A BART train passes by some recreational vehicles parked in between cars on De Wolf Street near Alemany Boulevard. A proposed SF Municipal Transportation Agency law would make it illegal for overnight parking on the side street for vehicles taller than seven feet or longer than 22 feet. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Transit board stalemate highlights city’s failure to find solution for homeless RV residents

The City’s transit board deadlocked Tuesday over a proposed ban on oversize vehicles on a one-block long street at the edge of the Ingleside neighborhood, which was sought by Supervisor Ahsha Safai on behalf of nearby homeowners.

After hearing dramatic testimony from people living in RVs on De Wolf Street, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board members decried the never-ending shuffle of bans and efforts to relocate the homeless and challenged San Francisco leaders to find a more permanent solution.

Standing at just about five feet tall, Gladys Odilia held her shawl tight and asked The City’s transit board Tuesday not to force her to move her RV, her only home, from a street at the edge of San Francisco’s Ingleside neighborhood.

“I’m 67 years old, please do not take me away,” Odilia said through a Spanish language interpreter, at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors meeting Thursday. “My son is handicapped,” she said between tears. “I beg you, please do not have me moved.

SEE RELATED: Supervisor moves to ban RV dwellers on Ingleside street

Neighbors from 13 nearby homes asked Safai to ban the RVs that park along the street, alleging the residents light fires and use generators.

The RVs arrived on De Wolf following similar RV bans in other neighborhoods, which have pushed them from street to street like a game of high stakes whack-a-mole.

The SFMTA board does not usually find itself deadlocked, but with the departure of one of its directors, Joel Ramos, and the impending vote by the Board of Supervisors to approve a new appointee to the board, the sitting directors found themselves split three-to-three.

At issue was a longstanding request by the board, made roughly five years ago, that SFMTA staff bring no other RV bans forward for approval unless The City found a permanent plan to aid homeless people living in their vans. Otherwise, the board members argued, they would simply be shuffling the problem — and people’s lives — throughout The City.

In the years since SFMTA made that ask, SFMTA staff have enlisted aid from the Human Services Agency, various homeless departments, the Board of Supervisors and more, but have failed to present any solutions, the board said at the meeting Tuesday.

“We did ask these issues not to come to us before there is a permanent solution,” said Gwyneth Borden, one director, during the board’s deliberation.

“You’re telling me there’s 1,100 people on a wait list for a shelter bed?” Borden asked, incredulously. “There’s not even a pilot,” she said, referring to a pilot program to park RV’s somewhere central in The City with access to homeless services. “As much as I feel bad for people on De Wolf Street, we need to figure out how we can help” citywide, she said.

Director Cristina Rubke, normally not a critical voice on the board, sharply rebuked the lack of effort by The City to help those living in RVs find a permanent place to park.

“It seems we’ve been working on this issue for five years,” she said.

Ultimately Borden, Rubke, and SFMTA Board of Directors Chair Cheryl Brinkman voiced opposition to a ban on De Wolf street, and pushed instead for a pilot program to park RVs in The City.

SFMTA Director of Sustainable Streets Tom Maguire said agency staff tried for years to seek a solution, but could not find available land for the RVs to park.

“To be honest,” he said, “we have been working on that.”

Those efforts stalled.

Meanwhile, the three other sitting SFMTA directors pushed to ban RVs on De Wolf street.

“I can’t believe we can’t find a parking lot at Treasure Island or at the Cow Palace,” said director Art Torres.

Still, he supported banning RVs on De Wolf because “if these trailers were in Pacific Heights, I bet we would be real fast in solving this.” Ultimately, “it’s just not right to the homeowners,” he said.

One threat underyling the entire discussion is a new process developed at the citywide Board of Supervisors to appeal any decision by the SFMTA Board of Directors. The directors knew that if they choose not to ban RV’s on De Wolf, Safai could simply appeal their decision and seek to overturn it at the Board of Supervisors.

Perhaps with that in mind, faced with the deadlock among voting members, SFMTA chair Brinkman moved to “continue” the decision, essentially giving SFMTA staff more time to develop a solution for homeless RV parkers writ large before taking up a vote on the De Wolf Street ban.

“As an agency we have not come up with a solution,” Brinkman said.

But hopefully they will now, she and others said, for the sake of all living on De Wolf Street and in RVs throughout San Francisco.

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