Measure C claims to do one thing but actually does another. Mountain View's ballot measure says it's about road safety. It's not. It's about getting the city's vehicle-dwelling homeless out of sight and out of town.
The reason behind this legislative sleight-of-hand is that under state law, the city can't make homelessness illegal. As City Council candidate John Lashlee said recently, "Passing a law that says you can't be homeless is not a solution to homelessness."
Measure C, the result of a citizen referendum campaign to overturn a City Council decision, doesn't pretend to solve the plight of the homeless in our community. It aims to sweep it out of view by driving inhabited RVs off of most city streets by classifying them as oversized vehicles banned from parking on "narrow" streets.
If you're wondering what "most streets" means, you're not alone. Even city officials aren't certain of exactly which, or how many, Mountain View streets are included in the ban.
If Measure C were about traffic safety, city staff would have surveyed streets, checked sightlines and come up with a rational policy, like how far back from a driveway or an intersection an oversized vehicle needs to be in order for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists to get around Mountain View safely. There would be a map showing exactly which streets would be impacted. The fact that voters are being asked to make a decision without knowing exactly what they're being asked to support is irresponsible.
Proponents of Measure C argue that sleeping in a car is no way to live, but that's obviously not the point. No one is conflating a vehicle with the comforts of a home. Desperate families are living in vehicles because they offer a few things that a tent in the creek bed or a park bench do not -- namely a roof, four walls and doors that lock -- offering some small semblance of security for you and your belongings when you go to sleep at night. And it also avoids the risks of congregating with strangers in a homeless shelter during the coronavirus pandemic.
Proponents also argue that Mountain View is doing more than its neighbors to accommodate the unhoused, and we can certainly agree with that. The response of many of the surrounding communities is shamefully inadequate. While we congratulate Mountain View for its continuing efforts, the very low bar set by neighboring towns should not be the standard by which the city measures its success. The reality is that too many Mountain View residents still desperately need help.
Earlier this year the city, with Santa Clara County's help, finally opened functional safe parking lots which stay open 24/7, and they quickly filled up. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that a lot of people prefer to park somewhere with a few amenities, like access to water and sanitation. But these safe lots aren't open to all, which explains why there are still so many inhabited vehicles on Mountain View's streets. While there's no official count, it's estimated that as many as half of the RVs in town are rented, and the city only allows owner-occupied vehicles in its lots. If you're renting your RV, you're out of luck.
That there are so many rentals reinforces what those who actually work with this community have been saying: a lot of these households are made up of working people who can't afford to lease an apartment in one of the Bay Area's priciest rental markets, but earn enough to make rent on a beat-up RV with a column lock. They are people who live in Mountain View for the same reasons everyone else does -- because this is where they work, go to school, have family and friends, are part of a community.
In spite of the overwhelming forces of gentrification, Mountain View has made great strides toward becoming the kind of city it used to be: diverse, friendly and able to accommodate residents at a range of income levels. There's a lot to be proud of. On the horizon are affordable housing projects, entire new neighborhoods and transitional housing. If the city sees through its commitment to adding housing at a range of price points, we look forward to a much happier day when people who work in all sectors of Mountain View's economy can actually afford to live here.
But today, amidst a lingering pandemic and economic downturn that has been particularly devastating for lower-income people, is not the time to declare that Mountain View has done enough, and everyone still on the streets is too stubborn or stupid to live somewhere better. De facto curbside RV parks are not sustainable or desirable, but until the city can accommodate all of its current vehicle-dwelling residents, not just the lucky few, poorly conceived policies like Measure C do not deserve voters' support.