chose this location. NO ONE made them all come to Berkeley.
The claim that many are going to UC Berkeley or have kids in Berkeley schools is overstated. One gentleman who testified on Feb. 28 said he worked at the Berkeley Lab and was saving money living in an RV. Is this reasonable? Why does Berkeley have to host all of this? These people are not victims. They made deliberate lifestyle choices. They pay no fees or taxes of any kind in Berkeley. They do not even get parking tickets which are being issued in the metered areas around the Whole Foods store.
On Tuesday, March 26 there will be a second reading of this ordinance at the City Council meeting. There’s a big concern that the City Council will back away again from truly enforcing its own laws — rules that are intended to make Berkeley a safe and clean place for those living and working here. I encourage you to come out and attend this meeting and support these very reasonable restrictions to RV parking.