RV parking plan unfairly targets people living in vehicles – Opinion

SFPD parking violation notice on Great Highway RV

Photo: Tom Prete / Ocean Beach Bulletin

Opinion By Kathleen C. Gray

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is asking for a new ordinance that would make it illegal to park large vehicles (read: RVs) overnight anywhere that a sign is posted. The first proposed areas for such signage are all areas known to be where RVs park on an ongoing basis, including the Lower Great Highway in the Sunset District.

One of the major reasons given for why this legislation is needed is that neighbors in these certain areas are complaining about the near constant presence of RVs, campers, etc. I wonder what those neighbors would think if they realized that those vehicles cleave to certain areas because the SFPD herded them there in the first place. For at least the last 15 years, to my direct knowledge, the police have been instructing those living in their vehicles to park there.

I know a little bit about the game that is played. It is called Musical Chairs for Inhabited Vehicles.

I don’t do drugs. I am fairly well educated. I have been gainfully employed from the age of 15 onward. I have also, sadly, experienced being a homeless person. Surprisingly, it didn’t take all that much to find myself in that bind: job loss, then savings used up, and making a bad choice of a companion, which led to domestic violence. All at once, with nothing available for me in the shelter system, I had no where to live, no money for a new place. So l literally walked down the hill from the house where I had been living in the Richmond District, to sleep in Golden Gate Park.

I lived in Golden Gate Park for the better part of a year (from 1997 to 1998), not by choice but as the absolute last resort.

So all told I worked and lived in San Francisco for 17 years, only two years of which was in conventional housing (the first two). I have stayed in  Golden Gate Park, the back of a friend’s van, in a van of my own, and later in my beloved 1957 travel trailer which had been in storage for the previous seven years, from a time when I actually used to go on vacations in it.

Throughout these experiences I had a lot of contact with the police, so believe me when I tell you they know exactly who is living in what vehicle. I have even had a district captain (new to the Richmond at the time) rolling with the black-and-whites as they ID’d me and threatened to ticket me for “camping” in the middle of a sunny Saturday afternoon at the park. When I reasonably pointed out to the uniform the illegality of this, the captain stepped out of the car to explain that she “knew I wasn’t breaking the law,” but they just wanted to know “who was in there.” This sort of treatment is common practice, subverting the use of authority for an agenda.

During my time living in a vehicle, the police hounded me relentlessly. I was continually woken up by them at 3 in the morning. The rude awakening entailed spotlights, shouting and pounding on the trailer with their Maglites, thus denting the body of the vehicle (I’d like to see them try that on somebody’s Mercedes). I had to step out in the cold in my pajamas while they ticketed me for the misdemeanor of having been peaceably asleep in my vehicle. The funny thing is, this was always accompanied with the direction to move my vehicle: not just away, but to specific areas. If I was parked in the Sunset somewhere, I was told to park on the Lower Great Highway. In the Richmond, they just told you to go to the Sunset, but “suggested” the Lower Great.

This was cyclical. There were a few years where the instruction was, “Why don’t you go park on Lincoln Way with everyone else?” Then it would return to being directed to the  Lower Great Highway.

Now, the SFMTA wants the Board of Supervisors to pass legislation that will allow them to start herding these people, who are just trying to be self-reliant in the best way they know how or can afford. Saying that the obstacle keeping these people from accepting city housing is fear of losing their vehicles is disingenuous at best; the real fear is for their own quality of life. Would you give up your independence, your pets, the beach, the park, your neighborhood, to be corralled in the Tenderloin, without your pets, in what in many cases amounts to crack hotels filled with all the people who may have dragged you down in the first place? I have visited friends in these places, and I wouldn’t have lived there if you had paid me to.

Problems exist. Some people in vehicles, just like in any segment of society, are irresponsible. They don’t carry their trash to the trash cans. Surely you don’t believe that homeless people are the only ones littering at Ocean Beach?

So, needles are found. You must be aware that drug abuse is not solely the affliction of people who are not conventionally housed? It always amazes me that whenever needles are found in Golden Gate Park, they are always attributed to the homeless people who make the park their home, never to the thousands of other citizens who use the park to recreate in!

For these problems there are already laws in place. This new proposal sounds to me as though the City, despite vigorous resistance to it, is just clearing the way for its new pet project at the beach, the Beach Chalet soccer field renovation with its attendant 60-foot-tall stadium lights. And as usual, they are prepared to do the clearing right over the backs of the poor.


Publisher’s Note: This opinion article does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Ocean Beach Bulletin. It represents the opinion of its author, who is responsible for the veracity of statements made in it. The Ocean Beach Bulletin accepts submissions of opinion articles. For more information or to submit your own opinion article for consideration, please email Tom Prete.

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  1. I think that the implementation of the law is off target. If the purpose of the ordinance is to prevent habitation in vehicles, they should put this there and have people vote on that. But I guess such an overt anti-homeless measure was not PC. The way it is now it hits people who come back with their van late from work, folks who bring their trailer home after a weekend trip, and someone who needs to park a Uhaul prior to moving. Homeless people (for whom I have some, but not unlimited sympathy) will just trade the RV for a pickup truck.

  2. Lived in sunset for 7 years. I know it is not the RVers that leave their stuff on the street. That is a broad generalization. An occasional RVer might but most of the time it is the alcoholic drug addict doing this. I never saw any criminal activity operated out of an RV. SORRY. The neighborhood hall monitors want to blame it all on the RVers. That don’t fly! The vast majority of the la playa & sunset folk I asked could care less about the RVs. It’s California. Is San Francisco! Not Ames, Iowa. No, I know the neighborhood & the people. There’s 3 busy body control freaks named Steve Ward, Mary Ellen Collins, & John Zolinski who really need to get a life & stop sticking their noses where it don’t belong. . These are the people that you couldn’t stand in high school. They grow up yo be in neighborhood SAFE programs. They are so fearful hat they have to regulate everybody else’s behavior do they feel safe. I call them Safety Sally.

  3. As a working artist (retired professor) with necessary equipment, artwork & personal effects; the only way I can travel, survive & have any freedom is by urban camping in my vehicle. One key observation I’ve made over the past seven years that most overlook, is that a large portion of the people doing this are of RETIREMENT AGE! There are also many handicapped & unemployed, but perhaps the general populace would rather turn a blind eye toward what the future may hold for them after a full life’s work: Living in your vehicle is the optimum lifestyle you can achieve existing on a social security check in this State. For God’s sake, why can’t we even allow them places to park?

  4. This would never happen in Pacific Heights, Sea Cliff, Marina, etc. These vehicles are ruining the ocean beach area, one of the best places in the city. I live on 48th and had a huge RV parked out front my place for two weeks completely blocking any views and who knows what kind of person was in there? Very dangerous for a neighborhood with families and kids every where.

  5. I see that the next step is parking meters and permits required for resident parking. By a few complainers making noise everybody who lives in the area will suffer. Next illegal mother-in-law apartments will be targeted. Then how many people are occupying a residence.
    This attack on RV homeless will end up biting us in the rear end. Watch and see.

  6. The supporters of the RV parking ban can gloat all they like, but the last laugh will be at the expense of all the residents in the affected areas. The homeless will merely downsize to vehicles that fall under the size limit, and in a few years time when the “problem” continues, you will see the introduction of permit only parking and parking meters in these neighborhoods to deal with it. The ban supporters have just given SF more leverage to further restrict parking and extract more revenues in the future. Also consider all the innocent residents / working people these new rules effect. The common “Sprinter” vans, wheelchair conversion vans, 4 wheel drive trucks, and many other common work vehicles are all over 7ft tall ( but well under 22ft in length). Where are these residents supposed to park now?

    • people can register for a permit to park those types of cars in their own neighborhoods. and they can apply for permits for their guests too.

  7. I can never get past people thinking that they are entitled to live on public property for free.

    • Yes of course: if you have no money you shouldn’t be living… just die already.

      I cannot believe people can be so hard hearted! For god sake, it IS “public” property … not YOUR private area.

      The entirety of western expansion of the United States was people living on public (stolen from native american) lands. They simply used different terminology: homesteading.

  8. The city needs to establish a car park for folks living in vehicles like other cities, such as Santa Barbara have.

  9. For me, it’s a safety issue. Over-sized vehicles that park on street corners block the visibility into the intersection and increase the chances for broadside collisions. I’ve seen this type of accident on several occasions along 36th and 37th Avenues. A driver heading north on 37th, for example, can’t see around the tall, commercial vehicle or camper van (or both) on the corner and decides to poke out in the intersection and then has to gun it to avoid the cross traffic. It’s simply unsafe. That’s why I’m for the legislation and glad to hear it just passed.

  10. I respectfully disagree that this has anything to do with the local homeless population. As someone who lives on Great Highway, I can tell you that the people causing the problems in front of my house are not homeless San Franciscans, but folks who come from other parts of the country knowing how lax the laws are here. They park their campers and vans on the street, do drug deals, and proceed to dump their trash (yes, including needles) and poop all over the sidewalk and grass area near the Great Highway path. These people are not part of the homeless population down on their luck – they are taking advantage of a system that allows them to behave that way. I live on this street, but I don’t throw my trash out the window or go to the bathroom on my sidewalk. They shouldn’t be allowed to either.

  11. Not sure I follow this. Even if everything the author says is true, living in a car on the Great Hwy w/out basic services is still repugnant and unacceptable. I think everyone agrees the City is responsible… but it doesn’t follow that you then simply dump down and out people at the edge of the ocean and walk away. Our neighborhood is degraded and dangerous because of what is going on and has been allowed to fester for more than a decade. The City would never go for this in wealthy neighborhoods, so quit treating the Great Highway and the SF coastline like a neglected third world ghetto.


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