Richmond council picks Civic Center over Hilltop Mall for Safe Parking pilot

Richmond council selects Civic Center over Hilltop Mall for Safe Parking program
RV photo by Mike Kinney

Following opposition by Hilltop neighbors, Richmond City Council on Tuesday voted 4-3 to no longer locate the city’s upcoming Safe Parking Pilot Program at Hilltop Mall and to instead locate the program in one of two Civic Center parking lots.

The one-year pilot program aims to provide safe haven and wraparound services for a growing number vehicle dwellers in the city, with the aim of transitioning them into stable housing. The city aims to fund it via a $260,000 State Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP) grant from Contra Costa County and $300,000 from an in-lieu Affordable Housing Fee program paid by developers.

On Feb. 2, City Council chose to locate the Safe Parking program in a portion of the parking lot at Hilltop Mall, a decision aided by the fact that Prologis, the logistics company that is purchasing the nearly vacant mall property, offered to donate $250,000 to support the pilot program.

Members of the Hilltop community mounted a coordinated campaign to oppose the plan and additionally proposed an alternative: having the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program (GRIP) operate the pilot program at a vacant property at 22nd Street and Bissell Avenue, near GRIP headquarters.

Safe Parking site proposed for Hilltop Mall

On Tuesday, City Council decided against locating at Hilltop Mall. It also rejected locating the program at 22nd and Bissell, due in part to reservations over the cost and time it would take to prepare the site. Questions have also been raised over GRIP’s capacity and ability to take on the program.

Proposed Safe Parking site near GRIP

Instead, council voted to locate the site at the Civic Center, which city staff had ranked among the top three out of 35 sites it had evaluated for the program. Council directed the staff to locate the program in either a portion of the parking lot at 25th and Barrett avenues or in part of the employee lot across from the Richmond Public Library.

One of two proposed Civic Center sites

City Council voted to contract with Housing Consortium of East Bay (HCEB), which runs Safe RV Parking sites in Oakland, to operate Richmond’s program.

Prologis reportedly agreed to still donate $250,000 to the project, no matter where it is located. The council will need to formally approve any agreement with the company.

Mayor Tom Butt, along with Councilmembers Eduardo Martinez and Nat Bates, voted against the Civic Center location. Mayor Butt says the Hilltop Mall parking lot is preferable, as it can take on far more vehicles than alternative sites while also being relatively distanced from neighbors. Part of the project’s goal is to address the growing unsanctioned RV camps at Rydin Road and the Richmond Parkway, where “there are 80-100 RVs,” he said.

Councilmember Bates, who advocated for North Richmond sites that are away from residences, said the project shouldn’t pit neighborhoods against one another. He noted many neighborhoods are “not as strong and as organized” at Hilltop, such as Richmore Village near Civic Center, where he says neighbors also expressed opposition to having the project near them.

Vice Mayor Demnlus Johnson said he voted in favor of the Civic Center site due to its “turnkey ability” that can get the project going as quickly as possible, before the grant opportunity goes away.