a yellow and grey building in the background of a parking lot occupied by cars. The sky is dramatically cloudy
The Berkeley Animal Shelter parking lot is among six sites that could host an RV “safe parking” program if a City Council item passes Tuesday. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Update, Jan. 30 At its Tuesday meeting, the Berkeley City Council pushed its vote on RV parking sites to Feb. 11. The officials briefly discussed the item and seemed prepared to vote in support of the “safe parking” program on the “consent calendar,” a package of less-controversial proposals approved in one fell swoop. However, Councilwoman Kate Harrison ultimately removed her support for the item, saying she feared it would permit more enforcement of a parking ban throughout the city than she’d intended. The consent calendar was approved without the RV item, and the council spent the rest of the meeting on a separate matter.

Harrison also removed her controversial proposal to include an Elmwood lot on the list of permissible RV parking sites, explaining that she didn’t realize she had not given the required amount of notice.

Update, 9:30 p.m. Councilwoman Kate Harrison has submitted a supplemental item adding a parking lot in the Elmwood to the list of potential overnight RV sites to be considered by the Berkeley City Council on Tuesday.

The lot in question is located off of Russell Street, extending behind several College Avenue businesses including Baker & Commons and Mrs. Dalloway’s. The item would give the city permission to set up an RV program there or at any of the six previously proposed locations. Harrison, a co-sponsor of the original safe parking proposal, also says the city manager should explore additional sites or permitting programs.

There is frequent discussion on the council about the distribution of homelessness services and shelters in the city, with Harrison, who represents downtown Berkeley, among the officials saying their districts shoulder a large share of the programs compared to wealthier areas like the Elmwood and the Berkeley Hills. The six lots originally proposed are in West, South and downtown Berkeley.

But Elmwood representatives say they weren’t consulted about the last-minute inclusion of the parking lot in their district.

“While I think it is a worthwhile conversation to have in how the entire city can help address and alleviate the suffering on our streets, we need to have this conversation together,” said Councilwoman Lori Droste in a comment shared with Berkeleyside. The Claremont Elmwood Neighborhood Association has already written a letter to the council about the potential negative economic impacts on merchants if nighttime deliveries and public parking are blocked.

In an earlier supplemental item, Councilwoman Rashi Kesarwani said the Elmwood site had been eliminated as a possibility because current city law prohibits very large vehicles from parking there.

Original story, 11:06 a.m. Berkeley officials could vote Tuesday to open several parking lots to RVs, revisiting a contentious and emotional topic that dominated public discourse last year.

The council is set to decide whether to give the city manager the go-ahead to prepare any of six potential parking lots, mainly in West and South Berkeley, for up to 25 RVs total to camp overnight for “grace periods” of three months.

The council already approved the “safe parking” concept, but the city has so far failed to find a feasible site for a 24-hour program, according to officials. Tuesday’s item proposes a truncated version of the original plan: establishing sites where RVs could only park during non-business hours.

The “safe parking” program is meant to temper the effects of a decision, nearly a year ago, to ban overnight parking for RVs in Berkeley — a rule that hasn’t been enforced. The council voted on the ban after large clusters of RVs parked for months at a time in West Berkeley and drew complaints — 1,500 in 2018, according to the city — around health and safety. But many community members have criticized the new rules, saying they would exacerbate the housing and homelessness crises, threatening the livelihoods of people who’ve until now managed to stay off the streets. In return, officials promised to hold off on enforcing the ban until they created a program giving select RV dwellers who are in especially vulnerable positions a grace period.

The city has already identified 20 “RV households,” out of an estimated 139 in Berkeley, that qualify for the program, according to the council item, authored by Councilwoman Rashi Kesarwani with Mayor Jesse Arreguín and Councilwoman Kate Harrison. Outreach workers focused on those who have kids, are current students, or who’ve been displaced from a house in Berkeley when drawing up the list.

Tuesday’s proposal initially gave the city authority to erect safe parking sites on any city-owned lot. In a supplemental item, Kesarwani discloses, “in the interest of proper notice and full transparency,” that six specific lots have already been identified.

The proposed sites are:

  • a parking lot at the northeast corner of Harrison Street and the Third Street railroad tracks;
  • the lot at the West Berkeley Senior Center on Sixth Street;
  • the lot at the South Berkeley Senior Center on Ellis Street;
  • the lot behind the city offices at Allston Way and Milvia Street;
  • the Corporation Yard on Allston Way;
  • and the lot at the Berkeley Animal Shelter on Bolivar Drive.

Kesarwani told Berkeleyside that no single lot on the list could support 25 RVs, so if the item passes the city would likely open multiple sites. Kesarwani represents the West Berkeley district where the largest group of RVs has been stationed, initially at the Berkeley Marina and now around Harrison and Eighth streets.

Tuesday’s item would direct city staff to come up with rules and hours for each operation, which could vary from site to site. The council already allocated $100,000 per year for two years of trash pickup and portable bathrooms for RV safe parking sites.

An RV is parked at a waterfront.
An RV at Berkeley’s Aquatic Park. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Kesarwani said she will continue working to find a 24-hour safe parking location for RVs.

“This is not the ideal option,” she said. “I do think it’s the best option available to us at this time. It meets two competing concerns: a safe place for vulnerable populations to park and also tries to alleviate some of the pressures in the commercial Gilman district and adjacent neighborhoods.”

Officials had pursued a lot in West Berkeley for a full-time parking program, but have backed away from the site after hearing business and safety concerns. The same general area is now under consideration for a new sanctioned homeless encampment, however.

Kesarwani said Tuesday’s item would allow enforcement of the 2-5 a.m. RV parking ban to begin, even though no 24-hour safe parking site would be established.

The councilwoman’s supplemental item suggests that Governor Gavin Newsom’s executive order on using excess state land for homeless services could open up some regional properties for RVs in the near future. Oakland already operates a 24-hour safe parking program.

Tuesday’s City Council meeting, 6 p.m. at 1231 Addison St., will also tackles cannabis regulations, surveillance use and more.

Ed. note: This story was updated after publication for clarity. 

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,...