Virtual City Council meeting

Council Reverses Hilltop Decision, Picks New Location for Safe Parking Program

Virtual City Council meeting

The City Council voted 4-3 Tuesday to explore using Civic Center parking lot 2 as the new site for a one-year safe parking pilot program. (Screenshot captured by Mathew Miranda / The CC Pulse)

By Mathew Miranda

Following public backlash, the Richmond City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday to reverse its decision to use the Hilltop Mall parking lot for a one-year safe parking pilot program that would provide services for homeless people with vehicles.

Mayor Tom Butt was the sole vote against reversing the Hilltop Mall decision.

Afterward, the council decided to explore using Civic Center parking lot 2, at 25th Street and Barrett Avenue, as the new program site. The seven-part motion narrowly passed 4-3 with Butt and Council members Nat Bates and Eduardo Martinez voting against.

Before voting, Butt called the motion hypocritical given that the council members introduced the Civic Center site without input from the neighborhood, similar to the Hilltop decision.

“All the arguments people have given for not using Hilltop, they apply more to this site,” Butt said. “The proposed site at Hilltop is 1,000 feet from anyone, minimum. At the 25th Street site, you got [a] senior housing project right across the street on one side, a residential neighborhood right across the street on the other and the Civic Center right next to it.”

City Manager Laura Snideman said only a portion of the council’s selection will be explored because the city already has a lease for COVID-19 testing nearby. The northern section of the new site’s parking lot is also used for the weekly Richmond Farmers Market, according to a staff report.

In his Wednesday e-Forum newsletter, Butt said the new site is “closer than Hilltop to everything, including a church and a temple, a 140-unit senior public housing complex, a COVID-19 testing site, the Richmond Farmers Market, the Richmond Memorial Auditorium and the Richmond Art Center.”

Additional details for Tuesday’s seven-part motion included:

  • Establishing Civic Center parking lot 1 as the program’s back-up option.
  • Accepting $260,00 in California Homeless Emergency Aid Program grant funding and $300,000 from in-lieu affordable housing fund fees.
  • Authorizing the city manager to enter a contract with the Housing Consortium of East Bay for up to $560,000.
  • Advising the consortium to reach out to subcontractors including Greater Richmond Interfaith Program and Richmond Safe Organized Spaces.
  • Directing staff to explore agreements with the company Prologis, who offered to contribute $250,000 to the program, according to Butt’s Feb. 15 e-Forum newsletter.
  • Directing staff to do outreach to churches and other private sites to take in homeless people with operable vehicles for 90 days.

The council spent the majority of Tuesday night’s meeting discussing this highly contested issue after facing scrutiny for the last two weeks. Since the council’s Feb. 2 site decision, leaders of the Fairmede-Hilltop and Hilltop neighborhood councils organized an opposing online petition that has received more than 2,200 signatures as of Thursday.

Among the 27 public speakers on this issue were many residents who said the council failed to consult with the Hilltop community. Most speakers were in favor of other locations, such as the fire training center on Cutting Boulevard and Stege Avenue and the GRIP Project Hope site at the corner of 22nd Street and Bissell Avenue.

Council member Claudia Jimenez brought up a motion proposing the GRIP site.

Jimenez said GRIP, a local nonprofit that provides meals and showers to the unhoused, would be the most ideal location because residents could be within walking distance of essential services. She added that the city would be able to use the GRIP site after the one-year program ends.

“To the best of my knowledge, all other sites would need to be closed down for good at the end of the pilot program even if the need for parking still exists,” Jimenez said. “That expiration date will make any investment in infrastructure and other sites a waste.”

GRIP Executive Director Kathleen Sullivan and board of directors member Cesar Zepeda gave the council a 20-minute presentation in support of the site.

Council members Gayle McLaughlin, Demnlus Johnson and Melvin Willis supported the GRIP site, but said they preferred Civic Center because of its capability to provide services more promptly.

“Civic Center still weighs first for me because of its turnkey ability as well as the provider’s turnkey ability to come in and get this going as soon as possible,” Johnson said.

Per a request from the county, grant funding for the program is contingent upon site selection by March 1.

“Not trying to jeopardize this funding,” Willis said.

The three councilors encouraged a safe parking program partnership with GRIP in the future.

Bates disagreed with any location that neighborhoods did not support. He recommended additional sites away from residents. “I will be voting no on everything,” he said.

Butt opposed the GRIP site, raising concerns outlined in a letter Contra Costa County sent to GRIP on Monday. The letter alleges multiple failures by GRIP to comply with contractual and operating standards for a homeless service.

“I think they do great work, but at this point, they’ve reached out further than they have the capacity to,” Butt said.

Sullivan responded to allegations cited in the letter while acknowledging the struggles brought upon by the pandemic.

“There are many things on there that have their inaccuracies that we’re in the midst of responding [to], and we’ll be making that information as public as the letter was made public,” Sullivan said.

State of the City

Butt also presented a summary of Richmond’s current condition with his annual State of the City address.

Butt’s roughly hourlong presentation touched on nearly every aspect of the city, including finances, public safety, transportation, housing, development, business, community organizations and education.

He began the address by highlighting the unprecedented year brought upon by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Butt’s presentation, Richmond has had 9,421 positive cases and 74 deaths from the coronavirus.

The city’s number of vaccinations is currently 18,996, per Butt’s presentation.

Butt also discussed public safety. In 2020, Butt said violent crime decreased by 2% while property crime fell by 17%.

Richmond ended 2020 with 22 homicides, two more than the previous two years.

“Most cities our size have one or two a year, if any at all,” Butt said. “While we remain in double digits, I continue to hope for a zero-homicide year, but it won’t be this year. Maybe next year.”

Richmond had its first homicide of 2021 earlier this month.

Butt ended the presentation with his hopes for the upcoming year, among them ending the pandemic, moving forward with the Point Molate and Campus Bay projects, driving down homicides and balancing the city budget.

The meeting finally came to an end when a motion to extend the meeting past 11:30 p.m. failed in a 3-3-1 vote with Butt, Jimenez and Martinez voting against. Willis abstained.

  • Stephen Ford
    Posted at 02:45h, 26 February

    City council needs to communicate with the community better, this vote shouldn’t have been taken before talking to nearby residents about the proposal. They failed to communicating hilltop community, then made the same mistake again at Civic center.

  • Steve Ford
    Posted at 10:15h, 26 February

    City council has really dropped the ball on this. The city council needs to be much more communicative about this operation, and should have talked to nearby residents BEFORE voting on this. This part of town has lot’s of issues currently that have not been effectively addressed, this will only add to the problems. There are many other open areas that aren’t in the very center of Richmond that can used for this.

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