A GUEST EDITORIAL FROM RICHMOND COUNCILMEMBER GAYLE MACLAUGHLIN
Richmond is an incredible place to live, work and/or play. We have a history of community strength, resiliency and determination.
I call on all of us today to tap once more into that strength, resiliency and determination as we move forward with addressing our major challenges in this new troubled era we are living through - with a pandemic and a devastating economic downturn.
We have always been able to build alliances and coalitions to bring community together and not leave out the most vulnerable. Today we must do this once again. Building an inclusive community is a long-term project and we have no time to waste!
Our unhoused community needs help now. Many of us have put this at the center of our efforts to build a better Richmond. This is a good thing. Up until now, plans were side-lined with no clear-cut path in sight. The relationship to the unhoused in our society at large must change! My hope is that Richmond plays a role in this much needed societal shift.
What has come up recently is a lot of statements saying “not in my neighborhood” in terms of how we proceed with “managed sites” to help those among us who find themselves without a roof over their head. We all must do our part. The unhoused are not criminals. This is essential to understand.
This past Tuesday night, the City Council passed a motion to set up a Safe Vehicle Park. Oakland has 3 such parks already. We now have the beginning of a path forward. Below is the motion introduced by Councilmember Melvin Willis with some friendly amendments from me. This motion was approved.
1) UTILIZE the Civic Center 2 site on Barrett Ave. for the Safe Vehicle Park with Civic Center 1 as a 2nd choice.
2) ACCEPT and APPROPRIATE a $260,000 HEAP grant from Contra Costa County for this program; and
3) APPROPRIATE $300,000 of Affordable Housing In-lieu fee for this program; and
4) AUTHORIZE the City Manager to negotiate and execute a sole source contract with Housing Consortium of the East Bay, for an amount not to exceed amount of $560,000, to establish and manage the safe parking program facility at Civic Center.
5) HAVE East Bay Housing Consortium do outreach to sub-contractors including GRIP and SOS!
6) Since funding has been offered by Prologis (new owner of Hilltop) for any site of the City’s choosing, direct staff to come back to the Council with any proposed agreement with Prologis.
7) Direct staff to also do outreach to churches and other private sites to take on a couple of vehicles for a 90 day period (with rules and restrictions to be abided by in terms of vehicle owners).
Initially, the Hilltop Mall parking lot was proposed as a first choice for this Safe Vehicle Park. We currently have two "unmanaged" major areas (Rydin Rd and Castro Street) within the city with RVs and other vehicles that have individuals living in these vehicles. Many of these people hold jobs and go back and forth to their jobs each day, coming back each day to live in the vehicles. Others are doing work from their RVs and vehicles. Some of the vehicle dwellers need services of one sort or another and we, as a city, have an obligation to address their needs.
Unfortunately, incomplete information went out publicly and the Hilltop Community protested in massive numbers, including a petition with 1700 signatures. The word spread like wildfire in no time flat. If the staff had had a chance to outreach to the neighborhood before the word went out publicly (by our mayor), I feel confident our staff would have conveyed a much better understanding of the nature of this project. Would the neighborhood still have been outraged? I cannot say for sure on that, but what I do know is that once the word got out, there was no getting things back on track.
As a result, a reconsideration of the project location came to the Council again this past Tuesday. The motion above was the result.
NOW, our mayor is doing exactly what the Hilltop Community did (and which he has condemned) by trying to stir up outrage about this project at the new location without sharing complete information. Rather than assuring our community that Richmond will be adamant about compliance and healthy living at this site, he makes blanket statements denigrating our community as in this quote from Mayor Butt in the SF Chronicle (2/24): “Regardless of what neighborhood or what community you’re talking about, there are a huge number of people that don’t want homeless people there under any circumstances.” I don't agree with Mayor Butt on this. I believe our community wants to help!
To help clarify a more complete understanding of the project, here is some information:
- This project will be a smaller project (than what the mayor envisioned at Hilltop). Approximately, 20-25 vehicles will be included at the Civic Center site. And of course only those vehicle dwellers who agree to rules and regulations will be allowed to participate. This is not a wholesale transport of vehicle dwellers to the Civic Center site. It is better to have smaller sites. Advocates of our unhoused community have stated that the idea of largescale “warehousing” of the unhoused is not a humane solution. The Homeless Task Force (which I’m on) will also be working with churches and other privately owned sites who are willing to take a couple of vehicles in their lots for a 90 day trial period (again, with rules and regulations). We are also working with the County who is seeking to transition another motel for unhoused people and some vehicle dwellers may choose to go to a motel. We hope to address the needs of many! This Safe Park is not a long term solution. The idea is to get people into permanent homes as soon as possible.
- There will be 24/7 security on site and the area of the parking lot will be fenced and well maintained.
- Services will be available including mobile showers, food services, health services and case management.
- There is no risk to the communities on the other side of Barrett or to the Nevin Plaza community who by the way will need to be temporarily moved soon due to a renovation of Nevin Plaza.
- If we do not show concern and provide help to vulnerable unhoused communities, this crisis will only grow. More and more unhoused individuals will be left in critical situations with more desperation setting in. That is the risk that I see and want to prevent.
- This site will be clean, it will be healthy, and it will be managed by an experienced group called Housing Consortium of the East Bay who has managed these parks in Oakland very successfully. Richmond groups like GRIP and SOS! (Safe Organized Spaces) will be helping with various services and providing these members of our community opportunities to rise and better their lives.
- Finally, I will be asking our City staff to give a presentation to any nearby neighborhood as to the full scope of this project.
It is time for us all to stand up and recognize that we are in unparalleled times. We must not turn a blind eye to those in need. I hope our community as a whole will stand together on this. We need many safe organized spaces. As one of our community members stated: “… analysts with the Economic Roundtable (https://economicrt.org/publication/locked-out/) project that the numbers will continue to rise into 2023. Widespread Immunity or not, homelessness is a "lagging" outcome.”
Our City Council, City staff and the organizations that will be maintaining this site will be working hard to showcase that we as a city can provide a beautiful Safe Vehicle Park at this Civic Center site.
We need to showcase our Richmond resiliency, that has been a characteristic of our Richmond history, in these difficult times. We need to be open to building a truly inclusive community throughout our city that includes the currently unhoused part of our population.
In addition, we need Tiny Home villages and other structures that will house people in this critical period. Again these will be managed sites with rules and restrictions.
Longer term solutions must be put forward as well. And those long term solutions need to be truly affordable so people can move from transitional spaces to permanent homes. I will be working with my City Council colleagues, with community leaders, and with City staff to address as many solutions as possible.
Let’s do what’s right and stand for justice for all. Let’s put our Richmond resiliency into action and avoid the chaos of these times to the best of our ability!!
Richmond City Councilmember