Berkeley City Council decided to crack down on RVs on Berkeley streets at a special City Council meeting Thursday evening, amending existing municipal code to clarify the prohibition amid outcry from students, senior citizens and members of the homeless community who live in vehicles that now face harsher restrictions.
The Berkeley school district boardroom, where the meeting was held, was packed Thursday evening, and public comment extended nearly two hours, with homeowners, small business representatives and homeless residents speaking both in favor of and against the tightening of RV restrictions.
The policy the City Council decided upon will amend existing Berkeley municipal code, which prohibits RVs from staying on Berkeley streets for “extended periods of time.” One such amendment involves redefining the ban against “heavy duty commercial vehicles” on Berkeley streets between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. to include RVs.
After the motion passed, District 2 Councilmember Cheryl Davila said the results could be “devastating” and exacerbate hardships for RV owners, leading to tickets and potentially arrests for unpaid fines.
Many commenters asked the council to explore other options that would protect the homeless community more. Several argued for creating a legal space for the RVs to park, stating that residents living in RVs need protection. Mayor Jesse Arreguín expressed that although the council is open to that idea, such space is scarce and has not yet been found.
Other meeting attendees, including business owners, raised concerns regarding how RVs affect local businesses, claiming the vehicles take up space for parking, create a bad business environment and produce waste.
“The 72-hour rule has not been enforced, and the impacts of these RVs, which are now spreading above San Pablo, are having impacts on a lot of people’s lives and businesses,” said Steven Donaldson, founder and principal of RadiantBrands on Fifth Street.
Yet RV owners such as UC Berkeley graduate student Michael Smith feel that a middle ground can be found between nonenforcement and an outright ban. He suggested prohibiting RV parking in front of businesses on streets such as Shattuck and Telegraph avenues as an alternative.
While the City Council ultimately voted in favor of the motion, the council was divided, with three members — Councilmembers Davila, Kate Harrison and Rigel Robinson — disagreeing with the motion. Both Davila and Harrison expressed that permitting RVs on streets for only 14 days a year is insufficient.
“To live in an RV, to live in a car, is to grasp at straws for the last shelter available to you,” Robinson, who represents District 7, said. “For us as the governments of this city to deny people that last option doesn’t feel just.”
In an attempt to give further consideration to the issue of the RV ban enforcement, Davila and Harrison raised a second motion that would refer the issue to a committee to be further explored. That motion ultimately failed, and Davila, Harrison and Robinson voted against the final proposal.
The City Council also passed the Clean and Livable Commons Initiative, which will add lighting, cameras, signs, toilets and a Livable Commons Action Team to combat illegal dumping. There is also a plan to raise public awareness about illegal dumping as well as how to donate to homeless encampments.
“This item came out of the conversation that we had with business owners, with residents, and with our city manager about the need to increase our resources to be able to address the growing amount of illegal dumping and trash on our streets,” Arreguín said. “I’ve gotten voluminous calls and emails from constituents throughout the city asking the city to really address this issue and increase its resources.”