About 15 people stand in front of City Hall steps, protesting. An RV is parked behind them.
People who live in RVs and their supporters marched in Berkeley last week to protest a ban on overnight parking. Photo: Ted Friedman

People who live in RVs in Berkeley are pressuring the City Council to reverse a vote banning them from parking overnight on city streets.

Each new Berkeley ordinance gets two “readings,” with the council typically doubling down on a decision the second time a matter is considered. It is extremely rare for a vote to get reversed on the second reading, which is coming up for the RV issue at the council meeting tonight.

But RV dwellers and their supporters have marched in the streets and plan to demand the council backtrack on the effective RV ban, which they say criminalizes homeless people and gives them nowhere else to go.

On a Facebook event page for the meeting, a group of RV inhabitants and activists told Berkeley residents to come “demand their neighbors not be displaced.”

The three council members who voted against the ban — Cheryl Davila, Kate Harrison and Rigel Robinson — have also submitted a proposal for a moratorium on the new rules until an RV permitting process is developed. When officials approved the RV ban Feb. 28, prohibiting parking between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m., they also agreed to create a permitting system giving two-week exemptions to some.

Some of the people who supported the council’s original decision are calling on their allies to show up Tuesday as well.

In an email this week, Berkeley Chamber CEO Kirsten MacDonald told members to come to support the original ordinance, which, she wrote, “gives businesses the relief they need but supports a regulated way for RVs to exist on our streets. We feel this is a fair & equitable solution that takes EVERYONE’s needs into account.”

Both proponents and opponents of the RV ban turned out in force at the Feb. 28 meeting too.

Several RV dwellers, some of them students and local workers, told the council they can’t afford a home in Berkeley and just want a place to live quietly while saving money. They said they would like to keep out of the way, but had to spill into West Berkeley when they were kicked out of their previous site at the Berkeley Marina.

Some owners of homes and businesses in that West Berkeley area said the situation has become untenable, with RVs lining blocks and taking up parking spaces. They said health and safety concerns have come up around the RVs and their waste disposal practices.

A majority of council members — Mayor Jesse Arreguín, Ben Bartlett, Lori Droste, Sophie Hahn, Rashi Kesarwani and Susan Wengraf — ultimately sided with those neighbors, prohibiting overnight parking. 

An RV is parked on a grey streets. Other cars and camper vans behind it.
Many RVs have parked along Eighth Street at Harrison in recent months. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Per a suggestion by Hahn, officials agreed to seek out parking lots, such as at churches and nonprofits, where some RVs could be allowed to stay overnight, as long as they’re connected to city homelessness services. Oakland is launching a similar “safe parking” program for people who live in their cars.

Kesarwani, whose district currently hosts the largest concentration of RVs, has said she’s pursuing sites where some of the most vulnerable RV owners could park.

“To be honest, I have cried, prayed, and racked my brain for better alternatives,” Kesarwani told constituents in an email.

The city has also reached out to Berkeley Unified, asking the district to use allow some families with schoolchildren to park their RVs on district property at night. On Wednesday, district staff will ask the School Board for permission to start those discussions.

Regardless of Tuesday’s vote, the RV debate will continue at least through April.

At the April 2 meeting, Davila and Harrison will propose a “comprehensive program” for RVs, possibly including, among other facets, up to six-month-long permits, a registration system, a waste disposal station and financial assistance for vehicles needing repairs.

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Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...