Like many other Bay Area cities, Mountain View has a visible population living in vehicles. In December 2018, our police department counted 290 vehicles people appeared to be living in, including 192 motor homes and 89 passenger vehicles.
The city has responded by providing both public safety enforcement and social services, including assistance that has helped many vehicle residents find permanent housing. But the high cost of living keeps driving more people onto the streets.
In January, the city concluded a survey of the general public. Of the 1,170 who responded, only 44% supported "parking restrictions." Despite public sentiment against parking restrictions, on March 19 our City Council directed staff to draft a citywide ban for overnight parking of oversized vehicles. In exchange, the council has promised to open a few safe parking lots for a limited number of vehicles. The council is scheduled to take up the issue at its meeting on Tuesday, June 11.
As proposed, this ordinance will immediately force nearly 200 inhabited vehicles out of Mountain View.
Here's what we believe that ordinance should do instead:
• Vehicle dwellers are residents: First, we recognize those living in vehicles in Mountain View as residents. They work in our schools, homes and restaurants. The children attend our schools. As residents, they each deserve a protected place and a protected experience in our community.
• Enforcement and safe parking: We ask that the City Council implement clear, actionable safe parking plans before increasing any form of enforcement. Compassion dictates that enforcement and safe parking not be separated.
• Parking spaces: We ask that the city identify and protect 200 "safe" parking spaces so that no current law-abiding resident has to leave Mountain View. Since currently identified lots will not provide sufficient spaces, we ask the city to identify and protect some on-street parking in nonresidential areas to offset the difference.
• Resident registration: It is often said that we don't know who is living in the vehicles. Concerns about identity are both legitimate and addressable. The city should implement a simple registration system for authorized parking areas. Registration should prioritize those working, attending school or who recently lived in permanent housing in Mountain View to help limit the influx of new vehicle households. Residents we have spoken with support registration. Additionally, they support paying a regular safe parking fee, as they wish to pay their way and support the community.
• Parking lots that enable efficient support of our residents: Our council has declared that we have a housing emergency. Until the emergency is over, we ask for a streamlined set of requirements for building and managing safe parking. The city of San Diego provides safe parking with minimal city requirements, and thereby fits many more vehicles into lots than Mountain View allows. The city should waive requirements for permanent lighting, professional grading, on-site garbage pickup, and redundant driveways for emergency vehicles.
Parking should be allowed 24/7 for up to 90 days before residents need to move. Operation 24/7 will keep motor homes from parking on the streets during the day.
• Non-oversized vehicles: The city must also preserve the long-term right for residents to live in non-oversized vehicles parked on the street.
Banning vehicle residents from our streets does not make them disappear. It only exacerbates homelessness, pushing people into more desperate situations. Mountain View has the financial means and the good sense to be a leader in providing safe parking. The homelessness crisis will only get worse until we build more low-income housing. We must be fair, inclusive, and equitable to address the needs of all our residents.
Dave Arnone is a 25-year resident of Mountain View and IdaRose Sylvester has lived in the city for 20 years.