Schaaf’s “Safe Parking” Site Had Intended Consequences

Posted on August 1, 2019


Mayor Libby Schaaf’s “Safe Parking” program pilot was always predicated on evicting live-in vehicles along an adjacent industrial strip on 85th and Edes Avenues. But recently released information shows OPD tagged 70 vehicles for towing along that corridor after the “Safe Parking” site reached its limit. That’s more than twice the site’s capacity. 


2019-07-13_13-25-53-e1564708276546.pngWhen Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and her City Administrators unveiled the city-run “Safe Parking” site in late June, Schaaf and her administrators made it clear to the invited coterie of corporate news reporters that the city would soon ban overnight parking in the adjacent 85th/Edes corridor. Though warned well ahead of time, no reporter from any local print or broadcast media was on alert for the coming eviction. You can consider this reporter an original source for that data, because I was the sole journalist who reported the arrival of courtesy towing stickers three weeks later on July 11. The square orange stickers the size of a magazine festooned nearly every vehicle along the corridor, warning current inhabitants that they had 72 hours to vacate the area, or be subject to citation and tow.

Dozens of vehicles that had found safe harbor on the corridor for years now had to flee to other parts unknown, and with many adjoining corridors already blocked from overnight parking, this meant they would have to migrate to already congested areas in East Oakland’s poorest neighborhoods. And that was the good news. Many of the corridor’s inhabitants lived in non-functioning vehicles—unregisterable beaters they’d bought for pennies to strictly live in, or vehicles that had once been sound and had broken down over time.

In the course of my reporting, I gave my number to one unfortunate soul who lived in a non-operable vehicle along the corridor in case his friendly tows fell through. In the end, these are poor people helping poor people, and so they did fall through. He called me early on July 16 morning to ask if I would tow him, and though I wasn’t thrilled about it because I had never towed a hog-tied car in my little truck, I agreed.

I hadn’t decided if I was going to report on the actual eviction, but the choice was soon taken out of my hands. I fell into the cascade of misfortunes along 85th Avenue that morning, and spent most of the morning and afternoon helping people escape police confiscation of their vehicles [and life possessions]. Doing all that, I wasn’t able to do much reporting unfortunately. I wasn’t able to count how many had remained by July 16th, only to be towed for lack of options in a unoperable vehicle. I had no way of knowing how many had been stickered, or how many had fled. Being the only reporter there, however, the responsibility fell to me and I submitted a public records request for the data.

Now, the newly released information from the OPD’s traffic division hints at the actual scope of the eviction, and combined with my first-hand account can shed some light on the undeniably horrible outcome of Schaaf’s “Safe Parking” program.


Contrary to my lowball, OPD claims there were approximately 70 vehicles cited and tagged on July 11. Fifty-nine were able to move by July 16th. Though obviously, many of these were operable vehicles, obviously my experience suggests that many were inoperable vehicles whose owners were lucky to find friendly tows in the days leading up to the eviction.

But not everyone was lucky enough to find a friend or a last minute good samaritan. On July 16, OPD towed 11 vehicles. That number would have been 14 if not for myself and several other residents of the vehicle encampment who came back to help the less fortunate that morning as the police prepared to tow.






In the process of towing that first person, I encountered another living in a defunct RV who asked me if they could ride along to charge their phone with my adapter. When I came back I ran into the one—yes, one—Human Resources staffer who’d been sent out to accommodate the needs of what could have been up to 70 potential refugees. He told me that the city had only filled 27 of the 30 berths at the “Safe Parking” site. After spending some time on the phone, to his credit, he told me that at least two of the vehicles about to be towed by OPD could be moved to the site.

As a representative of the City, however, he only had capacity to tow one vehicle. And even then, remarkably, it took our united efforts–along with several long-time denizens of the corridor–to convince OPD to give us time to move people out without confiscation. I can’t say what happened to the person the staffer took charge of towing.

I ended up towing an elder’s trailer to the “Safe Parking” site—it was the only way to keep their camper from being confiscated. But that was only after almost an hour of pleading with the OPD officer in charge. Despite my claim that I had a vehicle that could tow the trailer, he nevertheless ordered the tow truck to back up and start the process. It was only by talking to the tow truck driver–who was extremely decent person–that I was able to hook it up to my truck instead at the last minute. Below is a not-great video I shot as I frantically sought to stop OPD from towing this elder’s trailer. I had started out with the intention of documenting, but soon was simply trying to intercede and save this woman’s literal life in the trailer. This isn’t even the beginning or end of it.



I should note that despite the City Administration boasting that the site would accept any trailer so long as a functioning vehicle towed it in, I only counted two trailers in the lot, and that was including the one I towed in. As to what happened to the other 11 souls whose vehicles were confiscated, I have no idea.

The number of vehicles cited and towed does tell us several things:

One: Schaaf would have known that the new site’s strict policies preferenced the newest vehicles belonging to the newest homeless with the most resources. And there weren’t very many of those in that corridor. Even by July 11, the city had not filled up all 30 spaces at the “Safe Parking” site, despite having sent police out to tag 70 additional vehicles on the 85th/Edes corridor. That means that the “Safe Parking” site was never meant as even a half-hearted even transfer of people from a bad situation to a better outcome—the story local media has been very excited to propagate for Schaaf. Schaaf always meant to displace 2/3 of the 85th/Edes corridor’s inhabitants. Well over double the carrying-capacity of the “Safe Parking” site, according to OPD’s count, remained after Schaaf filled her limited slots with high-end RV’s.

Two: Clearly Schaaf’s strategy was based on harming a majority of people, not helping them, and there is no way to be charitable about it. The city had little concern for those facing the confiscation of their vehicle on the 16th, nor the repurcussions that would have on the homeless situation in East Oakland. Relatively capicitated homeless people put less stress on community resources by living in a vehicle instead of sleeping in a doorway or pitching a tent on a sidewalk. But Schaaf didn’t seem to care. Moreover, those who did have operable vehicles and were able to move them to another part of town, would now put greater pressure on other vehicle communities, making them more prone to complaints and towing. Only one Human Resources staffer for a possible 70 vehicles was dispatched to lend the relocation aid the city often boasts as accompanying their eviction regime. That one person wasn’t even enough for the 4 vehicles and their human inhabitants that I was with that morning.

Three: Schaaf’s “permitted encampment” projects–usually embodied by tool shed dwellings, and now with the fancy twist of RV encampments–aren’t harm reduction in the established best-practices sense. Rather, they continue to be displacement actions brought about with police force.

Harm was exacerbated in an ever expanding wave: first to the immediate community of vehicle livers; then to the those harbored in other areas in vehicle encampments, whose capacity will likely now decline because of forced over-crowding and who will likely face more complaints from the housed because of the additional load; finally, to the housed of East Oakland, many, if not most, already precarious and one step from homelessness themselves.

To make matters worse, in what can’t be an accident, I have observed many areas of San Leandro St, a previous alternative to 85th/Edes, are now no parking zones as well. Apparently, in some cases, signs announce this is due to construction—but assuming that this construction is something other than a ruse, the timing seems unlikely to be coincidence. In fact, after the 16th, large swaths of industrial East Oakland are now official and de facto no overnight parking zones, including the curbside along Alameda Avenue in front of the Home Depot made famous by Council Member Noel Gallo’s Munchausen-esque tales about the bustling store’s imminent departure.

The damage is done now for the people of 85th/Edes. But it threatens to  expand with the continuation of the media narrative that has emerged in the absence of local reporting on outcomes of Schaaf’s RV policy. Based on the effective success–in both actual intent and propagandized cover story–San Francisco is about to embark on a similar “Safe Parking” program.


The City of Berkeley has also announced a “Safe Parking” program. Berkeley’s program is a particularly good example of the Machievellian intent behind “Safe Parking”. Berkeley already tried an outright, unvarnished city-wide ban on overnight RV parking, only to experience backlash and accusations of bureaucratic cruelty–an especially hurtful accusation to a city that prides itself on giving the illusion of liberal values. How convenient then that Schaaf’s pilot has come along, a Potemkin trailer park that will inoculate Berkeley from criticism in the same way it did Oakland, so long as local media remain willing accomplices.

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