Mountain View's proposed ban on large vehicles has provoked a stern warning from civil rights attorneys who say it would discriminate against the city's homeless population.
In a letter sent to the city earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley both urged Mountain View officials not to move forward with plans to prohibit large vehicles over 6 feet tall from street parking.
In March, the Mountain View City Council gave initial approval to the citywide parking ban as a way to curtail the surging numbers of people living in vehicles on city streets. Mountain View officials have said they would be following in the footsteps of other cities that have already enacted similar parking restrictions. A formal ordinance with specific details is expected to be brought back to the City Council next month.
The ACLU and Law Foundation attorneys say they became interested in Mountain View's ban after being contacted by a new advocacy group representing people living in their vehicles.
Civil rights attorneys say they are alarmed that Mountain View's proposed ban seems designed to push impoverished residents out of the city. If it passed, it would mean that Mountain View is skirting its responsibility to provide for its most vulnerable citizens, said Michael Trujillo, staff attorney with Law Foundation of Silicon Valley.
"This is not a problem that's unique to Mountain View, but that doesn't permit the city to use unconstitutional methods to pursue this," he said. "These tactics of trying to push people out of the city through discriminatory practices aren't acceptable anywhere."
At last count, about 290 inhabited vehicles park on the streets of Mountain View, and about two-thirds of those are reported to be large RVs or trailers that would be impacted by an oversized vehicle ban.
The letter lists a variety of legal arguments for why the city's proposed vehicle ban would be illegal, laying out the basis for a future legal action. To make the case, Trujillo highlighted a lawsuit brought against the city of Boise, Idaho for its prohibition against homeless people sleeping on public property. In that case, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that Boise's ban was illegal because the city didn't provide adequate shelters or any other alternative for its homeless population. For that reason, a ban represented a "cruel and unusual punishment," the court ruled.
In the case of Mountain View, local activists have long described living out of vehicles as the best housing option available for those who can't afford housing. ACLU and Law Foundation attorneys praised the city of Mountain View for taking steps to create a safe parking program, but they noted that this was hardly sufficient to tackle the city's immense homeless population. Even if the city found space to park about 300 vehicles, that still wouldn't be enough to enact a sweeping ban because case law indicates that cities must provide homeless residents an "option of sleeping indoors," they argued.
The attorneys also argued that the city's proposal seemed designed to discriminate against the homeless, but almost anyone else who owns a large vehicle would get special consideration. The city's March staff report noted that a future ordinance would carve out special exemptions for business owners, residents, government officials and other groups to continue parking their oversized vehicles on the street.
ACLU and Law Foundation attorneys say their goal at this point is to work with Mountain View city officials to ensure any future actions don't infringe on residents' civil rights. City officials have not responded yet to the letter.