Council changes mind, shifts parking site for homeless people to Civic Center
on February 24, 2021
After fielding a flood of complaints from residents living near the Hilltop Mall, Richmond City Council on Tuesday changed the location of the city’s new parking program for people living in their vehicles to the Civic Center downtown.
In the next few weeks, the city hopes to launch a one-year safe parking pilot that will provide sanitation, round-the-clock security and social services for people now living in cars, vans and recreational vehicles that are parked on the streets.
Earlier this month, the council designated the city-owned Civic Center lot as an alternative site for the program. The nearly empty mall was the preferred location because it could accommodate five times as many vehicles. Because the Civic Center can only handle about 20 vehicles, the council is asking other property owners, including churches, to allow some on their lots.
The motion passed on a split vote, with Mayor Tom Butt and council members Nathaniel Bates and Eduardo Martinez against it. It left intact a $560,000 contract the council approved on Feb. 2 with the Housing Consortium of the East Bay, which will manage the program. But it added a condition that the consortium reach out to subcontractors that include the Greater Richmond Interfaith Group, which council member Claudia Jiménez had recommended to run the program.
Most of the 27 people addressing the council Tuesday spoke against the mall option, saying they were concerned a vehicle park would bring crime, trash and an eyesore to the neighborhood. Council member Gayle McLaughlin said she feared the backlash would jeopardize the program.
“Do we want to set up a safe vehicle park with the current level of opposition from the neighbors?” she asked. “I do not think the RV community would feel welcome under the circumstances.”
The question came before the council a second time after Jiménez proposed a new site, at Bissell Avenue and 22nd Street, as well as a new contractor. On Tuesday, she acknowledged the concerns of residents who feared the program would decrease their property values. But, she said, “The reality is that if we want to address this issue, everyone needs to do their part.”
Bates suggested the city seek input from neighbors before choosing a new site. Martinez said the city should ask vehicle dwellers about their particular needs and direct them to various places based on those needs. And Butt, who initially suggested the mall lot, stood behind that site as best suited for the pilot.
The mall is in the process of being sold to logistics company Prologis, which has offered to contribute $250,000 toward the parking program, no matter where it is established. That money, which the council directed the city staff to pursue, would be in addition to a $260,000 state grant and $300,000 that the city set aside for the program.
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