The San Francisco Planning Commission on Thursday will weigh a proposal to temporarily use a parking lot near the Balboa Park Bart Station as an overnight rest stop for RV and car dwellers, complete with services.
Pending the commission’s approval, the city planning code would be amended to allow long-term parking and overnight camping in vehicles, as well as the addition of restrooms and showering facilities at a current parking lot near the Balboa Park Bart Station that is slated for the construction of 100 percent affordable housing next year.
If approved, city officials estimate that the Safe Overnight Parking Pilot program could launch at the site for one year as early as November. The program aims to provide sites for eligible homeless people currently living in their vehicles to park and sleep and receive case management and social services.
The lot, located at the intersection of San Jose and Geneva avenues, is expected to serve up to 33 people living in RVs, who would be allowed to stay for 90 days with the option of renewal until housing becomes available to them. Seniors, people living with chronic illness, families with children under the age of 18 and people with disabilities would be given priority for the program.
The Planning Department staff is recommending approval, as well as an expansion of the program to more than one site to eliminate “the need for subsequent legislation for future Overnight Safe Parking Lots,” per planning documents.
The safe parking program, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors in April, aims to address San Francisco’s growing homeless population, which has increased by 30 percent since 2017, as well as mounting complaints about vehicle dwellers in residential neighborhoods.
A count conducted last year revealed that that some 432 people were living in their vehicles— 313 in RVs and 119 in passenger cars, the San Francisco Examiner reported previously. At a second community hearing on the proposal held Tuesday, Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing Director Jeff Kositsky said that this number has increased to over 600 people.
“[This number] has been growing pretty incrementally and steadily over the past couple of years,” said Kositsky.
He added that the hope is that those referred to the safe overnight parking site “will choose to come into a shelter or Navigation Center rather than to sleep in their vehicle overnight.”
District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai, who along with District 5 Supervisor Vallie Brown is spearheading the effort, described it as “a small but important step to addressing our housing crisis and a direct response to the many calls from constituents I receive asking me to help these individuals.”
Complaints from neighbors on De Wolf Street — a one-block street near Alemany Boulevard that was home to a number of RVs — first prompted Safai to seek an oversized vehicle ban there last August. That request was initially rejected by the SFMTA Board of Directors, which noted that the City already had a number of RV bans that effectively shuffled the homeless from neighborhood to neighborhood without solving the problem.
While the De Wolf parking ban was later approved, Safai and Brown worked together on a proposal to provide a safe parking space for RV dwellers facing displacement, at a cost of $1 million, the Examiner reported previously.
Safai said that once the Board of Supervisors reconvenes from summer break next week, a proposal will be introduced “that will ask every single district in San Francisco” to “in one way or another come forward with a plan to deal with the homelessness crisis.”
“This is our way to come forward with a positive proposal,” he said.
The San Jose Avenue site is currently used as a surface parking lot, making it “an ideal candidate for conversion to another, more needed use,” according to planning documents. “ The property is slated to become some 130 units of permanently affordable housing with a ground breaking in the next 12 to 24 months.
Some three dozen people attended Tuesday’s community meeting, and while many neighbors spoke in support of the plan, some voiced reservations.
“How would you like it next to your house? How do you control drug use? Do you anticipate petty crime going up in the neighborhood?” one neighbor wanted to know.
Kositsky said crime rates have remained the same or dropped slightly in areas surrounding Navigation Centers, low-barrier homeless shelters that operate in certain neighborhoods on a temporary basis, and that homeless people are statistically speaking more often the victims of crime than the perpetrators.
Safai added that two “ambassadors” will be manning the site 24 hours a day to provide security services.
An Oceanview resident and former psychiatric nurse at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital who attended the meeting said that she supported the proposal, and would like to see safe overnight parking expanded to other neighborhoods, including her own.
“Services take a lot of the danger out of the problem,” she said.
If passed by the Planning Commissioners, the ordinance seeking the Planning Code amendment would still need approval by the Board of Supervisors.