Richmond city council picks mall parking lot for homeless RV pilot program

Richmond's city council voted the Hilltop Mall parking lot as its favored place to set up a one-year homeless pilot project to let as many as 100 recreational vehicles have safe space with basic utilities and security.

But that plan and dozens of other locations now have to be reconsidered fast or lose a fortune in state funding.

Nationwide, nomadic RV communities are desperate to find peace, quiet and a hassle-free space, if only for a few months.

Richmond's Hilltop Mall is a barely used relic of the days when shopping centers ruled the consumer economy. The city council prefers making a part of the mall's vast parking lot a safe space for folks who live in their recreational vehicles.

The city has more than a half million dollars to create fenced in space for the RV's, including electricity, water, security, basic infrastructure and social services. 

"I would go there, without a doubt. If they told me I could move up right away today, I'd sure go up there man. it would be a nice move," said RV dweller Peter Hill.

"That's what would help us and with that situation, you get people to get off their feet and look for work and get back in the job market," said RV dweller Marco Scott.

Without it, the RV and car dwellers will continue to park wherever they can in Richmond, such as Point Isabel near Costco, until ordered to leave. But, a petition signed by 1,800 mall neighbors and other interested people who are saying 'not the mall in my backyard' are urging the city council to say no to the RV park.

"Well, I think unfortunately, the NIMBYs up at Hilltop have prevailed," said Richmond Mayor Tom Butt.

Petition author, Cesar Zepeta, is president of the Hilltop Neighborhood Council. "They should have come to us first to ask us, 'Is this a good project? Can we work with you on this?' Instead of just trying to shove it through," said Mr. Zepeta.

"Everybody has to have a place to live, But, it will affect our property value here and we will not feel safe," said Hilltop homeowner Laquita Cole. The Hilltop site is available for a year.

"After a year, they're gonna have to go back to the same streets we got them from. So, it not a solution. We don't always want them to live in their vehicle," said Zepeda.

The Hilltop residents see city-owned property near a a faith-based and run homeless service center called GRIP as a better choice.

"Everybody wants their city council and their mayor to solve the homeless problem in their city. But, they just don't want it solved in their neighborhood," said Mayor Butt.

The sad truth, almost half of the project money, a state grant, disappears if not spent by June 30th.