A U.S. district court judge declined to place an injunction on Mountain View's RV parking ban, allowing enforcement to proceed while the city battles a lawsuit that seeks to overturn the ordinances.
In a mixed ruling on Nov. 8, Judge Nathaneal Cousins found that the city's parking restrictions on oversized vehicles do not appear likely to cause immediate, irreparable harm to vehicle dwellers who have sought shelter in RVs. But the order also denies Mountain View's motion to dismiss the case in its entirety, arguing that multiple allegations in the lawsuit have enough merit to come before a jury.
The case, filed by the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley and other legal advocacy groups, centers on a pair of ordinances passed by the city that curtail where large vehicles can be parked. The laws prevent RVs from parking on streets with bike lanes and streets that are deemed "narrow," which accounts for 89% of Mountain View's streets.
Though billed as traffic safety measures, the controversial parking restrictions were crafted in response to a growing number of unhoused people living in RVs, leading to widespread complaints from residents. Opponents argued the restrictions were tantamount to a ban on the homeless.
Filed in July, the lawsuit cites a dozen allegations that the city's parking ban violates federal and state laws and ought to be overturned, and that it threatens to banish low-income residents from Mountain View who have sought shelter in their vehicles. Cousins ordered this week that many of those claims ought to be dismissed outright, including allegations that the parking restrictions create an invasion of privacy, violate constitutional rights to travel and discriminate against those with disabilities.
But several allegations did stick. Cousins said there is enough evidence put forth by the Law Foundation to suggest that the traffic laws amount to "excessive fines" by the city, and that those harmed by the parking restrictions can't simply move their vehicles to a place where RVs are still allowed. There are few roads that allow oversized vehicles, and the city's safe parking program has been oversubscribed.
"The court must accept as true the plaintiff's allegations that the remaining streets and safe parking program do not provide enough parking to accommodate all of the vehicles affected by the OSV Ban," Cousins wrote. "Thus, plaintiffs sufficiently allege that they cannot avoid the towing costs by merely moving their vehicles."
Cousins let stand allegations that the city's RV parking ban violates Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful seizure by towing, noting that the city has a high bar of proof that a warrantless seizure falls within an exception to constitutional protections in a motion to dismiss. The city also still faces claims that the parking ban amounts to a state-created danger.
Throughout the 15-page ruling, Cousins noted that many of the problems cited by both the city's defense and the plaintiffs' legal representatives are speculative in nature. The city wants to crack down on RVs parking on narrow city streets in the name of traffic safety, but does not show evidence of increased danger to bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists on streets with oversized vehicles.
Similarly, Law Foundation attorneys argued last month that the parking ban posed an imminent threat to RV dwellers, who could have their makeshift homes towed. Cousins pointed out that the city has yet to ticket or tow a single RV in accordance with the new law, instead taking an education and outreach approach.
"If the preliminary injunction is not issued, it is not clear that plaintiffs will suffer any cognizable harm," Cousins said in the ruling.
Erin Neff, a staff attorney at the Law Foundation, said in a statement Friday that she was encouraged by the court's decision not to dismiss the case, but that it is disappointing that Cousins stopped short of placing an injunction to put enforcement on pause. But that could change, depending on the city's actions, she said.
"(The court) did so only because the city had not yet ticketed or towed vehicles under the ban," she said. "We will continue to fight this unconstitutional RV ban and we will renew our request for relief from the court if the city begins enforcement."