The final decision on whether to prohibit oversized vehicles like RVs from parking on most city streets will be up to Mountain View voters this November.
In a unanimous vote at its Tuesday, Jan. 14, meeting, the City Council decided to bring its September parking ordinance to a popular vote following a successful referendum to overturn it.
The city's parking ordinance, referred to as the "RV ban," will be suspended until the election, the council decided.
It was a rare easy choice for Mountain View leaders even though it dealt with the city's most vexing issue. Council members quickly agreed the voters should make the final decision on where large vehicles, including inhabited RV and trailers, are allowed to park in the city.
"It's time for the voters to vote, but I don't expect us to suspend our work with finding solutions," said Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga. "Our safe parking is just getting off the ground, and I do believe that as we learned from other cities, it goes hand in hand with some restrictions."
The parking ordinance passed last September on a 4-3 council vote. The ordinance called for all-hours restrictions on oversized vehicles parking on narrow streets, defined as any road less than 40 feet in width. These oversized vehicles would include any cars, trucks, vans, motorhomes or trailers measuring more than 22 feet long, 7 feet high or 7 feet wide, albeit with some exceptions.
The parking ordinance touched a nerve for many Mountain View residents because the brunt of the restrictions would have fallen on people living out of their vehicles. Social justice advocates immediately blasted the ordinance as a thinly veiled attempt to push the homeless out of the city. City officials have insisted the parking rules were designed to improve traffic safety, particularly the visibility problems for drivers caused by rows of large vehicles lining the curbs.
So far, the city has not specified precise boundaries for where parking would be restricted. A preliminary city map published last year indicated most residential neighborhoods would be closed off while some industrial areas of the city would remain open for large vehicles. Public Works staff previously said they were still figuring out exactly which neighborhoods would fall under the narrow streets rule.
The City Council's action last fall prompted a swift backlash. Advocates with the Housing Justice Coalition and the Democratic Socialists of America quickly canvassed the city to collect signatures for a referendum petition. In less than a month, they delivered thousands of voter signatures, forcing the city to pull back the ordinance.
Speaking before the council on Tuesday, opponents urged the city to rescind the RV ban, saying it wasn't worth bringing the issue to voters.
"The fact that we so quickly gathered more than the required signatures speaks to the unpopularity of this measure," said John Lashlee of the Democratic Socialists. "To the council who voted for this, you will be the face of evictions, and you will be defeated."
With their hands tied by the referendum, elected leaders either had to rescind the ordinance or ask voters to decide in an upcoming election. City staff reported that it was already too late to include it in the March primary election. The next available opportunity would be to call a special election in April, but the city would have to carry nearly all the costs, estimated to be upward of $1.3 million, according to the city clerk.
Instead the City Council threw its support behind saving the ordinance for the November presidential election, which was estimated to cost about $90,000.
It was the best choice out of a bad set of options, said Councilman Chris Clark, who previously opposed the ordinance. He admonished his colleagues for overreaching, saying it only resulted in causing further delays for the city to address the actual hazards.
"If we had crafted an ordinance that dealt with the safety issue and that wasn't so broad, we might not have had to go through this referendum process," he said. "Sometimes we don't make the right decision the first time around."