The Mountain View City Council took a final vote Tuesday to enact a sweeping law prohibiting oversized vehicles from parking on most city streets, despite criticism that the ordinance will oust homeless residents living in RVs and trailers.
Critics swiftly reacted to the so-called RV ban, mobilizing a grass-roots campaign to prevent it from taking effect. Hours after the vote, the Mountain View Housing Justice Campaign announced it has begun circulating a petition to hold a referendum on the council's decision and let voters decide.
The ban, which will take effect in June 2020, has two distinctive parts. One prevents so-called oversized vehicles -- ones that exceed 22 feet in length, 7 feet in width or 7 feet in height -- from parking on streets with bike lanes, which passed unanimously at the Oct. 22 meeting and is not being opposed by the campaign.
The more controversial ordinance, which received a shakier 4-3 vote, would prevent oversized vehicles from parking on "narrow" streets 40 feet wide or smaller. Such a ban would prohibit homeless residents from living in RVs along many of the city's streets including Crisanto Avenue, which has long been a haven for vehicle dwellers. Council members Chris Clark, Alison Hicks and Lucas Ramirez voted against the narrow streets ban.
People living out of cars, trailers and RVs has become a top issue in Mountain View in recent years, as the growing number of homeless people across the county and rising cost of living swelled the number of vehicle-dwellers on the city's streets. Recent estimates for how many inhabited vehicles are in Mountain View vary from 212 to 367, depending on which agency conducted the outreach.
Several speakers at the meeting blasted the council's actions as an inhumane effort to kick homeless residents out of town, and saying that it was disingenuous to sell the ban as a traffic safety measure. Valerie Fenwick, a member of the city's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee speaking on her own behalf, said she has "zero recollection" of safety issues regarding RVs for bicyclists. Construction trucks and cars often pose a greater problem, she said.
"I think it's ridiculous to claim this is for bicycle safety," she said.
Former Councilman Lenny Siegel, who announced the referendum effort at the meeting, said the City Council doesn't even know, precisely, which locations would be affected by the narrow streets ordinance. At the Sept. 24 council meeting, Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga estimated the ban could encompass roughly two-thirds of the city's streets.
"The city's policy on motor homes is intolerant, inhumane, impractical, unconstitutional, and now that you've got the narrow streets thing associated with it, dishonest," Siegel said at the meeting. "This really isn't about traffic safety."
Shari Emling told council members that proponents of the vehicle ban do not lack compassion for the homeless, it's just a matter of how Mountain View taxpayer resources can best serve them.
"We are very willing to help those prior Mountain View residents -- who had an apartment or a house and moved into Mountain View or work here -- to better themselves and get off the street," Emling said. "I don't want anyone living in an RV."
Council members did not comments at the topic, which was on the meeting's consent calendar and passed as a second reading of the ordinances.
After the meeting, Siegel told the Voice that the referendum campaign has already begun, and that volunteers will need to collect about 3,700 signatures within the next 30 days. He said the group is expecting to have between 100 and 150 people collecting signatures, and the goal is to collect about 5,000 to ensure at least 3,700 are valid by the deadline.
The petition is in opposition to the narrow streets ban, and not the ordinance preventing oversized vehicles on streets with marked bike lanes.
If enough signatures are collected, the council will have to decide whether to repeal the ordinance or put the matter before voters next year, Siegel said. It's not clear whether it will be on the primary ballot in March or the general election in November.
Despite the high bar and short time line, Siegel said he is confident the campaign will collect enough signatures. He said they are not planning to pay for any signature-gathering.