Mountain View will not ban people from living in parked vehicles, despite rising pressure to do so.
Instead, the city council last week granted police greater discretion in issuing fines and ordering vehicles towed.
Mountain View is home to an estimated 250-300 vehicles parked on city streets. City code calls for moving parked vehicles at least 1,000 feet every 72 hours.
But seeking a balance between enforcement and compassion, council members also reviewed $230,000 in services, including a waste dump program, biohazard cleanup, a “rapid rehousing” program in partnership with Santa Clara County and funding for a safe-parking pilot program.
The council’s lengthy discussion of the complex and controversial topic March 6 featured numerous speakers, mostly advocating for the vehicle dwellers. Some residents living near the parked, lived-in vehicles expressed frustration with the unsanitary conditions and the city’s tolerance. The council also heard complaints that the parked RVs take up parking spaces and obstruct views for street crossing.
Search for solutions
Others decried the housing crisis that has prompted people to live in their vehicles. Members of the Mountain View Tenants Coalition were on hand to support the vehicle dwellers. Members held a rally prior to the council meeting.
“It was pretty clear to the city council that people want to be compassionate to their neighbors,” said coalition spokesman Daniel DeBolt.
The number of homeless in Mountain View has skyrocketed – city figures report 416 in 2017, up from fewer than 150 in 2013 – the result of housing demand and escalating rents.
The coalition responded to the problem by placing a rent control measure on the November 2016 ballot that voters approved. City officials also have addressed the issue by pushing for more affordable housing.
Proposals before the council last week included restricting vehicle homes or banning them altogether. While council members generally sympathized with vehicle dwellers, they disagreed about how to deal with them – and for how long.
According to Mayor Lenny Siegel, council members’ actions last week afforded police officers “more discretion” in dealing with vehicle dwellers over “health and safety issues.”
Meanwhile, Siegel expressed hope that a new safe-parking program would provide at least a partial solution. He pointed to the city partnering with the newly formed nonprofit Lots of Love, which uses church parking areas and small plots of available land as “safe” locations for the vehicles to park overnight.
Discussion among some residents and council members suggested that vehicle dwellers would not be tolerated indefinitely. Councilwoman Lisa Matichak pointed to cases in which people were living in their vehicles by choice rather than necessity. City records reveal that approximately one-third of the vehicle dwellers remain unresponsive to outreach or unwilling to take advantage of available services.
Los Altos doesn’t specifically ban living in vehicles, but three ordinances restrict oversize vehicle parking. One ordinance bans overnight parking for RVs on any public street for more than 30 minutes between the hours of 7 p.m. on one day and 7 a.m. the next day.