Tom Butt
  E-Mail Forum – 2021  
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  Safe Park Project Still Looking for a Home
March 12, 2021

Sadly, no one wants a Safe Parking project in their neighborhood, and after considering and voting on numerous sites, the City Council seems ready to finally give up and simply punt.

After voting on February 23, 2021, to locate the Safe Park project at the Civic Center site between 24th and 25th Streets (where the Farmers Market has been located), the RPA apparently caught a severe case of buyer’s remorse. Claudia Jimenez, in whose district the latest venue for the Safe Park would be located, and Eduardo Martinez have agendized for March 16 yet another plan to abandon the Safe Park plan for Civic Center and instead use the $260,000 of State Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP) grant funds and $300,000 from the from the city affordable housing fund to contract with the Housing Consortium of East Bay (HCBE) to provide more services to existing unsanctioned RV communities, presumably those at Rydin Road and the Richmond Parkway and to look for additional money (Click here for the Agenda Report). Jimenez and Martinez confess, “the lack of community participation in the initial stages of this program’s planning,” and conveniently deflect blame to a previous City Council, “planning of the Safe Parking Program was initiated during a previous Council’s tenure, thereby, not accurately reflecting the community aspirations of current Council members.”

At worst, this plan will result in a lingering RV community for an uncertain future on Rydin Road and the Richmond Parkway that will be difficult, if not impossible, to manage because it is not contained. You can’t put a fence around Rydin Road; it has to remain open to the public because it serves the Point Isabel Regional Park, the US Postal Service facility and several businesses, all of which continue to complain bitterly about it. The Richmond Parkway RV community would be even more difficult to manage. This plan may simply perpetuate the status quo, not making anyone very happy and not really solving anything except the political dilemmas of city council members.

At best, Supervisor John Gioia is more optimistic, writing the following:

The Councilmembers’ proposal does not “make Rydin Road the “Safe Park” homeless encampment as asserted.   It instead creates urgency and a process to move homeless individuals (including those at the unsanctioned RV parks on Rydin Rd. and Castro Ave.) out of RVs and into various housing opportunities such as homeless shelters, hotel rooms and other longer term housing.

The County is planning to reopen soon its North Richmond Homeless Shelter and the Richmond Rescue Mission will also be reopening its shelter.  These shelters have capacity for hundreds of homeless individuals.  The County is currently vaccinating homeless residents with the one-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine which will make it safe for them to return to shelters as they reopen this summer.   The opening of these shelters will create substantial new housing opportunities for residents of RVs

The County currently leases a hotel on Cutting Blvd. and Canal Ave. in Richmond, which is currently being used for those who test positive for the virus.  This use will end this summer which makes the hotel’s approximately 100 rooms available for homeless individuals and residents of RVs.   The County is committed to working with the City to identify funding for this purpose.   The County also leases the Courtyard Marriott at Hilltop and will be extending the lease of that hotel until June 2022.  Funding has already been obtained for this extension.   While that hotel is near capacity at this time, occupants of that hotel rotate out and thereby open up available rooms for new homeless individuals.

The County and City can work together to create RV storage opportunities for those RV residents who wish to keep their operable RV while they move into a shelter or hotel room.  It is important to note that a number of RVs are not operable nor sanitary and are not suitable for healthy housing.

Their plan also prioritizes a stronger commitment by the City to work with the County on other housing opportunities.  I should note that San Pablo has stepped up and is working with Contra Costa County and Overaa Construction to approve a 50 to 60 unit studio size housing project (which has full funding from HUD) which would be 100% dedicated to previously homeless individuals.

Their proposal also uses the County HEAP funding and City funding to more effectively control and manage the existing RV sites at Rydin Rd. and Castro Ave. by increasing security, and health and safety measures as these residents are transitioned to other housing locations.   The County has recommended to the City that they use East Bay Housing Consortium (EBHC) to closely work with the RV residents in helping move to other suitable housing (shelter, hotel rooms or more permanent housing through housing vouchers, etc.).  EBHC has extensive experience in this area.   As individuals move away from the Rydin Rd. site, efforts would be taken to prevent new RVs from replacing them so that the RV encampment decreases in size over time.

Neighboring property owners such as Oliver & Co. and the East Bay Regional Park District should support this approach since it sensibly works to transition the RV residents to other immediate housing opportunities rather than push them to another part of the City.  Again, the City’s Civic Center plan would not remove all the RVs off Rydin Rd.and Castro Ave. but would stretch thin the city’s resources and efforts in having to manage 3 RV sites – Civic Center, Rydin Rd. and Castro Ave.

Not to be outdone, Nat Bates also has an agenda item to :”Discuss and provide direction to staff regarding the Safe Parking Program at the Civic Center parking Lot.”

Finally, the city attorney has an agenda item To “Revisit the  Council’s February 23, 2021, action on the Safe Parking Program,” in order to cure an alleged Brown Act violation. A complaint was received alleging that the City Council voted on a site that was not listed on the agenda. The city attorney opined that there was no violation, but recommended, in an abundance of caution, that the City Council revisit and revote on the matter.

This should be interesting.