Civil rights groups render possible RV ban unconstitutional

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Many of those living in their vehicles lining Mountain View roads, estimated at 290 vehicles by city officials, would be driven out of the area if the city council finalizes an ordinance opposing extended RV parking, civil rights groups argue. Dwellers rely on prolonged stays currently available through open spots on streets like Shoreline Boulevard.

Mountain View leaders are encountering some friction as they proceed to draft an ordinance that would essentially ban people from living in RVs parked on city streets.

The Law Foundation of Silicon Valley and the ACLU of Northern California issued a letter earlier this month demanding that the Mountain View City Council oppose and reverse two “unconstitutional proposals” that target residents living in vehicles.

The council in March proposed a citywide ban on the parking of oversized vehicles and also passed an ordinance banning the parking of vehicles that discharge domestic sewage on the public right-of-way. Both measures, according to opponents, violate the U.S. Constitution in several ways. 

“These measures are a wrong-headed reaction to the city’s dizzying housing crisis,” Law Foundation and ACLU officials said in a May 13 statement, “which is pushing a troubling number of Mountain View residents out of their homes and out of Mountain View altogether. For some, living in an RV is the only way to remain in Mountain View, where their children go to school, where they access essential medical treatment, and where their families and support systems are.”

City officials have tallied approximately 290 vehicles with people living in them, most of them in RVs.

Mayor Lisa Matichak said the drafting of an oversized vehicle ordinance is still in process.

“As part of this process, staff will review existing oversized vehicle ordinances in other jurisdictions,” she said.

City council members are scheduled to review a draft ordinance at their June 11 meeting, Matichak said.

“While I am always open to input from residents, organizations and others, it is premature to comment on the ordinance since the council has not yet seen the draft ordinance,” she said.

The Law Foundation and ACLU got involved after being notified by the advocacy groups Mountain View Tenants Coalition and Mountain View Vehicle Residents.

‘Cruel and unusual punishment’

Opponents claim a parking ban denies oversized vehicle dwellers equal protection under the law, which prohibits them from parking in the city “to vote, conduct business, attend doctor’s appointments, go to work, or meet and interact with family or friends.”

“It is cruel and unusual punishment under the Constitution to criminalize sleeping outside or in a vehicle when, as in Mountain View, a city has zero available shelter beds,” said Michael Trujillo, staff attorney at the Law Foundation. “Measures like the proposed parking ban that intentionally make life more difficult for people who are homeless or housing insecure offend bedrock notions of fairness and equality and send a message that the city of Mountain View is not really open to all.”

City officials have made efforts to help vehicle dwellers through safe parking at local churches, waste disposal programs and assistance in finding permanent housing. The city also declared an official “citywide shelter crisis,” enabling Mountain View to use government-owned property for safe parking as well as qualify for grant funds to build transitional housing.

“This approach will include an oversized vehicle parking prohibition, but also allocates nearly $900,000 in funding to continue services associated with the unstably housed and homeless; this is in addition to just over $1 million the city has already funded in the last two years on programs and services,” city officials said at the time. “This includes expanding the safe parking program with a possibility of as many as 60 parking spaces, along with continuing other services to provide links to housing.”

But advocates for vehicle dwellers have asserted the efforts are not enough.

“As member of the Mountain View Tenants Coalition and ally of the Mountain View Vehicle Residents, the support from the ACLU and the Law Foundation couldn’t come at a better time,” said Angel Santuario, founding MVTC member. “Our elected officials have demonstrated they don’t really care about Mountain View’s most vulnerable with their words and actions. Now, thanks to our allies, we might be able to finally hold them accountable.”

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