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Jimmy Gordon was a drug-addicted transient for about a dozen years before he managed to get it together, got himself a 32-foot RV and parked it on a private lot in northeastern Antioch that he considers home.
“I love this,” the soft-spoken 63-year-old grandfather said, spreading out his arms toward a neatly trimmed, partly fenced-in backyard at 701 Wilbur Ave. “I am able to pay my bills. It gives me a chance to be accountable.”
But now Gordon and his wife Dawn, along with nine other families, may have to pack up their belongings and move elsewhere by month’s end because the 2.8-acre land they call home is not a legal RV park. The city has outlawed overnight RV parking since 1994.
Although RVs have parked on the property since Joe and Debbie Bosman bought it in 2000, the city hadn’t done anything about it until two years ago, when it notified the couple they were violating city codes by letting people essentially camp there. Inspectors found some code violations during a 2007 visit to the site, but nothing was said about the RVs parked there, Joe Bosman told this news organization.
City code enforcement manager Curt Michael says if the RVs aren’t gone by Oct. 1 or the property brought up to code to qualify as an RV park, the Bosmans will be issued an initial fine of $100 per violation with 10 days to fix, followed by $500 and another 10 days to fix, and $1,000 a day if still not corrected after that.
The state Department of Housing and Community Development oversees RV parks, which must be at least three acres and comply with numerous regulations involving setbacks, lighting, sewer, signage and length of stay.
“I get where these tenants and Joe are coming from, but the city has no other option to move forward with the fines,” Michael said.” “We have given him time to get the property into compliance. All we’re doing is enforcing the municipal code.”
Mayor Sean Wright, who has visited the property, asked that the matter be included in Tuesday night’s council agenda, so the council can determine whether there are any other options besides rezoning the property or relocating the RV tenants.
“We want to see if there is something we can fix before Oct. 1,” he said. “We don’t want to make anyone homeless.”
Joe Bosman said he doesn’t understand why the city is going after him now. “Why after 19 years?” he asked. “Why are they enforcing something that they haven’t enforced for all those years … There’s no better property than mine for housing these at-risk people living in RVs.”
Michael blamed the lag on a staffing shortage. Until sales tax increases under Measure C and its replacement Measure W were approved in the last several years, the city couldn’t afford to fill positions in its code enforcement department, he said. Then in 2017 it received an anonymous complaint about the RVs at the Bosman property.
Bosman has since had to fix some code violations such as turning a duplex into a triplex and converting part of a storage space to living quarters. But now he has a new violation notice, for illegally storing RVs on the property, Michael said. That’s in addition to the lingering notice for allowing RV dwellers there.
Bosman said he doesn’t want to see his tenants evicted because almost all of them are seniors on fixed incomes with nowhere else to go. As RVs have left, he hasn’t replaced them, reducing the numbers by about half in the last two years.
And on Aug. 1, he sent notices to RV dwellers giving them 60 days to move out.
“The city is putting us right back out there on the streets,” Gordon said, noting that although he’s been sober for more than five years now he is struggling with money again after being laid off last month.
Gordon and others pay $625 a month to live on the neatly kept land with a community garden and olive trees, where Bosman also operates a custom cabinet shop and rents out a duplex in the front portion of the mostly gated property.
The 13 residents, who brought their case to the City Council in late August, say it is a tight-knit, clean and safe community. The rent is also much more affordable than at area mobile home parks, which have long wait lists and require residents to live in trailers that are much newer.
“Joe (Bosman) has been a lifesaver; they don’t understand,” Gordon said.
Gordon, who was injured by an exploding land mine in Vietnam when he was 17 and still carries the shrapnel in his knee, said he’s still looking for a new place to live.
Anna Rodriguez, a 48-year-old single mother of four, also is searching for an affordable alternative to the RV she has lived in the past year. After her divorce, she moved to the duplex on the Bosmans’ property that had been converted back from a triplex. But a clavicle injury made it temporarily impossible for her to work so she had to use most of her savings on the $1,700 rent, then bought the old 26-foot RV that she parked on the same property.
“I have been looking everywhere, but most don’t take RVs and some have no privacy,” she said.
For his part, Bosman said he has been trying to work with developers more than a decade to build affordable units on his property — one of the few large plots in Antioch. The city rezoned it in 2012 for high density to comply with a state housing element requirement. But in 2017, a $26 million project with PacWest to build 126 affordable dwellings there fell through.
Bosman has until Nov. 8 to find a new developer, but chances are slim that will happen before the approvals expire and the project “just disappears,” he said.
In the meantime, Bosman said he’d like to start by making improvements on the front acre, converting a duplex back to a triplex and a cabinet shop into housing units. But that piecemeal approach has not sat well with the city, he said.
“They will not let me build on my property until I get everyone off and they won’t consider an application until then,” he said.
Forrest Ebbs, the city’s community development director, said the Bosman property does not lend itself to a piecemeal approach because its R-25 high-density zoning requires a minimum of 20 units an acre.
“Whatever he does, he has to comply with our general plan and zoning ordinance,” Ebbs said. “We have a minimum density we have to meet through our housing element.”
Other possibilities would be to subdivide the property or convert it to a legal RV park, which the state would regulate, Ebbs said.
“The city is caught between a rock and a hard place — we want to develop affordable housing but we haven’t seen a plan from Joe that meets all the requirements. … There are too many different things (land uses) happening out there.”
Council members Joy Motts and Lamar Thorpe, who head the Antioch Homeless Encampment Task Force, both said they are hoping something can be done to keep the Wilbur Avenue RV residents from becoming homeless.
The task force has suggested leasing space for temporary RV parking.
“We have a staggering number of people who are unhoused and we need to move (on dealing with the crisis) now,” Thorpe said, adding that the city is working to ensure the Wilbur Avenue residents do not wind up on the street.
“I don’t know what will come of it… We’re working to make sure nobody becomes homeless,” he said. “Our goal is not to disrupt people’s lives — if we have properties that are underutilized, then let’s use them.”
Bosman said he still hopes to develop affordable housing and keep his temporary RV tenants from being evicted.
“It would not be a cost to the city for it to allow the people to stay — many live paycheck to paycheck — and it will keep people from becoming homeless,” he said.