This month, Mountain View began installing the first of what will soon be a common sight throughout the city: large red-and-white signs banning oversized vehicles from parking on public streets.
Signs started going up all over the Monta Loma and Rex Manor neighborhoods on Aug. 16, from larger thoroughfares like Montecito Avenue to quiet residential streets like Vaquero Drive and Ormonde Way. The city expects to install about 2,600 of these signs covering the vast majority of streets across Mountain View, a lengthy process that will take months.
The signs mark the city's first opportunity to enforce what it's calling the "Narrow Streets" ordinance, which prohibits RVs and other large vehicles from parking on city streets that are 40 feet wide or less. Though ostensibly a traffic safety measure, the ordinance was widely considered a means to prevent hundreds of homeless people from inhabiting vehicles on public roadways.
Implementing the measure is going to cost an estimated $1 million and requires that signs be posted on 1,035 city blocks, which are being installed by a contractor. The city is forging ahead with the sign installation despite facing a lawsuit that could potentially force the city to reverse course. The city's hired contractor started putting up signs on the same day the city filed a motion to dismiss the case.
Since tracking began in 2017, the city has counted anywhere from 208 to 299 inhabited vehicles parked along public roadways, the bulk of them RVs. Residents filed complaints with the city against what amounted to ad hoc trailer parks developing on roads like Crisanto Avenue and Continental Circle. Spurred to act on those complaints, the City Council in 2019 approved the narrow streets ordinance without knowing precisely which streets would be included in the RV parking ban. A full list was released more than a full year after the vote.
As part of the initial rollout this month, contractors are installing signs in the Monta Loma and Rex Manor area, located north of Central Expressway and west of Shoreline Boulevard. Previous surveys have found inhabited RVs clustered along San Ramon Avenue, Wentworth Street and Gemini Avenue. As of Thursday, only one RV was parked on San Ramon Avenue just feet away from the closest sign warning that oversized vehicles will be towed.
No signs have been posted on Wentworth, while Gemini was not included in the list of narrow streets.
City spokeswoman Lenka Wright said the installation process has gone "smoothly" so far, and that both property owners and vehicle dwellers alike were both notified ahead of time. She said the city expects to move east and install signs in the Moffett and Whisman areas next, likely in early or mid-September, and that there's an effort to avoid heavy-handed enforcement right away.
"The city will continue its approach of conducting individualized notice and providing informational resources before additional enforcement efforts are undertaken," Wright said.
Among those resources are the city's three safe parking sites, which offer vehicle dwellers a sanctioned place to live in parked cars and RVs, as well as LifeMoves Mountain View, which provides interim housing to homeless people. Many of those living at LifeMoves had previously lived in vehicles in Mountain View.
Though the city has repeatedly claimed that it's easy to determine where oversized vehicles can still legally park, some remain skeptical that the published map truly represent the scope of the measure. Lenny Siegel, a member of the Mountain View Housing Justice Coalition, said the map fails to highlight streets that have other parking restrictions, and that some streets under 40 feet wide are not even listed under the city's ordinance.
If the legal challenge is unsuccessful, Siegel said he worries inhabited RVs will be forced to migrate to streets that could pose more serious traffic safety problems, including El Camino Real, Moffett Boulevard and Old Middlefield Way, or onto one of numerous residential streets wider than 40 feet. He said he does not believe voters knew what they were approving when they passed the ordinance in November with nearly 57% of the vote, and that it's a flawed solution to the problem of homelessness.
"All over the Bay Area, perhaps all over the country, people who can't afford the rent are moving into RVs. More will do so when the eviction moratoriums expire," Siegel said. "Mountain View's ordinance will not keep motorhomes off the streets, but it will force people into less suitable locations. It's like placing your finger in a hole in the dike when the storm surge is pouring over the top."
With more signs going up on Aug. 31, one local resident created a map showing where vehicle dwellers can relocate under the ordinance and avoid getting towed. Described as "positive parking information," the map depicts close to three dozen street segments not affected by the city's parking prohibitions.