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Mountain View defends its RV parking ban in court, dismissing claims that it targets and harms the poor

Protesters hold signs in support of RV parking behind Michael Trujillo, an attorney at the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, in front of Mountain View City Hall on July 14, 2021. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

The city of Mountain View is asking a judge to throw out a legal challenge against its RV parking ban, arguing that the forthcoming parking restrictions are not a ploy to banish low-income residents living in vehicles along most public streets.

Legal advocates filed a lawsuit last month alleging that the city's parking ban, also known as the narrow streets ordinance, is designed to oust homeless people who have taken shelter in RVs and other oversized vehicles. Lawyers for the group called the parking bans both unconstitutional and morally wrong, saying that it threatens the health and wellbeing of people who have been displaced by the local housing crisis.

The controversial ordinance prevents large vehicles from parking on city streets that are 40 feet wide or less, which accounts for 83% of all streets in the Mountain View. The lawsuit also seeks to overturn a similar ordinance affecting streets with bike lanes that went into effect last year.

The city fired its opening salvo in the court battle last week, requesting that the district court judge dismiss all of the alleged violations. Defense attorneys made the case that the parking ban does not target low-income residents and is focused solely on traffic safety, and that the city has done more than its fair share to support those who are living in vehicles for lack of stable housing.

"What the plaintiffs' complaint makes clear is that the real purpose of this litigation is to secure a right to indefinitely locate their oversized vehicles on their preferred roadways, regardless of any dangers this may pose to other vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists in their vicinity," attorney Margaret Prinzing wrote in the motion.

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The Mountain View City Council originally passed the parking restrictions in September 2019 following years of debate over what to do about the growing homeless population living in vehicles parked along public roadways. At its height, as many as 299 vehicles were thought to be used as makeshift homes, more than two-thirds of which were RVs.

The council approved both ordinances in September 2019, but the narrow streets ordinance was immediately subject to a referendum. It eventually came before voters as Measure C in November 2020, when it passed with nearly 57% of the vote. The plan was to begin enforcing the law in April, but the city has only started installing signs last week.

The city's defense argues that the ordinances do not limit parking to the extent described in the lawsuit, and that plenty of vehicle dwellers are living in cars and vans that would not fall under the prohibition. The defense also points out that 11% of the city's roadways are wider than 40 feet and do not have bike lanes, giving them about 54 streets that would allow them to stay in Mountain View. The motion says that the ordinances are even-handed, and sought to dispel the idea that the parking restrictions would have a heavier impact on low-income residents.

"The ordinances simply cannot be said to target low-income people. They target oversized vehicles," according to the court filing.

The crux of the city's argument is that the pair of ordinances were passed in the name of public safety, specifically the need to protect drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians on streets where vision and movement is impaired by large vehicles parked on the side of the road. It denies that the restrictions were passed for the purpose of moving homeless people off of residential streets, and that staff reports repeatedly described safety concerns as the justification.

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The staff reports themselves do not cite traffic safety data to justify the new laws, but instead refer to complaints from the public of reduced bicycle safety, crowded streets and limited parking. The complaints also included general concerns about vehicle dwellers too, specifically garbage, leaking sewage and noise from generators. The lawsuit claims the city never truly analyzed whether the oversized vehicles actually constituted a public safety concern, which the city dismissed as both wrong and irrelevant to the case.

"The community caretaking doctrine does not demand an inquiry into the adequacy of the legislative process leading up to the law in question. It just demands an evaluation of the facts on the ground," according to the city's court filing. "If an oversized vehicle is parked in a bike lane, and bicyclists are forced to swerve into a traffic lane to pass the oversized vehicle, public safety may well be at risk, regardless of whether the City Council considered data that conclusively proved that possibility before it passed the Ordinances in 2019."

Though the legal defense seeks to create distance between the RV parking restrictions and the growing homeless crisis in Mountain View, the lead-up to the ordinances make clear that the two issues are deeply intertwined. City officials repeatedly referred to its homelessness response as a multipronged approach, offering a boost in social services, creating safe parking sites and eventually enforcing parking restrictions to remove inhabited vehicles from problematic streets.

The city's own legal staff conceded that passing such a parking ordinance could be challenging, and that a growing number of court rulings have limited the extent to which a city can prohibit living and sleeping in vehicles. Recent verdicts have found that it is illegal to prosecute the homeless for living on public property when alternatives like shelter space are in such short supply.

The city was arguably legislating on thin ice, with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley and the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sending a letter warning that such ordinances would be subject to legal challenge. Both groups have since banded together to file the lawsuit last month.

Though the city's defense teases apart the issue of traffic safety from homelessness, the motion still makes the case that the city is compassionate and does care about the needs of the homeless residents living in vehicles. It points to the city's large safe parking program, homeless prevention and rental assistance services, as well as upwards of $28 million invested by Mountain View in housing for those who are homeless or at imminent risk of losing their home.

Despite those efforts, the lawsuit claims that vehicle residents in Mountain View are living in "constant fear" that the city's heavy-handed enforcement will soon deprive them of their homes, causing stress and anxiety for families with children who will be unable to pay for the high cost of retrieving an impounded vehicle. The total capacity of the city's safe parking program falls short when it comes to the number of inhabited vehicles in the city, and it can be difficult for vehicle dwellers to meet all the requirements to be accepted into one of the safe parking lots.

The city disputes that the enforcement policies are unfair, and said that those living in oversized vehicles have been given plenty of warning about when the law will take effect and which streets will soon be off limits. It also argues that a $65 parking ticket for violating the ordinance is not excessive, and that towing costs -- however exorbitant they may be -- are simply administrative costs that cannot be assessed as a punitive fine.

"These costs represent the costs incurred to remove an illegally parked vehicle. Passing on those costs to the individual responsible for them is remedial in nature and not an excessive fine," according to the motion.

City officials have yet to give a firm date on when the narrow streets ordinance will take effect, and whether the lawsuit has changed the schedule. Enforcement of the ordinance hinges on the installation of thousands of "no parking" signs, at an estimated cost of $980,000. They will be first installed north of Central Expressway and West of Shoreline Boulevard, an area roughly encompassing the Monta Loma and Rex Manor neighborhoods.

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Mountain View defends its RV parking ban in court, dismissing claims that it targets and harms the poor

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Mon, Aug 23, 2021, 1:49 pm

The city of Mountain View is asking a judge to throw out a legal challenge against its RV parking ban, arguing that the forthcoming parking restrictions are not a ploy to banish low-income residents living in vehicles along most public streets.

Legal advocates filed a lawsuit last month alleging that the city's parking ban, also known as the narrow streets ordinance, is designed to oust homeless people who have taken shelter in RVs and other oversized vehicles. Lawyers for the group called the parking bans both unconstitutional and morally wrong, saying that it threatens the health and wellbeing of people who have been displaced by the local housing crisis.

The controversial ordinance prevents large vehicles from parking on city streets that are 40 feet wide or less, which accounts for 83% of all streets in the Mountain View. The lawsuit also seeks to overturn a similar ordinance affecting streets with bike lanes that went into effect last year.

The city fired its opening salvo in the court battle last week, requesting that the district court judge dismiss all of the alleged violations. Defense attorneys made the case that the parking ban does not target low-income residents and is focused solely on traffic safety, and that the city has done more than its fair share to support those who are living in vehicles for lack of stable housing.

"What the plaintiffs' complaint makes clear is that the real purpose of this litigation is to secure a right to indefinitely locate their oversized vehicles on their preferred roadways, regardless of any dangers this may pose to other vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists in their vicinity," attorney Margaret Prinzing wrote in the motion.

The Mountain View City Council originally passed the parking restrictions in September 2019 following years of debate over what to do about the growing homeless population living in vehicles parked along public roadways. At its height, as many as 299 vehicles were thought to be used as makeshift homes, more than two-thirds of which were RVs.

The council approved both ordinances in September 2019, but the narrow streets ordinance was immediately subject to a referendum. It eventually came before voters as Measure C in November 2020, when it passed with nearly 57% of the vote. The plan was to begin enforcing the law in April, but the city has only started installing signs last week.

The city's defense argues that the ordinances do not limit parking to the extent described in the lawsuit, and that plenty of vehicle dwellers are living in cars and vans that would not fall under the prohibition. The defense also points out that 11% of the city's roadways are wider than 40 feet and do not have bike lanes, giving them about 54 streets that would allow them to stay in Mountain View. The motion says that the ordinances are even-handed, and sought to dispel the idea that the parking restrictions would have a heavier impact on low-income residents.

"The ordinances simply cannot be said to target low-income people. They target oversized vehicles," according to the court filing.

The crux of the city's argument is that the pair of ordinances were passed in the name of public safety, specifically the need to protect drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians on streets where vision and movement is impaired by large vehicles parked on the side of the road. It denies that the restrictions were passed for the purpose of moving homeless people off of residential streets, and that staff reports repeatedly described safety concerns as the justification.

The staff reports themselves do not cite traffic safety data to justify the new laws, but instead refer to complaints from the public of reduced bicycle safety, crowded streets and limited parking. The complaints also included general concerns about vehicle dwellers too, specifically garbage, leaking sewage and noise from generators. The lawsuit claims the city never truly analyzed whether the oversized vehicles actually constituted a public safety concern, which the city dismissed as both wrong and irrelevant to the case.

"The community caretaking doctrine does not demand an inquiry into the adequacy of the legislative process leading up to the law in question. It just demands an evaluation of the facts on the ground," according to the city's court filing. "If an oversized vehicle is parked in a bike lane, and bicyclists are forced to swerve into a traffic lane to pass the oversized vehicle, public safety may well be at risk, regardless of whether the City Council considered data that conclusively proved that possibility before it passed the Ordinances in 2019."

Though the legal defense seeks to create distance between the RV parking restrictions and the growing homeless crisis in Mountain View, the lead-up to the ordinances make clear that the two issues are deeply intertwined. City officials repeatedly referred to its homelessness response as a multipronged approach, offering a boost in social services, creating safe parking sites and eventually enforcing parking restrictions to remove inhabited vehicles from problematic streets.

The city's own legal staff conceded that passing such a parking ordinance could be challenging, and that a growing number of court rulings have limited the extent to which a city can prohibit living and sleeping in vehicles. Recent verdicts have found that it is illegal to prosecute the homeless for living on public property when alternatives like shelter space are in such short supply.

The city was arguably legislating on thin ice, with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley and the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sending a letter warning that such ordinances would be subject to legal challenge. Both groups have since banded together to file the lawsuit last month.

Though the city's defense teases apart the issue of traffic safety from homelessness, the motion still makes the case that the city is compassionate and does care about the needs of the homeless residents living in vehicles. It points to the city's large safe parking program, homeless prevention and rental assistance services, as well as upwards of $28 million invested by Mountain View in housing for those who are homeless or at imminent risk of losing their home.

Despite those efforts, the lawsuit claims that vehicle residents in Mountain View are living in "constant fear" that the city's heavy-handed enforcement will soon deprive them of their homes, causing stress and anxiety for families with children who will be unable to pay for the high cost of retrieving an impounded vehicle. The total capacity of the city's safe parking program falls short when it comes to the number of inhabited vehicles in the city, and it can be difficult for vehicle dwellers to meet all the requirements to be accepted into one of the safe parking lots.

The city disputes that the enforcement policies are unfair, and said that those living in oversized vehicles have been given plenty of warning about when the law will take effect and which streets will soon be off limits. It also argues that a $65 parking ticket for violating the ordinance is not excessive, and that towing costs -- however exorbitant they may be -- are simply administrative costs that cannot be assessed as a punitive fine.

"These costs represent the costs incurred to remove an illegally parked vehicle. Passing on those costs to the individual responsible for them is remedial in nature and not an excessive fine," according to the motion.

City officials have yet to give a firm date on when the narrow streets ordinance will take effect, and whether the lawsuit has changed the schedule. Enforcement of the ordinance hinges on the installation of thousands of "no parking" signs, at an estimated cost of $980,000. They will be first installed north of Central Expressway and West of Shoreline Boulevard, an area roughly encompassing the Monta Loma and Rex Manor neighborhoods.

Comments

Otto Maddox
Registered user
Monta Loma
on Aug 23, 2021 at 2:59 pm
Otto Maddox, Monta Loma
Registered user
on Aug 23, 2021 at 2:59 pm

You know.. even if you think people have the right to live in their vehicles while located on public streets there are still laws that require those vehicles to be registered, to pass smog checks, and to move every 72 hours etc.

I promise you at least half the rigs parked in these areas would fail at least 2 of those laws easily.

Some look like they couldn't move it there was an earthquake to help them.

Plus all the junk some people store underneath, on top, all around their rigs. BBQ pits.. generators.. whether you live in an RV or an actual building you need to take cure of the place.

Anytime I run into someone who thinks RV dwellers should be left alone I find out those people don't have an RV camp on their street. Easy to say when it's not in your front yard.


Ok
Registered user
Sylvan Park
on Aug 23, 2021 at 3:19 pm
Ok, Sylvan Park
Registered user
on Aug 23, 2021 at 3:19 pm

Probably RV slumlords do not want to properly maintain these RVs, so they sponsor this lawsuit that allows them to preserve the current status quo. Did anyone check who these RVs belong to?


Local
Registered user
Martens-Carmelita
on Aug 23, 2021 at 3:25 pm
Local, Martens-Carmelita
Registered user
on Aug 23, 2021 at 3:25 pm

Mountain View has done more than any surrounding city to aid people living on the streets. We have safe lots, have partnered with Project Home Key, offered free sewage and trash removal (which had such little cooperation that it was discontinued), offered rental assistance, have assisted the street dwellers with Community Services Agency and has spent nearly $28 million to aid the people involved. What has been done by other cities?
This generosity has often come back to bite us, as a large percentage of people living on our streets came here from other cities that do nothing for them in their home city. Should Mountain View taxpayers be responsible to help the homeless of OTHER cities (and other states, as several come her from out of state for the free services) as well as our own? Why is this lawsuit being brought against the one city doing the most to help? Why aren't the attorneys suing Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Sunnyvale, Menlo Park, etc.- cities that outright BAN any street dwelling and refuse to help in any significant way? The inconsistency of this lawsuit is pathetic - why punish the ONE city sincerely trying to help?
The people of Mountain View have been more than patient, and clearly more than helpful and compassionate with the homeless than any surrounding city. The interference of clear sight at corners, the blocking of bike lanes, the sewage left on the streets and poured in street drains, the garbage left on and around these vehicles, the noise evident from many generators, as well as the criminal element obvious in some street dwellings (ask your local police) has been overwhelming. Mountain View has done so much, yet we are the city being attacked, and the patience of residents has been sorely tested.
It's past time for other cities to step up and do their share.


Peter
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Aug 23, 2021 at 5:42 pm
Peter, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Aug 23, 2021 at 5:42 pm

@Local: well said and I couldn’t agree more!


LauraR
Registered user
another community
on Aug 23, 2021 at 7:16 pm
LauraR, another community
Registered user
on Aug 23, 2021 at 7:16 pm

I applaud the City of Mountain View. They are doing the right thing in the right way. People who work hard to pay for their homes and try to maintain a safe place for their children to play outside should not have to deal with RVs and their garbage. There are plenty of good alternatives.


Randy Guelph
Registered user
Cuernavaca
on Aug 23, 2021 at 7:40 pm
Randy Guelph, Cuernavaca
Registered user
on Aug 23, 2021 at 7:40 pm

It's darkly comic that as the city attorneys try desperately to make the case that, no, this definitely isn't targeting low income people, the usual suspects come in here to talk about how they really want to get rid of the poor people in these vehicles.

I'm surprised the city's motion didn't have the quote: "In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread." The City Council members who signed off on this should be ashamed of themselves.


Longview
Registered user
Slater
on Aug 24, 2021 at 8:51 am
Longview, Slater
Registered user
on Aug 24, 2021 at 8:51 am

Thanks to Otto Maddox for his unwitting support of the lawsuit against the RV ban. It's not about safety, its about aesthetics!


afp
Registered user
Stierlin Estates
on Aug 24, 2021 at 3:38 pm
afp, Stierlin Estates
Registered user
on Aug 24, 2021 at 3:38 pm

I agree with Otto Maddox. Try walking down Terra Bella where the RV's park, it reeks of urine. Garbage all over the place. Cars double parked by owners of these RV's, car's zooming in and out of the neighborhood. Car stereo's blaring. Is this the kind of neighborhood you would want to live in? Unfortunately, I do now. If they were respectful, I would welcome them, but unfortunately they are not. To the people who do not support the RV ban, try living where they are located (specially here at Stierlin Estates). I guarantee you that your view would change after a few days!


Tim
Registered user
Blossom Valley
on Aug 25, 2021 at 10:44 am
Tim, Blossom Valley
Registered user
on Aug 25, 2021 at 10:44 am

The attorneys for the city of Mountain View are full of baloney. Mountain View is not targeting the poor? Rest assured, the folks living in those RVs are not making 6-figure salaries. Intentional or not, it targets the poor.

Granted, the issue of finding affordable housing for residents is very complex. However, the path that the city of Mountain View has chosen is not the right way to go.


Steven Nelson
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Aug 26, 2021 at 9:54 am
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Aug 26, 2021 at 9:54 am

Otto is stating the obvious - there ARE PROBLMS- which almost anyone can observe or smell with unsafe (72 hr move) illegal RV use of the streets. The city ban however is excessively beyond that. Enforcement of the reasonable rules of the road (72 hour move, no leaking fluids other than water, registered vehicles) is a first step - not the BAN.

My rec RV will be banned on-the-streets near me. It's within the 7ft. wide by 22 ft long limit - but taller than 7 ft. Please tell me one sedan or mini-van or SUV that has a driver seat over 4 feet above the ground (so a driver could look over a seven foot roof/BAN limit).

The RV general ban is clearly - by the "legislative record," which includes staff reports - discrimatory toward some 'residents' of MV. The council (majority) apparently thinks it must legally protect the City electorate's bad decision (to vote to support the partial RV BAN). Like the Biden administration's decision to not 'support in court' some of the Trump administration's bad rules and laws, the Council majority (I think) can 'change it's Public Policy mind. Let the RV banners pick up the tab for the BAN's legal fight - THEMSELVES.

IMO


Old Steve
Registered user
Rex Manor
on Aug 26, 2021 at 10:43 am
Old Steve, Rex Manor
Registered user
on Aug 26, 2021 at 10:43 am

We must be on to something, Mr. Nelson and I found something to agree on! Oversized parking could also be handled by enforcing the existing 72 hr rules. Indeed requiring enforcement resources. The new ban will also require enforcement resources, assuming it survives the challenge. On Mr. Nelson's behalf, I'd like to ask Ban supporters how he can load his Rec RV for travel, if he can't park it in front of his house for a couple of hours. IMO Rec RV's are better stored at storage facilities, but location and costs are considerations for many.

My bet is RV Ban will be a can of worms, eventually overturned or not enforced. $1 Million in signs, plus enforecement resources, problem will likely remain in some form.


sonnyt650
Registered user
Castro City
on Aug 27, 2021 at 7:51 am
sonnyt650, Castro City
Registered user
on Aug 27, 2021 at 7:51 am

Those living in RVs are not homeless: they can take their homes with them when they run up against Mountain View's laws; they are not being deprived of anything that they actually own. That spot on city streets is not guaranteed to them as evidenced by the three day parking limit on city streets going back literally decades. Does the new law go too far? In my opinion no, again referring to the three day parking limit which has not been struck down after several decades. This lawsuit does need to be dismissed since the plaintiffs are just throwing up arguments to see what sticks.


Old Steve
Registered user
Rex Manor
on Aug 27, 2021 at 8:13 am
Old Steve, Rex Manor
Registered user
on Aug 27, 2021 at 8:13 am

If the three day ordinance is already in place, why (except for enforcement priorities) do we need a new one.


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