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Lake Merced Parking partol
Weekly street cleaning forces RV residents to move their vehicles or face a $90 parking ticket.Photo: Thomas Pendergast

SFMTA’s removal tactic became effective December 19th

RVs on Winston face uncertain future

Thomas Pendergast
Thomas Pendergast

• • • • • • • • • • December 20, 2023 • • • • • • • • • •

At 6:30 a.m. it is still dark when the residents of Winston Drive begin their weekly ritual of moving more than 40 Recreational Vehicles for the street cleaner trucks.

Headlights are turning on as an RV rolls through the Stonestown Galleria parking lot next to the Sports Basement store, then exits onto Buckingham Way to join a few others parked along the curb.

One man packs some things into the storage compartment on his RV, using the dim streetlights to see; another charges up a battery with jumper cables from a nearby van while his neighbor removes wooden blocks from underneath wheels.

TEXT
Jamilet Lira Calderon injured her foot at the ankle and
so could not drive her RV to move it for street
cleaning. The parking patrol did not give her a break.
Photo by Thomas K. Pendergast

With a push from a helpful bystander, another RV drifts downhill and rolls into Lot 25 to join at least a dozen more already parked there, while a passing motorist honks to another man, who returns the friendly good-morning salute with a wave.

The sky is getting lighter with the coming dawn as the last few RVs roll away from the curbs, except for a woman who cannot move hers because she has an injured ankle that is severely swollen and obviously in no condition to push gas or brake pedals.

Despite her condition, she will get a $90 street cleaning ticket before it is all over.

This weekly ritual has been going on every Tuesday morning on Winston Drive for several years now, but it may be coming to an end, although how soon — no one can say for sure.

The City has decided to use the same tactic it has many times before to get rid of parked RVs throughout many streets of San Francisco, by converting this street to a four-hour parking limit in the daytime.

Kevin Rodriguez worked in a restaurant until it closed down after the pandemic hit. Now, he gets sporadic work but is looking for something more stable.

“So, right now, this, for us right here, this is our safe home,” Rodriguez says. “If they take that away from us, we’re going to have nowhere to go. It’s just going to be really difficult for us.”

“Everybody is going to be getting tickets and … we’re just going to get our RVs towed because we’re not going to have enough money to pay all those tickets,” he says. “A lot of people here have families too. And it’s going to be really tough for them too.

quotes

Because many people may think that these RVs carry people that don’t work or don’t do anything — but that’s not true in the least bit. Actually, the majority of these guys work, so going to work and coming back just to move your RV during a work period is close to impossible. So the City knows that it’s eventually going to kick us out.”

“It’s me and my mom but I have my auntie, who lives with her three kids. So it’s going to be really tough for her.”

Kiko Suarez is a carpenter by trade who owns the RV he is living in, having fallen on hard times through a series of misfortunes.

“If people don’t find places, I think what’s going to happen is they know that four-hour parking eventually is going to make us move,” Suarez says. “Because many people may think that these RVs carry people that don’t work or don’t do anything — but that’s not true in the least bit. Actually, the majority of these guys work, so going to work and coming back just to move your RV during a work period is close to impossible. So the City knows that it’s eventually going to kick us out.

RVs line up
RVs line up behind the street cleaners from last Tuesday morning to resume their parking spots.Photo by Thomas K. Pendergast
quotes

Four-hour parking for what? You shouldn’t try to fix something that’s not broken. It’s a very peaceful neighborhood. Everyone gets along and things are still moving. People are still going to school. People are still going to work. Traffic is going through.”

“That’s just the way it’s controlled,” he says. “Four-hour parking for what? You shouldn’t try to fix something that’s not broken. It’s a very peaceful neighborhood. Everyone gets along and things are still moving. People are still going to school. People are still going to work. Traffic is going through.”

Suarez actually has a family house that his parents left him, but right now, he just can’t bring himself to go back there.

“Two years ago my brother hung himself in my garage,” he says. “And I haven’t been able to go back because it’s just too much for me ... I can’t sell it. I can’t rent it. I don’t want to touch the stuff.”

gabriel Pedrosa
Gabriel Pedrosa says “this is like a neighborhood. We feel safe here because everyone knows each other.”Photo by Thomas K. Pendergast

Gabriel Pedrosa says he also owns his RV, and he’s a student at the College of San Mateo who works as a part-time swimming instructor there. However, the area around that college is no better when it comes to parking an RV, he says.

“There is not another place. We don’t know any other places we can park; even in San Mateo, there is no place to park,” Pedrosa says. “And here, this is like a neighborhood. We feel safe here because everyone knows each other … All my stuff is here; everything I have is here. So if I’m parking in a different place I don’t know how is going to be the neighborhood.

“Here there is people who live here and they’ve been looking around. They know who is here … It’s a neighborhood, so we feel safe; we feel at home. We feel comfortable.”

But, living in an RV presents unique challenges that many housed people do not have to deal with, like getting enough fresh water and getting rid of sewage.

“We don’t have water all the time … We have a toilet, but we have to take out the dark water,” Pedrosa says. “Usually in a regular house you can use your bathroom as many times as you want; you can take a shower as many times as you want.

“Right now we need to buy water. We need to buy people to empty the tanks. We have extra expenses but it’s cheaper than a house.”

He says many of them buy from a man who comes around to service the RVs by putting in fresh water and taking out the “dark water.” His tank is around 100 gallons, so he pays $65 to replenish that and to dump out the dark water is another $55.

TEXT
The ticket issued to Jamilet Lira Calderon because
she could not move her RV in time for street cleaning.
Photo by Thomas K. Pendergast

Even though the new parking rules are scheduled to take effect on December 19th, District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar says she doubts anyone will actually move out before Christmas, or perhaps not until sometime after the New Year.

“In order for them to actually enforce that, they need to post signs; that’s the law. The MTA can’t just make a decision and then not post signs,” Melgar says. “The signs have not even been made, let alone installed on Winston and they’re not going to by the 19th. Not yet, and I cannot give you a date when that will happen.”

Adding another uncertainty to the mix: a California Court of Appeals’ decision last July reversed a previous trial court decision and, for now, it effectively bans San Francisco’s policy of towing RVs when they accrue too many parking tickets.

The Coalition on Homelessness challenged the City with a lawsuit, asserting that warrantless tows are unreasonable seizures under the US Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.

“The principal issue on appeal is whether the challenged warrantless tows are permissible under the vehicular community caretaking exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement,” the appeals court decision says. “We conclude respondents have not shown that legally parked cars with unpaid parking tickets that present no threat to ‘public safety and the efficient movement of vehicular traffic’ … may be towed under that exception. In particular, we reject respondent’s argument that their interest in deterring parking violations and nonpayment of parking fines justifies warrantless tows under the vehicular community caretaking exception. Such deterrence does not justify warrantless tows of lawfully registered and lawfully parked vehicles.”

Myrna Melgar
Supervisor Myrna Melgar

“Even if they put up the signs and they started enforcing, State law prevents us from kicking them out,” Melgar said. “If they were able to put up the signs and they started enforcing, then they would start accruing tickets, and then there’s nothing the City could do to kick people out.”

Yet Supervisor Melgar also supports the imposition of four-hour daytime parking limits on Winston Dr.

“If we didn’t have parking restrictions, there would just be new families that take their place and we would never get rid of the unsanctioned RV camp that we have on Winston,” she says. “So as we work to get families into permanent housing we need to start enforcing the four-hour parking, so that other people don’t take their place.”

Caio Azevedo is 26 years old and works as a tour guide in San Francisco. Since this is seasonal work, his income fluctuates throughout the year.

“I work in the City, so I cannot live very far away, and everything here is so expensive,” Azevedo says. “It’s not like I want to be in this situation, but it’s so difficult to find a place where I can actually afford with how much I make here in the City and what I’ve been making these past few years.”

While he has received some help from non-profit organizations, sometimes they offer the wrong kind of help.

“They were offering syringes for us and I had to tell them this is not the kind of people that live here. We don’t need syringes. We don’t need anything to do drugs, anything like that … We’re just trying to make a living and that is not who we are,” he says. “There’s a misconception that we do drugs or that we don’t work or that we don’t want to work, we just want to receive benefits or compensation, but it’s not the reality.”

Rodrigo Lopez is a 50-year-old man working as a junk hauler who has lived on Winston for about two-to-three years.

“Most of the occupants in the RVs are families. We don’t throw trash on the sidewalks. The sidewalks are clear to walk for everyone,” Lopez says.

A four-hour parking limit is going to make things even more difficult.

TEXT
This weekly event could become a twice daily event for the remaining RV residents.Photo by Thomas K. Pendergast

“There’s going to be a lot of problems for us because, obviously, we have to move somewhere else because we cannot handle a move every four hours,” he says. “The only thing we ask, we keep asking for the last two years, is just to find a place where we can be until every single occupant of this RV community finds a way to go out in different ways, not living in the RVs.

“It’s no fun to be in the RVs. Sometimes that’s the only option we have.”

As the RVs resettle after the street cleaning, Ian James, a community engagement manager with GLIDEsf, is knocking on doors with two coworkers.

“We are just trying to make sure everyone has all the information and if there’s a board meeting that impacts their lives, so let people know about it,” James says. “Because all this stuff happens down at City Hall that affects people’s lives and they’re not really getting notices for the meetings. We’re making sure people know what’s going on.”

“The four-hour parking restrictions, what they’re going to do is they’re going to displace people, make people more insecure; remove them from their community,” he says. “You know, there’s a chance that people will end up on the street, as opposed to being in RVs.

“And less than anything we want, is more people ending up on the street. So, we want to help protect communities where people are keeping each other safe, and not displacement.”

Thomas K. Pendergast is a reporter on the West side.

December 19, 2023

Thomas Pendergast.
Thomas Pendergast
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