On February 2, 2021, the City Council voted 5-1-1 to proceed with developing a Safe Park for people living in RVs. The first choice was Hilltop Mall, now mostly deserted with a 77-acre parking lot, and the second choice was the parking lot across from the Richmond Library in the Civic Center.
A prime motivation was to relocate as many RVs as possible from unsanctioned and unmanaged RV camps at Rydin Road and the Richmond Parkway, as well as in neighborhoods throughout the city. The Rydin Road and Richmond Parkway camps have about 40 RVs each.
City staff had evaluated 35 potential sites and selected three, shown below, for further consideration. The RV capacity for each site ranged from 10-15 at 1800 Barrett to 20-30 at the Fire Training Center. None of these sites would take all of the RVs from either Rydin Road or the Richmond Parkway, therefore not fulfilling a major objective of the project. Each had its detractors. Everybody agreed 1800 Barrett was just too small. Fire Department spokespersons said the Fire training site, if selected, would interfere with training and use of the helipad for emergencies. One City Council member said it was unfair to place the camp proximate to an affordable housing complex – Friendship Manor. Librarians objected to the Civic Center site, saying it would reduce parking, threaten their safety and exacerbate an already established homeless community on the Library patio.
Figure 1 - 1800 Barrett site
Figure 2 - Fire Training Center Site
Figure 3 - Civic Centersite
After protracted discussion, the City Council took a vote on the Fire Training Center as the preferred site, but it failed 4-2, with Bates absent.
Next was a vote to select Hilltop Mall as the preferred suite with Civic Center as second choice. It passed 5-1 with Bates absent. I voted against it because of the size of the Civic Center site. It could not accommodate enough RVs to supplant either Rydin Road or the Richmond Parkway. The Civic Center site is also across the street from a school and church, St. Cornelius, and in the middle of Richmond’s government center. Some people thought that was good because it would remind City Council members of the homeless issue every time they visit the Civic Center.
At the time, I thought Hilltop was a long shot because it was privately owned and for sale. I figured the owner would be reluctant to have a homeless RV camp on a property that is being marketed.
Well, things change fast, It turned out that the property was already under contract to be sold and was scheduled to close on March 8, 2021. The new owner, Prologis, was not only open to an RV Safe Park on the property but offered to contribute $250,000 to the project! See Proposed Safe Park Site at Hilltop Mall, February 15, 2021.
As City staff began working with Prologis to draft an MOU and move ahead per City Council direction, the Hilltop community was organizing to oppose the project. And, there were willing participants on the City Council.
When the City Council Agenda for February 23, 2021, was published on February 19, two City Council members had added agenda items to reconsider the City Council vote of February 2.
Nat Bates added Item I-2 to “select an alternative site,” and listed five, shown below. All five are privately owned, and none are paved. Some have significant drainage problems. Some are contaminated. Four are in North Richmond. None, except the Central Avenue site are anywhere close to any commercial facilities or bus service. The Central Avenue site will most certainly get pushback from the Richmond Annex community. It is highly unlikely that any of these sites could be up and running before the County funding runs out on June 30, 2021, and it is unlikely that the available funding would cover the cost.
Figure 4 - Site on Fred Jackson Way, between Pittsburg Avenue and Brookside Drive
Figure 5 - Pittsburg Avenue, between Richmond parkway and Fred Jackson Way
Figure 6 - Richmond parkway, on west side between Gertrude and Pittsburg Avenue
Figure 7 - Gertrude Avenue, west of Flea Market
Figure 8 - 5620 Central Avenue, former Dolan Lumber site
The second Agenda Item, I-3, is from Claudia Jimenez. Unlike Bates, who simply wants to walk back Hilltop and consider some sites not previously evaluated by staff, Jimenez has a full blown proposal to locate the Safe Park across 22nd Street from GRIP on an unpaved vacant lot between 22nd and 23rd Streets owned by the City.
Jimenez apparently has the full collaboration of GRIP, whose board she sits on. Included in the Agenda packet is a 16-slide PowerPoint presentation by GRIP, including the site plan shown below with 33 RVs and 41 cars. The problem is that the plan simply doesn’t work. You need a 12-ft. X 20 ft. parking space for an RV and a 9 ft. X 18 ft. parking space for a car, and you need a 24 ft. driveway in between to access the parking spots. In this plan, cars and RVs are packed in like sardines with no way to get in or out. The entire site is about 35,000 square feet and could handle no more than about 20-25 RVs, which will barely make a dent in the Rydin Road and Richmond Parkway RV population. It also has to be paved, which will cost $300,000 to $400,000, eating up more than half the already meager budget.
Figure 9 - Proposed GRIP Project Hope
Jimenez goes even further and asks the City Council to redirect management of the project from the organization recommend by staff, Housing Consortium of the East Bay (HCEB) and previously approved by the City Council to GRIP. GRIP has submitted no proposal and no budget to construct and manage the project.
Figure 10 - From Agenda Report for Item I-3
Although not on the agenda, at least one other councilmember is advocating the parking lot bounded by Barrett, Nevin, 24th and 25th to resolve the space challenges with the GRIP site and the other Civic Center site. This site is paved and has about 90,000 square feet, enough space for well over 100 RVs. However, it is also used for the Farmers Market, City employee parking, parking for the Auditorium, and most recently, a drive-through COVID-19 testing site. It is across Neven Street from a large senior public housing project, Nevin Plaza, and across Barrett from two churches and a residential neighborhood. Being City-owned property, it would be difficult, if not impossible to exclude other campers, including tent campers, who want to join the community.
Figure 11 - parking lot bounded by Barrett, Nevin, 24th and 25th
What is clear is that the Hilltop Mall site has far more advantages than any of the other sites considered, but it also appears that City Council members are not willing to stand up to the Hilltop community. The result is that it is likely that no Safe Park project will emerge, which may be what councilmembers really want. No constituent can complain about a project that doesn’t exist.