A neighborhood association on wheels

Ahead of a March 19 City Council meeting on parking restrictions, an advocacy group seeks to unite Mountain View's vehicle-dwelling residents

Click here to view a multimedia presentation of this story.

Lacking a safety net, nearly half of Americans are estimated to be one crisis away from the poorhouse. They could be pushed into poverty from an accident, a job loss, a rent increase or a medical emergency.

Francisco Vargas
In the case of Scott Rodvold, 58, it was all of the above. It was just after Christmas 2016 when Rodvold collapsed at his Mountain View apartment and went into septic shock. He spent 17 days in a coma, eventually recovering only after being fortunate enough to get a liver transplant.

The medical trauma depleted both his health and his bank account. He was unable to continue his job as a construction material handler, and it became unsustainable to continue living at the apartment he shared with his young son, where the rent had recently increased to $2,800 a month.

That was when Rodvold's family joined the ranks of those living on the side of the road. He decided his best recourse was to buy a motorhome, park it at the most discreet curb he could find, and to try to carry on a semblance of middle-class life. These days he parks his motorhome on Continental Circle, a quiet street next to the Highway 85 sound barrier.

It's right across the street from the Americana Apartments, his former home.

Despite its prohibitive costs, Rodvold said he wants to stay in the Mountain View area, where he has lived since 1984.

"Why should my son have to leave his school?" Rodvold said. "I would like nothing more than to have enough to have an apartment and medical coverage, but it's clear that's not happening."

Rodvold is one among dozens of unhoused residents who are now trying to change public perception and influence the debate on the city's homelessness problem. In an effort to unite the scattered residents living out of vehicles, Rodvold and others have founded a new advocacy group, the Mountain View Vehicle Residents. For too long, they say, city officials and homeowners have taken a paternalistic approach toward them, treating them as a problem rather than fellow residents pushed to desperate measures.

In particular, they seek to combat the narrative that vehicle dwellers are unemployed out-of-towners in a bad situation due to personal failings. This line of thinking is rife on the Mountain View's Nextdoor pages, where participation is restricted largely to residents with a mailing address. According to one informal Nextdoor poll, over two-thirds of respondents said they didn't want vehicle dwellers anywhere on their streets, even if they were paying to park in a driveway. Stories abound on the site's pages of motorhome inhabitants being blamed for drug use, crimes and illegal dumping.

Any time these insinuations are made, they usually are followed with an easy political fix: Raise the drawbridge and force the poor to find somewhere else to go. Neighboring cities such as Palo Alto and Los Altos heavily restrict overnight street parking. Just last week, the city of Berkeley passed its own citywide parking ban against RVs, following pressure from residents and businesses. For years now, Mountain View officials have been urged to take similar measures.

"People don't want to see poverty in Mountain View. They believe this is Silicon Valley and they don't want to realize what's going on here," said Francisco Vargas. "When they do see it, they try to dehumanize us to justify their anger."

One of the founding members of the Vehicle Residents group, Vargas, 23, believes people living out of their vehicles are being made into a scapegoat for the larger frustrations in the community. In a Voice profile published last year, Vargas described how his family lost their Mountain View apartment in 2016 and resorted to living in a trailer in the city's Jackson Park neighborhood while they saved up for a new place to live.

His family was broken up over the last weekend. His mother and sister moved to Riverside because they couldn't find a new apartment in their price range. Vargas, who attends Foothill College, and his father are still in Mountain View sleeping out of trailers while holding down local jobs.

Vargas has attended city meetings to discuss the homelessness issue, and he has become increasingly concerned that some city officials were searching for a pretext to kick out the homeless. He and other Vehicle Residents members began talking in December about how to change this perception.

Their small steering committee has met nearly 20 times, and they've focused their efforts on trying to connect with the hundreds of households living out of vehicles in Mountain View. Their group prints out regular bilingual newsletters that they distribute across the city, inviting people to attend their monthly group meetings, which regularly draw about 50 attendees.

The Vehicle Residents group's goal is to demonstrate that most of its members are actually working families who have lived in Mountain View for years. They assert that most people living out of their vehicles are doing so only because they were priced out of housing. The city of Mountain View has no employment statistics available for vehicle inhabitants, but more than four out of five homeless individuals were residing in Santa Clara County prior to losing their housing, according to a 2017 county homeless census. The same survey also found that nearly two-thirds of homeless residents remain on the street primarily because they can't afford rent for a new home.

The Vehicle Residents' advocacy has taken on new urgency as the City Council is scheduled on March 19 to consider the issue of citywide homelessness and parking. The meeting was prompted last October when a majority of the City Council voted to consider some form of parking restrictions on inhabited vehicles.

It is not yet clear what options city staff will present for the City Council to consider. Assistant to the city manager Kimberly Thomas said the city would discuss a variety of measures, including "short-term strategies, new data and a discussion of parking enforcement and safe parking strategies." It would be a progress report on their ongoing projects to date, she said.

Yet the meeting has rattled homeless individuals and advocates who fear that its outcome will be stricter enforcement. For several years, the city has worked to launch a safe-parking program under the belief that it was necessary to create an alternative space before street parking was restricted.

"You can't just enforce without creating a solution for those in an impossible situation," said Pastor Brian Leong, a pastor at Lord's Grace Christian Church who helped launch the city's safe-parking program. "I'm hoping that if the city is going to enforce more, then they'll open more lots for us, or create some other option for people besides leave the city."

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


39 people like this
Posted by Yimby #2
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 15, 2019 at 2:34 pm

I would support a safe place to park assuming their is both help limitations:
1. Cost to tax payers clearly disclosed, no accounting funny business
2. Time limitation for staying in program
3. Resources to get them re-employed
4. If can't get themselves re-established, they will have to move on
a) Sorry. Taxpayers cannot fund a permanent low cost residence in one
of the most expensive places in on the planet.
5. Please note that there have been neighborhoods which have been
inappropriately inundated with RVs. They are lining the streets
nose to tail in some areas. Is this an appropriate way to
treat the people living in those neighborhoods?
a)Does it not seem fair enough to extend some help while putting some
limitations on the help?

16 people like this
Posted by Sarah
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Mar 15, 2019 at 2:41 pm

I am so glad to hear about this advocacy group. This is exactly what is needed and proposed by many to help support good people in a terrible situation. Previous discussions called for the establishment of a safe parking locations with bathrooms and job support services to make a community location for RV dwellers.

These two people sound considerate of their neighbors and trying to make the best of a difficult and expensive housing situation. Unfortunately, sometimes one bad, inconsiderate person can ruin things for the group.

I wish all the dwellers success in their future.

36 people like this
Posted by Anything
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 15, 2019 at 2:44 pm

Anything to get them into an area(s) and off the streets!

126 people like this
Posted by WhyLiveHere
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 15, 2019 at 2:47 pm

It's great that Mountain View is where people want to live.

Lots of places are great to live. And sadly, some places get more expensive with time. Why does "I have rented here for a long time" have any weight on an argument as to why people should continue living in MTV?

We should work on affordability for teachers, librarians, city workers, firefighters, and police. I'm not convinced it's the city's problem to subsidize the unskilled workforce.

And the city really needs to stop encouraging RVs -- just like Berkeley recently did.

13 people like this
Posted by Alex M
a resident of Willowgate
on Mar 15, 2019 at 3:00 pm

@WhyLiveHere: That "unskilled workforce" is essential to any city. Someone needs to haul away trash, dig ditches, clean restrooms, do landscaping maintenance, and so on. I know of one RV dweller who's a hospital nurse. They're mostly law-abiding citizens doing the best they can. If these people cannot live near the city where they work, they will find work elsewhere, and the city will fester. The question isn't whether to subsidize them, but rather how much, until a better long-term housing solution can be found.

At least the RV dwellers have a place to call home, after a fashion, unlike many homeless. My concern is more about dumping their sewage, keeping the vehicles in good working order, and preventing their RV "neighborhood" from becoming a slum. Too many RVs I see are decrepit wrecks with all sorts of junk piled around them, incapable of moving if they had to.

19 people like this
Posted by Randy
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Mar 15, 2019 at 3:11 pm

RV parking is not a homeless problem, it's a RV problem. MVCC can solve the living wage problem, the traffic problem, the lack of affordable housing later or continue to wring your hands on their own time. MVCC have already given us a sanctuary city, rent control, and soon, a couple of pot shops, Mint a new millionaire. Two shops, mint two more millionaires. Those two stores will have a monopoly in Mountain View. Behind every great fortune, a crime. Can't wait to see who MVCC ordains.

Please, one more time, do something positive for our city, be like Berzerkely, and ban overnight parking, thank you.

Even Berkeley says no more overnight parking for homeless RV dwellers
Berkeley city council members voted 6-3 to prohibit people from sleeping in RVs on city streets

"BERKELEY — Though known for its progressive, anti-capitalist bent, this city is obliging business owners and some residents by banning overnight RV parking, effectively giving the boot to droves of homeless people living in the vehicles so customers won’t have to pass them on the way to their yoga classes, pottery studios and craft breweries."

"By the end of the month, “parking oversize vehicles, including campers and RVs” will be prohibited on city streets from 2 to 5 a.m., according to a resolution the Berkeley City Council approved on a 6-3 vote Feb. 28 in response to complaints from west side business owners about an influx of nomadic dwellers in the area. If the council adopts the resolution at its March 26 meeting, the ban will take effect immediately."

"This ban is totally appropriate. The author totally misrepresents this issue with a very limited understanding of how this situation evolved. It's easy to make funny quips about craft brewers and lattes but those of us who live and work in West Berkeley, hard working regular folks who have jobs and are invested in the community have been overwhelmed by this influx of RV's and encampments. over the last year and the City of Berkeley itself created the problem."

"Let me give you some background on the situation which is not mentioned in this article. For some reason In February of 2018 the City of Berkeley stopped enforcing the 72 hour rule of no parking in the Marina area. Normally an RV would park out there and after 3 days the Berkeley police we leave a warning they would have to leave. By July of last year there were more than 100 RV's in the marina next to the Double Tree Hotel. A group came to the city indicating that they were in violation of a state charter that bans overnight camping or living in the marina. The city would have then faced a lawsuit and, as a result evicted the RV's. Almost immediately they moved to West Berkeley impacting block upon block of areas where working people live and have businesses. For whatever reason these people made a choice to live in RV's."

Sound familiar? I suspect a former council mayor has posted directions to Mountain View, although to be fair, he has the the correct post for the bay shore school issue.

51 people like this
Posted by William Hitchens
a resident of Waverly Park
on Mar 15, 2019 at 3:54 pm

William Hitchens is a registered user.

"One of the founding members of the Vehicle Residents group, Vargas, 23, believes people living out of their vehicles are being made into a scapegoat for the larger frustrations in the community." Really? They're causing traffic (especially bicycle), pedestrian, and sanitation problems. They're not scapegoats. They are a source of frustration and extreme annoyance for many residents of MV.

20 people like this
Posted by Chuck
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 15, 2019 at 4:09 pm

[Post removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]

24 people like this
Posted by Randy Guelph
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Mar 15, 2019 at 4:33 pm

My goodness, do you folks hear yourselves? Why not meet with these people if you have such nasty things to say about them? Is it the anonymity of sitting behind a keyboard that lets you unleash all that anger and hate?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

Su Hong 2.0? Former waiter reopens Chinese standby under new name in Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 10 comments | 6,372 views

Living as Roommates? Not Having Much Sex?
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 2,980 views

What gives you hope?
By Sherry Listgarten | 9 comments | 2,975 views


Support local families in need

Your contribution to the Holiday Fund will go directly to nonprofits supporting local families and children in need. Last year, Voice readers and the Wakerly, Packard and Hewlett foundations contributed a total of $72,000.