A federal court judge said Tuesday he does not plan to dismiss a lawsuit challenging new parking restrictions in Mountain View that would prohibit oversized vehicles -- many of them inhabited by homeless residents -- from parking on most city streets.
During a brief Oct. 20 hearing, Judge Nathanael Cousins said he is "not inclined" to accept the city of Mountain View's motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which alleges that a pair of city parking ordinances should be overturned for violating the rights of vehicle dwellers who have sought shelter along public roadways.
The two ordinances are already in effect, and prohibit large vehicles from parking on streets with bike lanes and on "narrow" streets, defined as streets 40 feet wide or narrower. Though written solely as traffic safety measures, the parking restrictions followed a yearslong battle over what to do with the city's growing vehicle-dwelling population.
The more controversial of the two, the narrow streets ban, was subject to a referendum and placed on the ballot last year, where it won nearly 57% of the vote. Enforcement of the law was delayed until August this year.
At issue during the Tuesday hearing was the city's motion to dismiss the case outright, with defense attorneys arguing that the parking restrictions are lawful and protect the safety of bicyclists, pedestrians and other drivers. Attorneys say the city has also taken an abundantly compassionate approach to enforcement, with a declaration from police Lt. Scott Nelson detailing significant outreach that precedes ticketing and towing of RVs.
Though the case is unlikely to get scrapped in its entirety, some of the claims presented in the lawsuit may be on shaky ground. Cousins said there are a few allegations that he might dismiss, specifically ones suggesting that the parking ban violates vehicle residents' rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and state and federal rights to freedom of movement.
Less clear, however, is how the judge intends to rule on an injunction that would block the RV ban from taking full effect pending a final decision in the legal battle. Vehicle residents, represented by lawyers from the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley and the San Francisco-based firm King & Spalding, are asking the city to hold off on ticketing and towing until the case has been settled.
The lawsuit makes the case that vehicle residents face the threat of losing their makeshift homes and their only source of shelter if the ordinances are enforced, and that they can hardly afford the high costs of retrieving an impounded vehicle.
"In this case plaintiffs' homes are in imminent danger of being towed away and all of their possessions taken ... which the court should take at face value for purposes of a motion to dismiss," said attorney San Diamant. "There will be thousands of dollars in fines through unlimited ticketing and over $1,000 required to retrieve plaintiffs' RVs from impound."
Margaret Prinzing, an attorney representing the city, said Mountain View has a right to implement traffic safety measures and ensure that all citizens are safe on city roadways, and that the lawsuit fails to show evidence that vehicle dwellers would be irreparably harmed if the law were to go into effect.
Prinzing pointed to Nelson's declaration, and said the city is going out of its way to provide adequate notice to RV residents prior to citations and towing. To date, no vehicles have been towed under the two ordinances, Prinzing said, and an injunction cannot be based on "hypothetical, conjectural fear" of future danger, and that there simply isn't an imminent threat to RV residents.
"The only thing that plaintiffs are at risk of losing here is their preferred parking spot," Prinzing said.
While Mountain View police may be going above and beyond, that policy is unenforceable and subject to change at any time, said Michael Trujillo, an attorney with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley. The city's compassionate approach could have been added to the ordinances or could be issued as official police policy, he said, but for now the rules are entirely discretionary and come from a self-serving declaration by one officer.
"We really see this as an illusory promise, and are concerned about having this case go forward without some sort of injunction from the court."
Trujillo also emphasized that the plaintiffs he represents are people who rely on a stable place to park their vehicle, and that forced relocation means losing access to schools, jobs and health care. The threat of tickets and towing for a single infraction is significant, he argued, and the city has repeatedly refused to give vehicle dwellers a map of streets where they can still park.
"The city's suggestion that plaintiffs are only at risk of losing their preferred parking spot is seriously out of touch with the needs and risks that plaintiffs and the provisional class members are facing," he said.
There is no firm date on when Judge Cousins will provide the written orders on both the motion to dismiss and the motion for a preliminary injunction.