Mountain View council takes aim at RVs leaking sewage

Inhabited vehicles can now be towed away at owner's expense

Three weeks after declaring a citywide shelter crisis, the Mountain View City Council voted to make it easier to remove some of the vehicles hundreds of its residents call home.

The council amended city code at its April 9 meeting to make it illegal to park an RV, trailer or other vehicle with a toilet or septic system that leaks sewage on city streets.

Council members adopted the change Tuesday night without controversy after a unanimous decision to move the proposal forward at its March 19 meeting. City officials say the new law was adopted to give its agencies another enforcement tool to address a public health issue.

On Wednesday the mayor defended the council against charges that it is using a dubious claim that RV dwellers are a major cause of so-called "waste discharge incidents" and pose a serious threat to public health as an easy way to launch a discussion about banning RVs from city streets.

"Homelessness is a complex issue that Mountain View and many jurisdictions have been grappling with for several years," Mayor Lisa Matichak told the Voice. "The council has already spent about $1 million to help those living in vehicles by providing outreach, connecting them with services, homelessness prevention, and rehousing support."

Matichak noted Mountain View's efforts to help relocate RVs from city streets to designated "safe parking" areas, but so far there are only two such locations with a total of eight spots for cars and none for RVs.

"The city also helped create a nonprofit to implement a safe parking program," Matichak said, praising the city's leadership role and "compassionate" approach.

At least one council observer believes it is using sewage as a smoke screen to shield its members from criticism that it is cracking down too harshly on some of its most vulnerable residents.

"It was a less objectionable opening to the oversized vehicle ban discussion," said North Whisman resident Alex Brown, who attended last month's meeting. "They knew they'd get pushback on that, so they introduced something that would get a 7-0 vote."

Brown lives in Santiago Villa mobile home park near two small clusters of RVs the city identified in its recently published survey of Mountain View's vehicle-dwelling population. Santiago Villa is also near the city's future -- and only -- safe parking site on Terra Bella Avenue. Citywide, a December count found almost 300 vehicles being used as homes, including 192 RVs.

"We do have a lot of vehicles parked near us, but I've never seen any leaking sewage," Brown said. "(But) it helped frame the issue of RVs as being related to public health."

According to city staff, in the last fiscal year there were 75 reports of waste discharge incidents recorded across three city departments -- police, fire and public works. The city was only able to identify the source of those leaks in 39 cases and more of those came from permanent residences than from vehicles.

The issue came to a head in October when an unsuspecting Shoreline West resident opened a 5-gallon drum that had been left near a home in the neighborhood. The container was brimming with human waste and the story she shared on social media generated hundreds of responses that were mostly from her neighbors, with many complaining specifically about RV dwellers.

It may have also been a factor in the November election in which two City Council members who had been reluctant to impose new restrictions on RV dwellers were ousted by newcomers seen as more sympathetic to homeowners' concerns.

City staffers say the law will allow the city to tow vehicles in violation of the new code at the owner's expense.

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117 people like this
Posted by Thank you
a resident of Bailey Park
on Apr 12, 2019 at 9:30 am

This seems like a basic function of city government -- to enforce common-sense protections against sewage leaks which could cause a public health crisis. Can't see how this would be controversial, regardless of where you stand on the RV question.

65 people like this
Posted by Keep clamping down
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Apr 12, 2019 at 10:11 am

tighter and tighter as we move towards the date when they will finally be illegal. It will be good motivation to get them thinking about where they will move to.

76 people like this
Posted by Billy Bob
a resident of Bailey Park
on Apr 12, 2019 at 10:12 am

RVs have been leaking sewage for years in our city now they finally take action to little to late. What about the garbage they produce where does that go . In city parks garbage cans I have personally seen Rvs dump there garbage there who pays for that the taxpayers. We pay taxes garbage bills and these people pay nothing. The free ride needs to end now. The police need to enforce the laws and not have there hands tied by the city council.

54 people like this
Posted by Lowe
a resident of Whisman Station
on Apr 12, 2019 at 4:07 pm

Lowe is a registered user.

I'm not judging. I just want to understand why people who are living in the RVs don't move out of the area to a less expensive place to live? People all over the world, including my ancestors, have left their homeland in search of better lives. Wouldn't moving out of the area to a lower cost of living state be better than living in an RV? The pay may be lower, but so are the cost of living. Just trying to understand.

50 people like this
Posted by The birds thank you...
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Apr 12, 2019 at 5:50 pm

The birds thank you... is a registered user.

It is a public health problem AND an enviromental problem. It isn't a smoke screen. And the vulnerable members of our population are young children and immune compromised.

When faecal matter dries, some particles become airborne and can spread potentially dangerous viruses, such as rotavirus. Inhaling those germs can be potentially fatal. We do not need a hep A problem on top of it.

Everything on our streets ends up in our creeks and in the Bay through the storm drains. It effects the water, the plants, and the wildlife that live there.

It's completely irresponsible and reprehensible that the city council has let this go on for years and come to this point.

49 people like this
Posted by Interested
a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Apr 12, 2019 at 6:12 pm

Interested is a registered user.

There needs to be a survey taken to find out how many people living in RVs and autos on our streets are previous Mountain View residents - and not those from out of town taking advantage of our very lax regulations. With even Berkeley banning RVs on their streets, we can expect a huge influx of MORE. Every one of these people should be required to apply and pay for a permit that covers the police protection/enforcement, sewage clean up, garbage disposal, etc. This permit should require that they have a license, the vehicle is drivable, and the resident(s) have no criminal record. That should be the ONLY way any of them are allowed on the streets until the entire ban takes place.

Those living in RVs and autos pay NO property tax - however Mountain View TAXPAYERS have paid close to $1million dollars cleaning up and providing services to them, with over $1.6million ADDITIONAL of our taxpayer money being scheduled for this next year. If that money was spent on those few actual previous MV families who are now homeless through no fault of their own, we could actually do something to help these truly deserving to find housing and get off the street.

Allowing a year before enforcement of the recent regulation, is untenable, and only invites more of those from out of town to show up on our streets. The contractors who dump junk RVs here and rent them out to their workers, the criminal element who refuse to interact with the police, the out of town and out of state who are scamming MV taxpayers because THEIR city doesn't allow this, those who park in neighborhoods and dump their sewage and trash on public property.... all would have to move on if they refused an inspection, had to apply for a permit and pay a fee. If they refuse, they should be ticketed and be required to immediately move on. Those that get the inspection, permit and pay a fee should then be off the streets by the deadline set by Council.

It is past time to take care of this - and to spend our taxpayer money on those truly deserving of our compassion: those few previous MV residents who are working to better their situation.

4 people like this
Posted by Renegade RV
a resident of another community
on Apr 12, 2019 at 7:18 pm

Renegade RV is a registered user.

The problem is that when the RV waste containers get full, there is no place to dump them. I have seen some RV dwellers emptying their containers near landscaping islands in parking lots while others sometimes pour the contents down storm drains. This is done at night of course to avoid attention and it is a messy job.

Fortunately Mountain View is a relatively clean city so there is minimal chance for a cholera outbreak. That would be unfortunate & create bad feelings towards transient RV residents, many of whom prefer to use service station & grocery store restrooms.

Another dump site (no pun intended) are shopping center & park garbage cannisters...just lift the tops off & pour. Since they are emptied daily, the wastes don't linger but some of my RV neighbors have complained that it makes recycling for bottles & cans a messy affair. Some now wear rubber gloves.

Perhaps if the city could offer sewage trucks that stop by the RVS and vacuum out their waste containers this problem could be eliminated somewhat.

Since we are all neighbors to some extent, let's work together & solve this issue.

29 people like this
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 12, 2019 at 11:07 pm

neighbor is a registered user.

to all RV's parked behind Nob Hill shopping center and on Pamela Drive:

-you are blocking left turn vision onto Pamela Drive. For the past 5 years. We have noticed. The 2 motorhomes that park in front of the Oasis Laundry: you are in violation of overnight parking laws 2-6am. every night. we notice and we are reporting it to police and the landowners for the shopping center. There is a reason the back parking lot was fenced off recently.

- I have been a homeowner in mountain view for 14 years. there has always been a few homeless people and a few RVs in the area. I have done what I can to help them out. it is totally out of control now, because city council does not allow the MVPD to enforce existing laws.

-this is an untenable situation.

26 people like this
Posted by dont go away mad
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 13, 2019 at 2:16 pm

dont go away mad is a registered user.

this has gone on long enough. It’s time to clean house.

19 people like this
Posted by Hans(sel) & Gretel
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 16, 2019 at 7:38 pm

Hans(sel) & Gretel is a registered user.

I was driving down to the MV Library this afternoon via Shoreline. An MV Parking Control Scooter drove right by the lines of transient RVs, never stopped & never ticketed any of them.

After I left the library, I saw the same guy issuing parking tickets to cars parked along Franklin & in the library parking lot who had overstayed the 2 hour limit.

What's with that? And what are the priorities?

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