Housing advocates said Wednesday that they plan to deliver a referendum petition with thousands of voter signatures to City Hall later this week in an effort to overturn a sweeping RV ban that they see as an attack on the homeless.
If the referendum qualifies, it would force the City Council to rescind last month's action to prohibit large vehicles from parking on most streets in Mountain View. If the council wishes to pursue the RV ban, it would need to go before voters to decide.
The referendum takes aim at an ordinance passed on Oct. 22 that banned all vehicles more than 7 feet high, 7 feet wide or 22 feet long from parking on most city streets. Under the proposed rules, this ban is expected to close nearly all of Mountain View's suburban neighborhoods to large vehicles, including RVs and trailers.
While presented by city officials as a traffic safety measure, the parking ban was widely interpreted as a crackdown on the city's surging homeless population. For years, the number of homeless individuals in Mountain View has been growing, and the most visible sign of it has been several large encampments where people live out of their vehicles.
Ever since the parking ban was first proposed, advocates with the Housing Justice Coalition warned they would work to overturn it. Under city rules, ordinances approved by the City Council do not take effect for 30 days, and they can be overturned through a citizen petition process. To qualify, a referendum petition must include signatures from about 10% of the registered voters in Mountain View, which equates to more than 3,700 individuals.
Housing Justice Coalition members have been working around the clock to collect signatures ever since the council's decision, said Edie Keating, an organizer with the group. About 100 volunteers with Housing Justice and the Silicon Valley Democratic Socialists of America have been stationed outside supermarkets, Caltrain stops and other hot spots to solicit people to sign the petition, she said.
As of Wednesday morning, Nov. 20, Housing Justice members say they had collected more than 3,300 signatures, or about 400 short of what is needed to qualify. They were optimistic that they could close the gap before a Friday deadline.
Former Councilman Lenny Siegel, who is helping organize the referendum, said it would be a close call but he was confident they would reach the goal.
"I think we can get it -- our fingers are crossed," he said. "There are some people who support this ban, but when you talk to them, what they really want is a solution. They really just want to find a place for people to live."
When the referendum petition is submitted, the City Clerk's Office will perform an initial count to verify that it has enough signatures. If it passes muster, the petition will be brought to the county Registrar of Voters for signature verification.
Upon verification by elections officials, the City Council at their next regular meeting must either repeal the entire ordinance or bring it forward to voters to decide on.
Even if the referendum fails, the city parking ban could still be challenged on legal grounds. As the council considered the ordinance, a coalition of civil rights attorneys warned that they were ready to file a lawsuit arguing the city's restrictions are unconstitutional.
Mountain View city officials have been working to expand a safe parking program at various sites across the city where people living out of their vehicles could sleep overnight. By the numbers, these safe parking sites will not be able to accommodate the hundreds of people currently living out of their vehicles any time in the near future.