Mountain View's safe parking program is on the cusp of a dramatic expansion, potentially adding enough space to take about 70 inhabited vehicles off the city's streets this winter.
City officials say they are just about ready to launch three new safe parking sites, each larger than any current locations. If all goes according to plan, city staff and nonprofit partners believe the expanded safe parking program can eventually funnel homeless people off the streets and into permanent housing.
The first and largest of the new sites is a city-owned parking lot located near Shoreline Amphitheatre at the corner of Crittenden Lane. Under city guidelines, the lot is expected to hold up to 30 RVs or trailers, significantly more than city officials originally expected. The downside is the site can only be used temporarily, during the winter, and that window is closing. By March 15, city officials say the Shoreline lot must be cleared out because of the city's contract with Live Nation for use of the parking during the amphitheater's concert season.
Exactly when the Shoreline lot will begin taking in residents is up in the air, and neither the city nor its nonprofit partners could provide a firm launch date to the Voice. In recent days, city officials say they have canvassed all the inhabited vehicles in Mountain View to encourage occupants to sign up for the safe parking program through the Community Services Agency (CSA).
A waiting list of families and individuals is ready to go as soon as the safe parking sites open, said CSA executive director Tom Myers. The nonprofit has reportedly been screening applicants to ensure their RVs or other vehicles are functional.
When a sufficient number of people are cleared to move in, the Shoreline lot will open up, said Amber Stime, director of Move MV, the nonprofit that runs Lots of Love, which offers overnight parking in church lots.
"Right now, the lots are ready, and as soon as the tenants are ready, they'll open up," she said. "Quite a few vehicles need some repairs, and we don't want them breaking down in the lots."
Under city rules, anyone residing in a safe parking lot must have a working vehicle that doesn't leak oil, sewage or other hazardous materials. Citing potential liability, city officials restricted the hours of operation of their safe parking sites to 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. During the day, safe parking residents are required to move their vehicles to some other location off-site. This condition is the main reason that individuals have been discouraged from signing up for the program, according to CSA officials.
Up to 30 more vehicles could soon be parked at a former VTA parking lot at the now-closed Evelyn light rail station. Earlier this year, Mountain View officials signed an $11 million deal with the transit agency to lease the parking lot for 65 years. City officials intend to eventually redevelop the site for affordable housing, but in the meantime they say it should serve well as a temporary safe parking location.
The VTA parking lot is expected to open shortly after the Shoreline site, but again no clear date has been announced. Move MV members say the VTA site is expected to open after the Shoreline lot reaches capacity.
Less clear is the fate of a third safe parking site, this one located in the Terra Bella neighborhood. The property was offered by the Palo Alto Housing Corporation as a temporary parking site before it is developed for affordable housing. Over a year ago, the City Council approved $230,000 to prepare the site to host vehicles, and later allocated an additional $65,000 after a request by city staff.
City officials have received criticism for dragging their feet on opening up the Terra Bella site. In September, city staff finalized a set of formal rules and regulations for safe parking lots as it became clear that elected leaders wanted to reduce the number of inhabited vehicles on the street. Last month, the Terra Bella site received a conditional use permit to open after being reviewed by seven separate city departments. When it opens, the Terra Bella site is expected to host eight RVs and three smaller vehicles.
Even when all the anticipated safe parking sites are opened, they won't provide nearly enough spaces to accommodate all the inhabited vehicles in Mountain View. By city counts, about 200 inhabited vehicles have settled along city streets, and officials have acknowledged that they still need to find more locations that can host vehicles. Additionally, each of the three new safe parking sites that will open soon is only available on a temporary basis.
Two groups have taken up the job of trying to encourage property owners to participate in the safe parking program. As of this summer, the Mountain View Coalition for Sustainable Planning launched its own task force to work on expanding safe parking. Around the same time, the Mountain View Human Relations Commission was assigned a similar job on behalf of the city. The two delegations have approached numerous private landowners, but so far none have been willing to sign up, said IdaRose Sylvester, a Human Relations commissioner.
"Everyone shares a similar set of concerns. They're concerned about who will be living on the lot, the liability, and if there is insurance available," she said. "There's all these moving parts and it's in flux. We're all volunteers, but we're trying to move as fast as we can."
City Council members have said they need to step up enforcement to restrict the rising number of large inhabited vehicles along city streets. In recent weeks, the council approved a package of measures that would limit where large RVs and trailers can park, banning them from most city streets. On Nov. 22, a citizen referendum was submitted to the city to overturn those rules.