Residents living in vehicles at Berkeley Marina face forceful eviction

Amanda Ramirez/File

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Vehicular residents of the Berkeley Marina and supporters protested early Monday morning against eviction notices that cited the area as a construction zone.

The Berkeley Marina vehicular community, which consists of about 20 vehicles and 45 people, gathered at 5 a.m. and demanded that the city either let them remain at the marina or provide another space for their vehicles. Community resident Amber Whitson said the protest was “lighthearted” until the Berkeley Police Department arrived at 8 a.m., when officers warned residents that if they didn’t follow the city’s directive their vehicles would be towed and cited.

Whitson said the vehicular residents want the city of Berkeley to craft a policy that would allow people to legally park and live in their vehicles free from government harassment.

“We just need access to basic resources like water, showers, toilets and garbage,” Whitson said in a press release. “Our peaceful community begs the City to leave us where we are but our pleas seem to fall on deaf ears.”

Supervising attorney at the East Bay Community Law Center Osha Neumann said the protest was about an ongoing crisis in which it is illegal for people to live where they are, but no legal residence is offered. He added that most of those living in vehicles at the marina had been evicted from their housing in Berkeley or surrounding cities.

Some residents of the community were pushed out from long-standing, organized homeless encampments such as the Albany Bulb in 2014, according to Neumann. Among the vehicular residents are people with disabilities, a 5-year-old child and a mother with incurable cancer, Neumann added.

“This was an episode in a crisis that will continue until Berkeley acknowledges the homeless crisis and find a place where people can legally exist,” Neumann said.

Whitson said the community was able to move its vehicles to the parking lot of HS Lordships, a restaurant on the marina, but added that this might not be a solution for permanent residence. Whitson said she is unsure if the area will provide sanctuary from the city and the police, but that the families with children believed it would be safer and healthier to stay on the marina.

After the vehicles were moved to the parking lot, a tow truck driver threatened to tow them. According to Neumann, the driver said the vehicles would be destroyed since all of the tow lots were full, which Neumann said was a baseless threat and “very upsetting to people already in a traumatic experience.”

City spokesperson Matthai Chakko said the truck driver was not affiliated with the city, and that Berkeley issued an eviction for these vehicles from an area where they were not allowed to stay. In response to complaints and reports of vandalism by people who use the Berkeley Marina, the city decided to implement “present local law,” according to Chakko.

Chakko added that the city already provides services to homeless people, such as connecting them with housing.

“People who are most in need and have been homeless for a long time are qualified for these services,” Chakko said. “These people are more than welcome to accept our provided services.”

As of press time the community’s vehicles remain parked in the HS Lordships parking lot.

“We’re sticking together,” Whitson said. “Not everyone is lucky enough to have a community to feel safe in and we are hanging on to that sense of community regardless of what the city throws at us.”

Contact Amanda Bradford at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @amandabrad_uc.