Last month, a byproduct of Mountain View's most vexing problem plopped right in front of a Shoreline West house. It was a sealed five-gallon Orchard Supply Hardware bucket left not far from the sidewalk.
Curious, a resident named Kristin walked over and cracked the drum open to see what was inside. She immediately regretted her decision.
The bucket was filled to the brim with feces, used toilet paper and other human waste. Needless to say, she was revolted.
"I didn't expect to find anything like that in the bucket," said Kristin, who declined to use her last name. "I won't be making that mistake again!"
The mess was cleaned up in less than a half hour after she called up the city's Public Works Department, yet the incident still disturbed her. She didn't have to think long about who had left the bucket -- for more than a year, dozens of people had been living out of their vehicles just down the street along Shoreline Avenue.
After being shared on social media, Kristin's story quickly churned up a new round of grumbling about the problems linked to the city's surging number of people living out of their vehicles. Within a few days, the post generated hundreds of responses, mainly from residents fed up with the squalor.
After her experience, Kristin counts herself among those who believe the city needs to do something and quickly.
"I really do feel like our desire to be compassionate is now being used against us, and it's not okay," she said. "This has become a highly visible public health and safety issue, and the city's first responsibility needs to be to its tax-paying (and regulation-abiding) residents and businesses."
As in San Francisco, the sight of human waste on the streets may be a breaking point for the public's tolerance toward the homeless. In Mountain View, it is one more reminder that homelessness has become the city's most controversial and intractable concern.
For city leaders, the stakes involved in the issue became more clear in last week's election. Mayor Lenny Siegel and Councilwoman Pat Showalter ended up struggling to compete against a field of newcomers. Both incumbents had pointedly declined to impose tighter limits on vehicle dwellers, and said they came to believe that voters were punishing them over the issue.
Speaking to the Voice, Siegel said he remains puzzled by his disappointing Election Day returns. No polling data is available, but he said the city's vehicle dwellers were clearly a top concern for residents in some neighborhoods.
"I wasn't expecting this to have a major impact on the race, but it probably cost me and Showalter some votes," he said. "Every city in the Bay Area is having trouble figuring out what to do with this. I think I was the butt of some of that frustration."
But while stories of filth-filled buckets may draw lots of attention, it hard to say whether the problem is getting worse.
Asked for comparison data, city officials said there were a total of 75 waste discharge incidents over the 2017-2018 fiscal year, which ended June 30. Only 19 of those incidents were reportedly linked to inhabited RVs and other vehicles, while 20 were attributed to permanent residences.
There were reportedly four incidents of illegal dumping tied to vehicle dwellers over the same 2017-18 fiscal year period, compared to three incidents in the 2016-17 year, according to the Mountain View Fire Department.
City officials acknowledged it is very difficult to track waste incidents because reports are spread out between the police, fire and public works departments. Officials in those department track incidents differently, and in some cases it is not specified if waste incidents are linked to vehicle dwellers.
Mountain View officials previously attempted a free waste-dumping program earlier this year, but the program was ended after three months due to low turnout.