The Mountain View City Council approved numerous new parking regulations this week that further limit where oversized vehicles – including inhabited RVs – can park in the city, while also opening the door for them to relocate to roads that previously prohibited overnight parking.
In a series of motions that required a rotating cast of recused council members, the council approved a package of changes that expand the number of streets included in the narrow streets parking prohibition, under which RVs and other oversized vehicles are banned from parking on streets that are 40 feet wide or narrower.
The changes add more than three dozen street segments to what is now a vast network of roadways including all of Continental Circle, where unhoused residents' vehicles have congregated for years. Recent city data shows 33 inhabited vehicles are on the street, including numerous RVs.
Though less controversial and covering fewer roads, the council also approved oversized vehicle restrictions on streets adjacent to bike lanes.
The city's RV parking restrictions have been a lightning rod of controversy since they were adopted in 2019, with critics calling it a means to oust homeless residents opting to live in vehicles on public roadways. The narrow streets ordinance was immediately subject to a voter referendum and passed at the ballot box, only for legal advocacy groups to file a lawsuit to block the ordinance seven months later.
As the city spent the last year rolling out the ordinance and posting thousands of "No Parking" signs across Mountain View, it was apparent that not all narrow streets were included. City officials say some city streets teetering on the edge of 40 feet in width are actually smaller than originally thought, or that incorrect measurements inadvertently left some street segments out.
Resident Eva Tang said she opposed pushing vehicle residents out of the city, and that the council is poised to displace even more people through its actions, to the detriment of the unhoused, right in the middle of Mental Health Awareness Month.
"We've seen this economic crisis really hit low-income people the most, and these people already don't really have anywhere to go," she said.
While not directly related to RV parking restrictions, city officials also recommended that the council ditch nearly all of the city's overnight parking restrictions, removing requirements for vehicles to clear out between the hours of 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. or face a ticket or towing.
These changes open up more streets – mostly in commercial and industrial areas – for oversized vehicles to park overnight, which some residents and council members saw as a counterbalance to the expansion of the narrow streets ordinance.
From the standpoint of the city's public works staff, it's hard to justify keeping most of the overnight parking restrictions. These regulations do not directly address traffic safety, and any traffic problems caused by overnight parking can be resolved through red curbs and signage at specific driveways and intersections.
Though overnight parking prohibitions near homes will remain in effect, plenty of property owners in industrial areas were less than thrilled about the changes. Michael Mansfield, a landlord of property on Wyandotte Street, said it will be a "disaster" to have inhabited RVs and campers permanently on the street, and that it will cause serious problems with trucks loading and unloading. He said he remembers operating a business prior to overnight parking restrictions, and that it was problematic.
"I went through hell when they had vehicles parking out there, and it was a mess. It was unsafe, and additionally our employees and our customers had no place to park," Mansfield said.
Councilwoman Pat Showalter said the real solution is going to be through more safe parking programs that will get homeless residents off of public roadways, and that the city has really only gained traction on the effort in 2020. There needs to be an acceptable place for people to park their RVs that works for everyone, she said, and the whole process of banning some streets but opening up others isn't really fixing anything.
"This exercise we're going through now is a large whack-a-mole project. We're saying you have to move from this area to another area, but it doesn't necessarily solve the problem," she said.
Councilwoman Alison Hicks said she has been in touch with the property owners who are "not particularly happy" with the prospect of inhabited vehicles moving onto streets previously shielded by overnight parking restrictions. She said she's optimistic that they'll be willing to partner with the city and come up with a better solution, and that there's a recognition that homelessness is a regional problem.
"Quite frankly it's the huge growth of jobs and the difficulty finding housing, the expensiveness of housing, that is one of the biggest factors causing this problem," she said.
The council voted 6-0, with Councilwoman Ellen Kamei absent, to lift overnight parking restrictions and add additional narrow street segments to the list of roads where oversized vehicles are banned. In both cases, several street segments had to be teased out in separate motions for council members who had to recuse themselves because they lived close to the streets in question.
A map of the streets were overnight parking will be removed or remain in effect can be found here. The changes will go in effect on Aug. 30.