Mountain View officials are taking a closer look at the growing number of people living in motor homes and trailers on city streets.
In recent weeks, certain city streets have seen an increase in RVs and trailers being used as permanent homes by people who say they can't afford housing in the area. These clusters include about 20 parked along Cristano Avenue near Rengstorff Park and about a dozen more near Latham Street by a Target department store.
The situation has created conflicts in the neighborhoods, with nearby residents complaining the RV camps are fast becoming a source of garbage, noise and safety problems.
City Manager Dan Rich distributed a memo last week giving a basic outline of the situation. So far this year, police have towed 20 motor homes and other campers, which is an increase from past years, he noted. Right now, Mountain View police are only enforcing violations when complaints are made, Rich said.
The city faces difficulties in addressing the issue, since there is a "humanitarian aspect" as well as the health and safety concerns for people living on the street, he said in the memo. In many cases, RV dwellers aren't doing anything illegal, so long as they relocate every 72 hours and follow other vehicle code rules.
Rich noted that in the past, the city had tried to use parking restrictions to prevent overnight campers from staying on Crisanto Avenue near Rengstorff Park. But since the campers can easily move their vehicles to another street, the problem moves elsewhere. Instead, Rich explained that the city would remove restrictions on car-camping on Crisanto near Rengstorff Park, and could increase police and ranger patrols in the area. In the coming days, Mountain View police officers will be handing out informational pamphlets on laws that apply to people living out of their vehicles.
Passing a law forbidding car camping would be problematic, according to the memo. Facing a similar problem in 2013, the city of Palo Alto tried banning sleeping in vehicles overnight, but soon abandoned that law when a similar ban in Los Angeles was ruled illegal by the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Ninth Circuit. The three-judge panel ruled that the Los Angeles ban was vague and essentially invited police to discriminate against the homeless.
A Santa Clara County Housing Task Force in September recommended creating a pilot program of "safe parking" sites where people living in their vehicles could safely stay. The task force suggested creating four such lots throughout the South Bay, including one near Mountain View. However, the county Board of Supervisors decided to put only $50,000 toward the pilot program, enough to create safe-parking sites only in San Jose.
In his memo to the city, Rich pointed out that Mountain View could look into creating its own safe-parking site. But he noted that finding a suitable site would be a challenge.
City Council members have expressed interest in having a discussion about the issue, but no date for such talks has been set.
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