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Rohnert Park Bans Overnight RV Parking On City-Owned Lots

ROHNERT PARK (KPIX 5) -- City officials in Rohnert Park are taking action after two people died on the SMART train tracks there in the past month.

But those who are the targets of that action feel they're being scapegoated.

Last week, at a board meeting of the SMART transit agency, General Manager Farhad Mansourian announced that the deaths on their tracks were not the fault of the trains but the people who were hit by them.

"This is not a train crisis," he said.  "This is a mental health and a public health crisis that we're dealing with,"

Some of the deaths have been ruled suicides, while others were blamed on inattentiveness. At total of four people have died on SMART train tracks since June.

Rohnert City's plan is to get help for the mentally ill and homeless who live alongside the tracks, but first they have to be kicked out of parking lots in the area.

On Tuesday, the Rohnert Park City Council banned overnight parking in five of its parking lots including a Park and Ride near a SMART crossing at Golf Course Road, where two people died earlier in July.

"They're kicking us out because people get hit by a train, you know?" said Robert Martinez, who lives in an RV in the lot.  "And they weren't even involved in this, you know?  So, I don't know how they can blame it on us. But they're trying."

About a dozen people live in RV's and campers in the lot, including John Hill. He says he and others work hard to keep it clean and free of trash.  The residents have created a small memorial for one of the victims, a troubled young woman named Joy.

But Hill said he resents that SMART and the city are connecting her death to the homeless living at the Park and Ride.

"Unfortunately the family and everybody has to live with it and we have to learn from it," Hill told KPIX 5. "But to put that kind of blame on anybody, ever, is never OK. That's just not right."

SMART admits it cannot keep people off all 43 miles of its tracks.  But the folks living at the Park and Ride lot feel they're being kicked out so it will look like officials are doing something about the problem.

"Wherever this train goes. they're going to have to stop that; wherever the train has a crossing, you know? They can't just do it at one spot," said RV-dweller John Carpenter. "And it's like…homelessness is not like cockroaches.  It just won't go away. They will grow. There will be more and they will be back!"

The people living at the Park and Ride feel they're in a spot where they're not bothering anyone.  But Hill says, if they're kicked out they will be pushed into what he called the "darker corners of the city."

The ban prohibits parking between the hours of 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. and will go into effect beginning August 6th.

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