An RV is parked on a grey streets. Other cars and camper vans behind it.
On Tuesday, the Berkeley City Council will vote on terms for a two-week RV permit and address a “safe parking” site for large vehicles in Berkeley. Photo: Natalie Orenstein
On Tuesday, the Berkeley City Council will vote on terms for a two-week RV permit and address a “safe parking” site for large vehicles in Berkeley. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Update, 8:25 p.m. City officials report that they will take the marina off the table during their discussion Tuesday night about RV parking. Mayor Jesse Arreguín says the city has had talks with the owner of a private lot instead. Councilwoman Rashi Kesarwani has also submitted an amended proposal, co-sponsored by Arreguín and Councilwoman Sophie Hahn, which removes the marina as a safe parking option and would instead direct staff to keep looking for another “off-street” location. Stay tuned for details.

Original story, July 22, 10:10 a.m. More than a year after dozens of RVs were kicked out of the Berkeley Marina, the City Council could go back and establish a “safe parking” site there.

Tuesday’s council meeting will bring back one of the most polarizing issues of the year, with the council addressing the terms of a two-week parking permit for RVs throughout the city as well as a three-month “grace period” for some at a safe parking site.

In February, the council voted to prohibit recreational vehicles and the like from parking in the city between 2-5 a.m., effectively banning RVs throughout Berkeley. The city estimates there are about 200 parked around the city currently.

The vote was applauded by business owners and some residents who said the many RVs clustered on city streets in West Berkeley had become a nuisance, and presented a number of health and safety issues. Many others criticized the council for criminalizing the people, many of whom work and go to school in Berkeley, who’d found a rare affordable way to stay off the streets in the middle of a housing crisis. Many of those people shared personal stories at the council podium about how they ended up living in vans and RVs, and said they take care of their surroundings.

At that February meeting, council members said they would look into a “safe parking” spot for particularly vulnerable RV dwellers who were actively seeking other housing, even though previous searches for a Berkeley trailer park site had been unsuccessful. The council reiterated the commitment when the RV item came back for a second reading in March. The officials had previously allocated $50,000 in state homelessness funds for outreach to identify people eligible for such a “grace period.” Families with kids, people who work or study in Berkeley, and people who’ve had a Berkeley address within the past 10 years would be prioritized.

About 15 people stand in front of City Hall steps, protesting. An RV is parked behind them.
Berkeley Friends on Wheels and supporters protested a ban on overnight RV parking in March. Photo: Ted Friedman

At the March meeting, which, like the one before it, included hours of passionate public comment, the council also voted to hold off on enforcing the ban until a short-term exemption permit system was in place.

On Tuesday, the council will vote on the conditions of that short-term permit. If the proposal is approved, an RV owner could apply for one two-week parking permit each year. The $34 permit would exempt them from the overnight parking ban, and allow them to park within one of several designated areas — distributed throughout the city and about the size of a council district — following existing parking rules. The city could issue up to 20 of these permits a month, and recipients would also have to follow rules against putting objects on the sidewalk and making noise.

A smaller group of RV dwellers could soon stick around Berkeley longer, at a safe parking site similar to Oakland’s, with services and security on site.

Tuesday’s council proposal, from Mayor Jesse Arreguín and Councilwomen Kesarwani and Kate Harrison, would direct staff to “identify one or more locations on city-owned land, including at the Berkeley Waterfront, for the establishment of a managed safe RV parking site for individuals currently sheltering in an RV or oversized vehicle on the public right-of-way in the City of Berkeley.”

The mention of the marina will likely startle people on all sides of the RV issue.

For months, through the spring of 2018, a large group of RVs was stationed along Marina Boulevard. When the city booted them out, citing numerous health and safety complaints, some moved within the marina to the old Hs Lordships lot.

The council said they couldn’t stay there either, because the 1913 state grant that gave Berkeley the waterfront required only “water-dependent” uses there, like tourism and navigation. The then Councilman Kriss Worthington called a potential trailer park there “blatantly illegal.” (In the 1980s there was a short-lived vehicle camp there, called Rainbow Village.)

Many of the RV inhabitants, many of whom have banded together as a group called Berkeley Friends on Wheels, have said they chose the marina in the first place to stay off city streets and out of the way.

RVs could potentially return to the Berkeley Marina, if a “safe parking” site is built there. Photo: Citizen Reporter
RVs could potentially return to the Berkeley Marina, if a “safe parking” site is built there. Photo: Citizen Reporter

Now, parked on the streets of West Berkeley, their presence has inspired 600 signatures on a petition against “turning Berkeley into a giant RV park.”

According to Tuesday’s proposal, the city can actually request that the State Lands Commission permit a “temporary” safe parking site at the marina. If the proposal passes, the city manager would file a formal request with the state.

The council report says Arreguín and Kesarwani searched extensively for another site in Berkeley.

“With the exception of property located at the Berkeley Waterfront, there is no one parcel that is large enough to accommodate the anticipated number of identified priority/highly vulnerable RVs that are parking within City of Berkeley boundaries,” the council members wrote.

Nevertheless, the proposal would direct staff to keep looking for other locations too, including dead-end streets and vacant properties. It would also push ahead with plans for the operation of the safe parking site, including connected services, security and bathrooms, which need to be in place before the program can launch, the report says.

Later on, when staff presents those specifics and location recommendations to the council, officials would decide how to fund the project, possibly using Measure P revenue.

Council members also say they’re in talks with nearby cities to create a regional program for RVs.

The Tuesday meeting is the last before the City Council’s summer recess.

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,...