Richmond council scrambles for safe parking site for people living in vehicles
on February 22, 2021
A potential roadblock to Richmond City Council’s plan to launch a parking program at Hilltop Mall for people living in their vehicles cleared last week when the property’s new owners agreed to the plan and offered to help pay for it.
But growing opposition from residents who live near the mall could derail the plan. On Tuesday night, the council will consider moving the program to a city-owned tract at Bissel Avenue and 22nd Street,
The council voted in favor of the mall site at its Feb. 2 meeting, with the provision that if the city couldn’t get permission from the mall’s owners, LBG Hilltop LLC., it would set up the program in the Civic Center parking lot, which is public property. The measure passed 5-1, with Butt voting against it and Vice Mayor Nathaniel Bates absent.
Since then, Butt reported in his E-Forum newsletter that the logistics company Prologis is poised to buy most of the 77-acre mall, except for the Walmart, in a deal closing on March 8. And, Butt added in his Saturday missive, Prologis has offered to contribute $250,000 to the parking program.
LBG did not respond to Richmond Confidential’s questions about its willingness to allow the program. A Prologis spokesperson directed Richmond Confidential to the mayor’s public comments.
Butt suggested the mall lot after city staff recommended the Civic Center downtown and two other city-owned properties: the Lighthouse building at 1800 Barrett Ave., and the Fire Training Center at Cutting Boulevard and Stege Avenue. None of the three sites, however, can accommodate more than 30 vehicles — a number the staff deemed manageable for the one-year pilot program. Butt estimated the mall lot could handle about 100 vehicles. He said he voted against the council’s motion because of the Civic Center alternative, which he saw as too small.
Other council members also found the sites the staff recommended inadequate to meet the demand.
“We’re not talking about a small number of vehicles,” said council member Gayle McLaughlin. “We want to help as many people as possible, because where do they go otherwise?”
In January 2020, 1,750 people in Richmond were without homes, including more than 600 who were living in cars, vans or recreational vehicles, according to a report by city staff. That was before the pandemic put many people out of work and increased the number of people without stable housing.
“It was already a crisis and the crisis has only gotten worse,” noted council member Melvin Willis.
The city decided to act when the number of vehicle dwellers escalated sharply and RVs were carving out spots in or near residential areas, clashing with residents in those places.
Richmond shifted $300,000 in affordable housing funds to establish a safe parking program and applied for a $260,000 state grant to cover the rest. At its Feb. 2 meeting, the council voted to use the money to hire Housing Consortium of the East Bay to manage the program beginning March 1, including providing sanitation and round-the-clock security.
On Tuesday, along with the proposed site change, the council will consider shifting management of the program to the Greater Richmond Interfaith Group.
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