Just days after Mountain View began enforcing its oversized vehicles ordinances on Oct. 1, parts of the city that were previously packed with RV dwellers are now eerily quiet.
Continental Circle, once lined bumper-to-bumper with vehicles, was empty on Oct. 6, barring a few remnants of the past: a discarded Google bike with its front tire askew, an empty can of Fix Flat, a pot of molding rice and an abandoned car tire.
This is one of the hundreds of streets where oversized vehicles are now banned from parking in the city. Per a settlement agreement between class action plaintiffs and Mountain View, the city must offer at least three miles of public roadway where RVs are allowed to park. The city distributed maps to all RV residents showing where they're now allowed to go.
But Dave Arnone, a Mountain View resident who delivers meals to people living in their vehicles every Monday, said that despite there being streets where RVs are allowed, the rules are still impacting folks in significant ways.
“Everybody’s gone from the naturally occurring, larger communities to being dispersed all over the city,” Arnone said as he handed out meals on Oct. 10. “A lot of it is just having to find people and learn where they went. ... There’s just a lot of confusion, panic and fear.”
New rules, new challenges
For resident Melissa Barbosa, who lives in a street-parked trailer, the most stressful part of the newly enforced rules isn’t just finding a place to park, but how long she can stay each time she moves. The day the city began imposing the RV rules, it also resumed enforcing parking rules that were relaxed during the pandemic, like the citywide 72-hour parking limit.
“We’ve been trying to find places to move and there wasn’t enough places for everybody. I drove around the few spots that were on that map, and there’s not very many,” Barbosa said Oct. 10 as she held her infant granddaughter on her hip. “They marked my tire today, so it gives me three more days.”
According to the city, before the pandemic put the 72-hour rule on pause, enforcement was historically “a combination of routine patrol activities and response to complaints,” city Chief Communications Manager Lenka Wright told the Voice in an email.
Before this past week, Barbosa said she’s never had her RV tires marked or been forced to move her vehicle.
“When we became homeless and bought the RVs, we didn’t have to move at all,” Barbosa told the Voice in an interview at her RV on Oct. 12. “We literally stayed in the same place for a year and a half.”
Barbosa, like many oversized vehicle dwellers, can’t move her home around with ease. She lives in a trailer, so she needs to find a way to tow it in order to move. Others told the Voice that their RVs need maintenance or aren’t registered, making it near impossible to move every three days.
“My biggest thing right now is finding something to pull it in order to move it,” Barbosa said. “To move every three days, you have to take everything down. Everything on the countertops, it all needs to be put away. It’s like packing and unpacking.”
The process adds a layer of stress that Barbosa didn’t have to deal with before, she said.
“I feel safe when I’m in one place, when I know who my neighbors are,” Barbosa said. “I get anxiety. It’s uncomfortable when you get used to one place and then you have to move around.”
While the city maintains that the 72-hour rule has always been on the books, Arnone called the policy an “old, unenforced, abandoned vehicle ordinance” that, from his perspective, was lumped in with the RV rules.
“On the one hand, this is a voter-approved safety measure directed at oversized vehicles,” Arnone said of Measure C, the 2020 voter referendum that affirmed the city’s RV ordinances. “But the way it has played out is that the 72-hour rule was not part of Measure C. ... So what started as a safety measure for oversized vehicles now is something that affects all vehicles in Mountain View, on all streets, whether or not they’re narrow.”
Fear for the future
Another option for people living in their vehicles in Mountain View is to park at one of the city’s safe parking sites. Mountain View has more safe parking spots than any other city in Santa Clara County, but even so, the sites are consistently at full capacity due to high demand, which has only risen since the implementation of the RV ordinance.
Abraham Jimenez lives in an RV at the Shoreline Amphitheatre safe parking lot with his wife and two grandsons. Even though he has a secure place to park right now, he said he feels nervous for the future. Some safe parking spaces in Mountain View will be lost when affordable housing projects, such as those planned on Terra Bella and Evelyn avenues, begin construction.
If he ever had to move his vehicle, “my grandsons are going to be farther to go to school,” Jimenez said. “We need more spaces. ... There’s so many RVs and not enough room for all of us.”
Barbosa, who has three sons still in high school, also worries about how unstable housing will impact their futures.
“We’re not in this situation because we want to be in it,” Barbosa said. “... Not having the stability has put my younger kids behind in school. My older kids never had to go through this.”