Guest opinion: Council should show compassion for vehicle dwellers


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.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


29 people like this
Posted by D
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 11, 2019 at 2:24 pm

No, I don't think City Council should show compassion for vehicle dwellers. The compassion should come from County/State/Fed. I love our city and we can't possibly support unfair share of the dwellers - PA/LA and other surrounding cities should get the equal share and the Councils should make sure of these - Your job is to protect and manage city, not take care of well being of non-citizens. Sorry, I'm fed up!

27 people like this
Posted by MV Renter
a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 11, 2019 at 2:30 pm

I struggle with this one: "Vehicle dwellers are residents"

My apartment building was demolished last year.
I was homeless for two weeks last year.
I crashed in my car for two weeks last year.
I parked in a different place each night.
I showered at the gym.
I went to work during the day.
I didn't know what I would do.
I didn't know where I would end up.
I didn't know if I could still live here.
I wanted to.

No one has the unalienable right to live beyond their means.

I was homeless.
I didn't have a domicile.
My P.O. Box is here, but I didn't "feel" like a resident.
My stuff was in storage, in a storage place here in MV.
I was homeless. It was a reality.
I felt homeless. It weighed heavily on my heart.
I've lived here since 1993.
I was scared.

I did find a place.
I did dig deep into my pockets and my credit to get into it.
I am once more an MV Renter.

And for that I am once again a resident.

So I'm sorry... I can't quite sort out that vehicle dwellers are residents. And I was a vehicle dweller just less than a year ago.

You're not a resident just because you can feed yourself.
You're not a resident just because you have a place to shower.
You're not a resident just because you have a place to park.

You're a resident because you pay to reside here.
This isn't the Wild West. We don't stake out a claim and circle the wagons and call it our own.
And there's no squatters rights.

I don't think that a vehicle dweller is entitled to the rights of residents.

But I do think a vehicle dweller is a human being. I do think that a vehicle dweller deserves kindness and help as much as anyone else. I do think we need to be understanding, charitable, and compassionate.

But herein lies the point:
- Understanding, helpful, kind, charitable is the responsibility of the Mountain View Resident
- But the receiving of understanding, kindness, and charity is not the right of the vehicle dweller

We residents have the obligation to give understanding, kindness and help.
Non-residents do not have the right to expect it. They have the human right to receive it.

Context is everything.

Everyone has, at some point or another, received a second chance that they didn't deserve. Has received forgiveness that they didn't earn. Has been treated kindly by someone who owes them nothing.

That's what makes it special.

That's what makes it beautiful.

So let's give the vehicle dweller those chances, that forgiveness, that kindness, that compassion, that love and friendship.

But don't demand it.

Or it's not a gift anymore.

It's the only way to break the vicious cycle of entitlement.

16 people like this
Posted by Kudos to the council
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2019 at 3:37 pm

I applaud the council for addressing the issue of dealing with people living on our streets in sub standard conditions. Those living on the streets should avail themselves of county services. If they are gainfully employed and living in the streets tey need to find housing. Mountain View shoulders the burden, while surrounding communities turns a blind eye.

To the council. Stay the course, don’t forget our former mayor lost by a landslide due in large part to his mishandling of this issue.

18 people like this
Posted by CleanTheStreets
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2019 at 4:32 pm

Correct, the former mayor lost by a landslide for failing to stop the flood of new homeless people. Mountain View should not shoulder the burden of solving this issue by itself while all our neighbors wash their hands and push the problem to us. We need to be tough otherwise we will be on the losing end of a Prisoner's Dilemma. The only way forward is to first match the policies of the neighboring towns to make the problem evenly distributed and then force them to come together and think of holistic solutions.

7 people like this
Posted by Longview
a resident of another community
on Jun 11, 2019 at 4:37 pm

Longview is a registered user.

People who live in RVs are making difficult choices. Many have a job or other ties to Mountain View, but cannot afford rent. Does the City want to increase unsheltered homelessness? Compassion for vehicle residents is a better answer.

8 people like this
Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 11, 2019 at 4:59 pm

Steven Nelson is a registered user.

The Federal definition of Resident (US Census enumeration) does include people living in temporary housing, or RVs or in little tents under freeway bridges.

13 people like this
Posted by Vehicle Dwellers are Residents
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jun 11, 2019 at 5:23 pm

We have people living in vehicles at unprecedented numbers not because other cities are banning it, but because we are experiencing unprecedented rising housing costs and shortages.

We are in a regional humanitarian crisis and certainly need to address the root cause of it, but what's more critical right now is deciding how we will care for the people who are living on Mountain View streets. And yes, the majority are RESIDENTS because they are living here as their primary residence, not just on weekdays or for a week or two.

People who have lived here for years have been priced out of apartments or even rooms for rent: retired people on fixed incomes, people on disability, people working on minimum wage jobs, children attending local schools, community college students trying to get an education and more.

I'm appalled at how so many other residents are vilifying our most vulnerable neighbors. I bicycle past a string of vehicle homes every morning on my way to work. They're ordinary people just trying to survive. We need real solutions (like building more housing) to help in the long run. But for now, we shouldn't sweep them out of town through ordinances because we don't want to see their struggle.

17 people like this
Posted by Member
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jun 11, 2019 at 6:32 pm

We had a co-worker who proudly announced that he was going to live in the office to beat the cost of rent. At 5 PM, he would proudly take off his shoes and socks, let everyone know that he was going to heat up his dinner in the break room, then look for a conference room to watch TV. Lack of compassion for his co-workers would be a good description.

His employment ended shortly thereafter. This was 1980.

RV dwellers, especially the nicer large travel trailers pulled by large pickup trucks are those co-workers. The 'in-your-face' aggressive parking needs to come to an end.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Local Transit to the Rescue?
By Sherry Listgarten | 26 comments | 3,283 views

Morsey's Creamery brings buffalo-milk gelato to downtown Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 12 comments | 2,239 views

"You Gotta Have Balls [to do counseling] . . .
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,855 views

Eating Green on the Green – August 25
By Laura Stec | 6 comments | 1,267 views


Register now!

On Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

More Info