RV Residents Near SF's Lake Merced Displaced Ahead of Pro Golf Event

Mana Dream outside an RV parked on Lake Merced Boulevard in San Francisco on July 27, 2020. Dream's cat Kuma sits in the window. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

From Tiger Woods to Brooks Koepka, world-class golfers by the cartload have begun rolling into San Francisco in advance of next week's PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park, at the foot of Lake Merced.

But to make room for their caddies and camera crews, San Francisco officials this weekend issued new parking restrictions to disperse more than 50 recreational vehicles, home to dozens of people.

“It probably was to keep the rich and famous golfers that are coming out here from being able to view such things as people living in RVs,” said Michael, a man living in one of those vehicles, who asked that his last name not be used.

This is the first time the championship, which runs Aug. 3-9, has come to San Francisco, according to the event’s website, which touts it as the “strongest and deepest international lineup of any major championship.”

PGA Championship Director Barry Deach did not return a request for comment.

Michael sweeps the sidewalk where his RV is parked on Lake Merced Boulevard in San Francisco on July 27, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

The spate of “no stopping” signs suddenly posted along Lake Merced Boulevard near Winston Street caught many RV residents off guard.

“It's been quiet all this time and then suddenly, no notice, no nothing — just the signs. Move again, just like usual,” said Jean Pierre Kale, 61, a longtime RV resident.

Originally from Paris, but a San Franciscan for more than three decades, Kale has lived in an RV since he and his wife split up years ago. He’s familiar with the usual shuffle: Park in any San Francisco neighborhood, and neighbors will eventually complain and have you kicked out.

From the Bayview to the Excelsior, Kale has long been shuffled around the city in a real-world game of whack-a-mole.

That’s what makes this latest displacement particularly sting, RV residents here say. Lake Merced was a last refuge far away from neighbors who complain and from dangerous areas where vehicles are often vandalized or broken into at night.

“I’ve had people chase me down,” said Mana Dream, 31, a software engineer and video game designer, who lives in an RV along Lake Merced Boulevard.

Dream, who is transgender and nonbinary, said they are unable to afford rent elsewhere in the city, noting that as an RV resident, interactions with police can be particularly fraught.

“It’s scary to interact with the cops because I just can’t afford to have problems with them. I really need them to just let me be,” Dream said.

San Francisco has more than 46 miles of oversize vehicle restrictions, often added street by street, corridor by corridor, as residents complain of homeless people parking near them.

A recently posted 'no parking' sign on Lake Merced Boulevard on July 27, 2020 that was later removed. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

The city has struggled to offer broader solutions, although after some complained about the piecemeal approach, officials launched a pilot “Vehicle Triage Center” earlier this year. It allows 30 vehicles with people living in them to park safely on San Jose Avenue, with on-site services offered.

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On Monday, two days after vehicles began leaving the area, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department offered a plan to help RV dwellers move to an Ocean Beach parking lot.

The offer to relocate the RVs was also announced one day after Supervisor Norman Yee, who represents the area, called the department personally to “inquire” about the plan.

“San Francisco is hosting a major golf tournament under COVID-19 restrictions. The event’s operations team requires access to the west side of Lake Merced Boulevard,” SF Recreation and Park Department spokeswoman Tamara Barak Aparton said in a statement. “To minimize inconvenience to those who park RVs in the area, we have granted the RV owners temporary overnight parking permits in the Ocean Beach parking lot from July 27 to August 11.”

Aparton added that Homeless Outreach Team members would be on-site to “facilitate the process.”

But RV dwellers told KQED that no city staff — including the HOT team — had offered them relocation information over the weekend, prompting many to drive off in search of their own solutions.

Meanwhile, no stopping signs on one side of Lake Merced Boulevard that had just been posted Saturday had already been torn down by Public Works staff by Monday morning. It was not immediately clear why the signs were initially posted, only to be removed so quickly. And in the absence of the restrictions, some RV owners had already started returning to the street.

An RV drives away from Lake Merced Boulevard past the TPC Harding Park golf course in San Francisco on July 27, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Several sources told KQED that no one directly involved with relocating RV dwellers, from members of HOT to city staff, had any clue about this specific relocation plan. Yee’s office wasn’t even aware of the displacement until KQED called Saturday to ask about it.

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After leaving the area, some RV owners drove to nearby Winston Street, which they feared would provoke conflict with neighbors.

“My experience has been that property owners have more rights than people who don’t own property,” Dream, the RV resident, said. “I can’t be there — even if it’s legal.”