RVs Crisanto December

Oversized parking ban signage was not yet visible on Crisanto Avenue on a visit last week near sunset, and the everyday life of coming home from work and assembling dinner continued as usual for people living in RVs and campers along both sides of the street.

The final “No Parking” signs are going up in Mountain View over the next few weeks, enacting the new ban on oversized vehicles across nearly all of the city’s streets. But the full impact on residents living in campers, trailers and RVs remains to be measured. Based on a count earlier this month, many residents likely to be impacted by the ban have hunkered down in place even as signs went up this fall – and lack direction on viable places to move.

When volunteers with two local housing advocacy groups drove around Mountain View counting RVs parked on city streets that appeared to be actively used for habitation, they estimated that the number of oversized vehicles had gone up – not down – over the past year.

Mountain View Housing Justice and the Mountain View Coalition for Sustainable Planning reported counting 206 oversized vehicles in a windshield survey of city streets, up from the police department’s tally of 191 last year. That figure does not include individuals and families living in cars, which represent a substantial other group of unhoused residents.

Mountain View resident Janet Werkman, a volunteer with Mountain View Housing Justice, described a three-day effort during which volunteers divided the city into sectors and drove around their assigned area recording RVs, trailers and campers that appeared to be inhabited and parked on a public street.

In a related letter to the Mountain View City Council sent Dec. 6, the groups pointed to the at-capacity Safe Parking lots in the city, which they say currently hold a 10-household waiting list, as a good civic program that doesn’t meet the city’s impending need. Mountain View’s Coalition for Sustainable Planning noted in a separate letter that the current safe lots program is working well for those it can serve, but would need to at least double its capacity to meet the city’s apparent need.

Michael Love, the operations manager for MOVE Mountain View, which operates the Safe Parking lots, said its lots were at 98% capacity last week, and occupancy fluctuates as people either find housing or move out of the city. The group places people from waiting applications as spots open up.

The two housing advocacy groups that conducted the survey proposed publishing a map showing where oversized vehicles can park in the city for 72 hours as a form of good-faith outreach, using arrows on signage to show street segments that are legally available and expanding the Safe Parking program, among other measures.

The city anticipates installing the last of the “No Parking” signs by the end of January, according to spokesperson Lenka Wright. Installation reached the Springer/Cuesta/Phyllis neighborhood in November, and began Dec. 2 on central streets around downtown.

The ban on oversized vehicles covers “narrow” streets in Mountain View, those that are less than 40 feet wide. A map of the city shows a tracework of red identifying the 444 out of 525 public streets that qualify as narrow. A separate, related ordinance bans oversized vehicles on streets with Class II bikeways, for a total coverage of nearly 90% of the city.

Ongoing litigation

A group of six Mountain View RV residents filed a class action lawsuit in July challenging the ban, alleging that the restrictions attempt to “banish” low-income residents too poor to afford permanent housing. Mountain View voters approved the ban in November 2020, tasking the city with carrying it out via posted signs and enforcement such as ticketing or towing. The lawsuit portrays the ban as unconstitutional at the state and federal levels as well as violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In their initial filing, attorneys for the plaintiffs describe the ban as “unconstitutional under federal and California law because it violates the inalienable rights of vulnerable individuals who have been forced to seek shelter in RVs in order to remain in the city and access medical care, schools, employment and other resources available to them in their community.”

In a response acknowledging the suit, city officials said the ordinance was a reaction to safety and access concerns.

“Due to their size, an oversized vehicle on a narrow roadway can encroach into the vehicle lane of traffic, which can increase the risk of collisions for motor vehicles and bicycles as well as makes it more difficult for emergency and critical service vehicles to navigate the street safely,” Wright wrote in a July 14 statement.

In a mixed Nov. 9 ruling, Northern District Court Judge Nathanael Cousins denied the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction halting the parking ban and enforcement, but also denied the city’s move to dismiss the case. Cousins wrote that the plaintiffs had not shown they were “likely to face irreparable harm, or that the balance of equities tips sharply in their favor, because there is no evidence that the city is ticketing or towing plaintiffs in the absence of an injunction.”

He also dismissed three of the plaintiffs’ 12 allegations, with leave to amend, namely, invasion of privacy, right to travel and disability discrimination.

The case continues to proceed within the court, and the city met in closed session Dec. 7 to deliberate over the lawsuit.

This is the first in a series of stories about housing in Mountain View. In subsequent weeks, the Town Crier will delve into new and planned low-income housing resources in Mountain View, how the Safe Parking lots operate within the city, and the web of resources and waitlists low-income residents navigate as they seek secure housing.

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Reporter

Eliza Ridgeway edits the Food & Wine, Camps, Bridal, Celebrations and Beyond the Classroom sections at the Town Crier, as well as reporting for all sections of the paper.