As the number of RVs being used as homes and concerns about them seem to be growing in Redwood City, officials will soon consider short- and long-term measures aimed at improving the challenging circumstances.
Tensions between those living in vehicles and nearby property owners have intensified in recent months around stretches of Oddstad Drive and Stafford Street in particular. Businesses and homeowners in those areas say there are blocks with as many 10 to 15 parked RVs at a given time, often accompanied by piles of trash. There have also been complaints of antisocial and sometimes illegal behavior associated with the RVs.
“We’re fed up with the human feces, the garbage and the fact that people are making the neighborhood their camp,” said Susan Ledingham, who lives near the stretch of Stafford Street that’s a popular destination for RVs. “It looks like a junkyard. Why should we have to put up with it?”
Officials for months have been brainstorming and researching ideas that might address those concerns as well as the needs of RV dwellers.
On Dec. 16, the City Council will consider approving one-time funding to mitigate impacts associated with people living in RVs. Proposals could potentially include having the city pay for dumpsters or portable toilets in the affected areas, said Councilwoman Diana Reddy, who sits on the safe parking ad hoc committee with Councilwoman Giselle Hale. Safe parking itself is the long-term measure that will be on a council agenda in the spring.
Safe parking refers to designated areas where people living in vehicles can safely park for the night and access restrooms. The concept has been implemented or explored in cities throughout the Bay Area.
Hale said the city is working on a safe parking recommendation as fast as possible and is confident it will be a successful one, though details, including a potential location for the program, are not yet being made public.
“We recognize this is an urgent matter and we’re working as fast as any city can move,” Hale said. “We have wonderful perspectives [on the ad hoc committee] because we can stand on the shoulders of other cities, learn what works and doesn’t work and I feel confident our recommendation will be grounded in successes and strong best practices. Hopefully we’ll get it right faster than other cities and be an example.”
Those concerned about RVs parked near their homes are also supportive of safe parking in the city if it’s away from their neighborhood.
“Let’s get a camping site or a parking lot and charge a nominal fee,” Ledingham said while acknowledging feasible land for such a program likely won’t be easy to find in the city.
In the short term, she wants RV parking banned on Stafford Street. An existing city sign prohibits commercial vehicles from parking overnight on the street, but says nothing about RVs. Just a couple of blocks north on Stafford Street in San Carlos, there are signs that prohibit overnight RV parking.
“It shouldn’t be that hard to get a no parking sign, there’s already one for commercial vehicles,” Ledingham said. “San Carlos already adopted it. Redwood City has to do something. It can’t take six months to do this.”
Councilmembers did not want to comment on the request for a sign prohibiting overnight RV parking.
In Redwood City, vehicles including RVs are allowed to park on most city streets for up to 72 hours before they’re subject to a fine. After 72 hours, a vehicle is only required to move as far as the length of the vehicle.
Ledingham said the growing presence of RVs has also made parking a challenge in the neighborhood for both residents and businesses in part because of their size and also because their owners often park a second vehicle on the street that they use during the day.
But not everyone in the neighborhood shares her concerns. Someone claiming to live in the neighborhood has several times posted signs around Stafford Street in defense of the RVs.
“Due to circumstance, [people living in RVs] can’t all be snug and cozy in a home like you,” one poster states. “These people have jobs. They aren’t a bunch of bums, thieves, drug addicts. They just want to survive. Live and let live.”
Ledingham said that while some living in vehicles are homeless, others own homes hours away from the area and work in Redwood City, where they choose to live in RVs during the week to avoid the commute.
One man who doesn’t want to be named and who is living in a RV on Stafford Street said neighbors’ concerns are overblown and stressed he isn't breaking any city laws.
“We’re legally parked, even the police say that,” he said. “We don’t party, we don’t make a bunch of noise. I don’t drink. I go to work, come home and stream something on Hulu. That’s pretty much it.”
He added that while some living in RVs have dumped trash on the street in the past, he and others living on the block have taken to policing the area, encouraging everyone parking long term to keep the streets clean and leaving notes when someone fails to do so.
The man, who works for two telecommunications companies, lived in San Francisco for years before his landlord reclaimed his space for a remodel. With rents beyond what he could afford, he purchased a RV and has been living wherever he can find a parking spot ever since.
For awhile, there was an a spot adjacent to vacant land in San Mateo where he could park uninterrupted until one day a developer told him a new project would soon break ground, for which the curbs will be painted red to stage construction equipment. He said Stafford Street is the only other spot he knows, adding that every RV park in the region is almost always booked or only available for less than a week at a time.
He would also love to see safe parking offered by either the city or a private property owner willing to allow RVs on their unused land.
“Across the highway there’s a lot of vacant land. All you need is to throw a dumpster on there, charge us $200 to $300 a month and have us sign a waiver saying if anyone is caught with drugs then everyone goes,” he said. “There’s got to be some way.”
This week, the safe parking ad hoc committee will meet separately with homeowners and those living in RVs in the Centennial neighborhood to hear the concerns and needs of both groups before bringing them together for a meeting sometime in January.
Note to readers: The story has been updated. The city decided to cancel a meeting for homeowners and those living in RVs that was scheduled for Dec. 12 and instead hold it sometime in January.
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