Public Comment

RV Permitting Nightmare, or Hit the Road, Jack

Carol Denney
Saturday March 02, 2019 - 07:21:00 PM

Anti-homeless laws don't work; the last thirty years proves it. Anti-RV laws, such as Berkeley's vote for a prohibition on parking from 2-5 a.m. while creating a nightmarish two weeks-only permitting system has the same probability of being pointless. The Berkeley City Council probably knows this. But the majority just doesn't care.

Only a couple of them at the special meeting Thursday, February 28, 2019, had the common sense to note that the police were actively concentrating RVs in the west Berkeley. At least some of them know police often just make up the rules as they go. It makes those of us in the police's sights wonder why the Berkeley City Council majority even bothers pumping out more rules. The police do whatever they want whenever they want to the poor, rules be damned.

Here's why they do it; it makes the homeowners and business owners pressuring against the RV community feel like something was done. Even if pointless, even if useless, even if heartless, something happened. A crank turned. The City Manager's office will whir with authority and fluff the detail, the City Manager's office will try to craft an elegant evasion of Martin vs. Boise, and the City Council gets to pose next to their RV permit process like a proud hunter standing by a dead bear. 

There always comes a moment in a city council meeting to generate more anti-poor laws where a single supporter alludes to the people who would have attended, who might have spoken, who could have far outnumbered the poor and voices on behalf of the poor. They were just too afraid to come, to speak, to represent their own interests and opinions according to this single voice. This voice always argues that the room is skewed unfairly toward opposition to laws that target the poor despite the poor in great numbers managing to muster the courage to come. The poor plead for common sense and against ineffective, expensive laws which commonly dog and doom the those without property and means to tickets, fines, and jail for simply being unable to pay sky-high rents. 

And it works. Mayor Arreguin leans forward, just as Tom Bates and before him his wife, former Mayor Loni Hancock, use to do. The mayor assures the poor law supporters, usually property and business owners convinced that the view out their front windows of streets they don't own should not include the sight of an RV, that they're heard and that their concerns will be treated with respect. The Mayor assures them that there is scrambling behind the scenes to move heaven and earth to accommodate their issues. They may not own the public streets in front of their businesses and properties, but they're reassured that they will be treated as if they did. 

And then comes the turning of the big, fake crank that proves that the council did something for the property owners tired of being surrounded by poverty. Berkeley may be among the top ten cities nationally for its income disparity, but dang it, that doesn't mean the well-off should have any visible evidence of same. The fake crank turns. Those insistent that any poverty or income disparity be invisible then feel their council representatives have done something. Any residual difficulty is just evidence of the depth of the problem, not the idiocy of the council, few of whom are unaware that anti-poor laws are a waste of money and time. 

Criminalization of the poor is not just counter-productive, it is really, really expensive. Note that the $13 million dollars of the public's money which was just recently spent on renovating BART Plaza to make it less likely that poor people will hang out on benches (and deliberately toilet-free), divided by the $20,000 per year this writer has managed to live on for decades would have gotten at least 650 people off the street for a year. 

But extremely costly idiocy appears to be what citizens of Berkeley are willing to embrace. The proof is the decades they have spent doing exactly that, and spending those decades watching their own public dollars going straight down the drain of this convenient political facade. 

Let's be clear. It takes creativity, resourcefulness, focus, discipline, and attention to detail to work within the strictures already placed on RVs (recreational vehicles) in the City of Berkeley, let alone keep your job while living in a tent. And it is most likely true that just as with tent cities, human waste is dealt with in inadequate ways, since the closest pumping station right now according to this recent city council meeting is somewhere in Petaluma

But it is also true that repeated speakers warned against providing adequate pumping facilities in the City of Berkeley for fear that people, rather than renting at exorbitant rates, would abandon any hope of finding a rental unit and create an even larger RV community. Ahhhhhh! 

While the majority of the Berkeley City Council listened to the voices of the RV community with glazed expressions, a few councilmembers exhibited clarity, concern, and creative policy. Councilmembers Hahn, Harrison, and Davila illustrated how simple it would be to offer immediate space in vacant properties as a safe harbor, and how counterproductive it is to tighten rules on a community already under strain. Hahn, Harrison, and Davila questioned the report presented to the council as a foundation for the proposed legislation asking pointed questions, noting the absence of commissions and relevant committees in the process, and raised hope that at least a little common sense rattles around on City Hall's fifth floor. 

But in the meantime, between 2:00 am and the break of dawn, RV dwellers will have to endlessly drive around. Because thanks to the necessity of a political facade, common sense and compassion will just have to wait.