Giulio Meinardi via Flickr Creative Commons

A dozen camper vans parked in San Francisco’s Portola neighborhood is sparking concerns and fueling discussions at public meetings about how to solve the latest addition to the city's housing dilemma. “We realize these are people who are down on their luck, and we want the city to provide a safe place where they can have food, water, showers, bathrooms — stuff like that,” said Matt Lara, who lives near the RV encampment. A petition to tighten parking restrictions has been circulated and signed by over 700 people.

Police and transit officials have a couple of legal tools to wield against the estimated 1,200 inhabited RVs that checker San Francisco’s streets — a 1971 ordinance against vehicle habitation and another that prohibits parking for more than 72 hours. Four years ago, the Municipal Transportation Agency banned these behemoths from parking overnight on 61 streets and roadways, and they’re effectively banned from other streets that have parking meters or time limits.

As the economic boom fills the city’s industrial streets with development and new parking restrictions, vans and trailers are moving toward the fringes. They collect in the Bayview, where homes are scattered and residents don’t have the political clout to get results from City Hall, or in the Portola, a neighborhood nestled between I-280, Highway 101 and McLaren Park, where blocks have long, uninterrupted curbs and parking rules are more lenient.

The Portola residents who packed a small room at Palega Recreation Center on Tuesday accused city officials of shunting the problem to their neighborhood. They say van dwellers gobble scarce parking, illegally plug into the electrical grid and dump gasoline or brown sewage water on the street.

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