Tom Butt
 
  E-Mail Forum – 2020  
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  Proposed Safe Park Site at Hilltop Mall
February 15, 2021
 

Like every neighborhood proximate to a site being considered for a Safe Park to serve RVs occupied by unhoused persons, the Hilltop community is pushing back hard. No one wants a homeless person in their neighborhood, whether in a tent or an RV.

How did this happen? I have been pushing for managed projects to serve the homeless for a long time. See Managed Homeless Camps, Tom Butt E-FORUM June 27, 2018. I was never able to find either the funding or a site to make it happen.

Because County funds for managed projects were restricted to RV camps, I focused on that and found a long dead end street, Castro Street, in the City part of North Richmond that had no abutting residences and no abutting businesses. It had multiple nearby services. I took it to the City Council, and it was approved unanimously. But before it could get off the ground, City staff, like Trump’s “Deep State” managed to kill the project. Instead we ended up with an unmanaged site within a few hundred feet of Castro Street, along the Parkway and blocking the Bay Trail

Castro Site
Figure 1 - Castro Street site, killed by City staff


Figure 2 - Castro street site

In late 2021, a more responsible City Council directed staff to evaluate multiple potential sites and make a recommendation, which was presented on February 2, 2020. City staff recommend three of the 35 sites they had studied, for the City Council to choose from, all of which were limited to 10-30 vehicles, when there are 80-100 RVs at the two biggest informal camps at Rydin Road and the Richmond Parkway. One of the principal goals was to move out the Rydin Road encampment.

Ultimately, the City Council considered an additional site, the Hilltop Mall Parking lot and voted 5-1-1 to select Hilltop as its first choice and the Civic Center as its second choice for a one-year Safe Park pilot project.

Why Hilltop? Well there are 77 acres of pavement that is far in excess of what is needed to serve the only remaining business – Walmart. Like it or not, Hilltop is  a dead mall and is unlikely to return to its former use after a 40+-year glory.

The proposed Hilltop Mall Safe Park would occupy only a tiny fraction of the vast Mall parking lot and could be well located away from existing residences and businesses. It has been proposed that existing RVs in the Hilltop neighborhood would have first priority for relocation to the Safe Park. The site is large enough to accommodate all of the 40+ RV campers currently at Rydin Road and perhaps all of the RV campers adjacent to the Richmond Parkway.

We all thought that what is now the Hilltop Mall would transition to a mixed use project with lots of housing, retail and maybe office. But that is not going to happen, largely because of the lasting effects of the pandemic. A logistics company, Prologis, is buying the whole thing, closing on March 8, except for Walmart (Macy’s leaves on march 30) and plans to build a logistics center there, along with housing, perhaps a Walmart upgraded to include a complete grocery supermarket and some other retail, commercial or industrial uses. The events that have brought us here are admittedly a shock, but at this time, there are no other prospects.

For a Safe Park, Hilltop is preferable over the Civic Center site because there are several principal drawbacks to the Civic Center site:

  • It is less than an acre (39,330 SF), and only half is anticipated to be used as a Safe Park. It could accommodate at most 20 RVs.
  • It is adjacent to the Library and would share parking with City staff and the public.
  • It is across the street from commercial businesses.
  • It is highly visible.
  • The site, the surrounding sidewalks and campus grounds are public property, and by law, the City could not move additional campers out of these areas unless the City provided alternate lodging. Campers have already occupied the Library patio.
  • Because it is public property, the City could not force campers out at the end of a year.

The Hilltop site would be two acres in size, enough to accommodate more than 100 RVs. It has multiple advantages:

  • It would be isolated from homes and businesses and not readily visible by the public.
  • It could accommodate as much as five times the number of campers as the Civic Center site, and since much of the management cost is fixed regardless of size, the cost per camper could be a fraction of that of the Civic Center site.
  • It has access to water and electricity.
  • Prologis will donate $250,000 towards the cost, providing critical augmentation for a budget that is already marginal.
  • It is not public property, so additional campers would not have a right to occupy space outside the Safe Park or to stay past the one year project period.
  • It is served by AC Transit.

Description of the Hilltop Safe Park:

  • The site could accommodate over 100 RVs.
  • The site would be fenced with access control.
  • Campers would be provided with access to water, toilets, electricity for recharging phones, dumpsters and possibly showers.
  • The site would have 24/7 security and site management as well as services for campers to address physical health, mental health and drug abuse. Relocating campers into permanent housing would be an ongoing objective.

Hilltop Site
Figure 3 - Hilltop Safe Park Project Site

Those organizing the Hilltop community opposition are advocating for another site across 22nd Street from GRIP. Unfortunately, it has many of the same drawbacks as the Civic Center site. It would only accommodate maybe 20 RVs, and it would have to be paved at a cost of $250,000 to $500,000.

Many people have asked, why not put it in my neighborhood? Well, we already have a Project Roomkey hotel in Point Richmond, and it has not been a problem. I previously advocated a safe park at the historic shipyard Cafeteria building parking lot on Canal, but the Brickyard Cove community killed that idea.

At the end of the day, we have to do something. For a good description of the dilemma, see Don Gosney’s article at https://www.radiofreerichmond.com/richmond_s_safe_parking_project_part_1?fbclid=IwAR2i50bBNPTqt7hzyKv_tzqdbb2mj5UkKAnJE-2cgcSzy06ja-KpmDZWilk.

One thing to keep in mind is that a managed RV park will look and operate nothing like the informal camps that have popped up at Rydin Road and the Richmond Parkway. The Safe Park project  will be clean and fenced, will not accumulate trash and junk, will have 24/7 security and management, will have at least restroom facilities and maybe showers and will have full social services.

And if that doesn’t inspire you, for those who are religious, consider the following:

  • Proverbs 28:27: “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.”
  • Isaiah 58:7:Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”
  • Deuteronomy 15:7-8: ““If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.”
  • 1 John 3:17-18: “But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
  • Matthew 25:40-45: “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ ...”
  • The Prophet Mohammed came with a call to honor those who serve the homeless. "Those who take care of the poor is like a warrior fighting in the Way of Allah." Said Prophet Muhammad. He also reminded the consequences for those who ignore the well-being of a homeless.
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