When the city of Mountain View began enforcing its oversized vehicle rules at the beginning of October, “RVs started to appear on the street, and there were questions,” said Ortega Avenue homeowner Yakov Shkolnikov. But he and other residents say they still haven’t gotten adequate answers for why it's happening.
Ortega Avenue is one of the few streets in Mountain View where oversized vehicles are now legally allowed to park, though only for 72 hours at a time, per an agreement reached between the city of Mountain View and people living in their RVs. But according to Shkolnikov, “there was no announcement whatsoever that this was happening.”
“The city didn’t actually tell anybody that RVs are going to start parking on Ortega, or that it was part of the settlement,” he said.
After the city first passed its Narrow Streets and Bike Lane ordinances in 2019, which banned RVs from parking on any streets less than 40 feet wide or with a bike lane – the majority of streets in the city – the controversial decision ended up on the 2020 ballot as a referendum. Voters again affirmed the city’s decision, with 57% voting in support of the ban.
In response, RV dwellers took up a class action lawsuit against the city, stalling enforcement of the rules again until they reached a settlement earlier this year. The agreement guaranteed at least 3 miles of streets that RVs could park on in the city, and when enforcement began on Oct. 1, many RV dwellers were suddenly scrambling to find a new, legal place to park their homes. RV residents the Voice spoke to at the time said the new rules added a layer of stress and confusion to an already unstable living situation.
Ortega is one of those streets where vehicles are allowed, and now residents like Shkolnikov are dealing with sewage left in bottles, noisy electrical generators and people cooking on the sidewalk, he said. But Shkolnikov and his neighbors don’t blame the RV dwellers.
“The anger I think is not against the residents of the RVs, and really the anger isn’t necessarily that RVs are parking on the street,” he said. “I think the anger is at the city for not notifying anybody, for not having any plan still, and just playing this game of saying, ‘Just call the police.’”
Mayor Lucas Ramirez told the Voice in an interview that if the city could go back in time, there are things that should have been done differently.
“If the council were still going to pursue the Narrow Streets Ordinance and if the community still were to vote on it, we would have measured the streets and made public this information prior to implementing these ordinances,” he said. “I think that would have given clarity to the public about where the RVs would ultimately end up.”
But Shkolnikov said he doesn’t mind his new neighbors – rather, he takes issue with what he sees as a lack of planning to ensure RV residents have the resources they need so they can live harmoniously with existing residents. Shkolnikov and his neighbors organized a virtual community meeting on Nov. 2, and invited both RV and home-owning residents to talk about their concerns with city officials.
“Our request was actually quite simple: it was, what is the plan for the city?” Shkolnikov said. “We explicitly said, we actually don’t have a problem with the new residents, and I think that’s shared across the whole community. The question was, how are they going to get services such that they can actually survive and also not be a burden on the community?”
Many Ortega residents found the city’s response insufficient. Shkolnikov said the solutions offered during the meeting were to call the police when a vehicle has exceeded the time limit or request a bike lane so that RVs can no longer park there.
“We don’t want people to move every 72 hours,” Shkolnikov said. “We want good neighbors, and we don’t want rotating people because they’re getting pushed out by the 72 hour parking.”
Ortega residents like Shkolnikov want RV residents to have resources to help mitigate the negative impacts on surrounding residents.
“Put a place for people to go to the bathroom, so they don’t have to use bottles on the street,” Shkolnikov suggested. “Do a weekly trash pickup from that location so that RVs can put trash there. Provide them the ability to connect to electricity so they don’t have to run the generators.”
Since the Nov. 2 meeting between Ortega residents and city officials, Shkolnikov said he hasn’t heard any updates from the city on a plan to provide these types of resources on Ortega Avenue.
City Chief Communications Officer Lenka Wright said community service officers “continue to conduct outreach to individuals living in vehicles to help encourage compliance not just on Ortega Avenue but throughout the city.”
Ramirez said he’s heard from both people who are concerned about having RV parking capacity on their streets, and those who are concerned about the increase in enforcement.
“What I’ve shared with each group is, there are people in the community who have the exact opposite opinion that you have, and council is struggling mightily to try and balance these polarizing and opposite opinions,” he said.
Ramirez added that the city is working to find “a long-term solution to this challenge.”
“People should have a better, safer, more stable environment to live in than a vehicle on public right of way,” he said. “... Many people who are living in RVs on the street are doing so because right now, they don’t really have a viable alternative.”
But in the meantime, Shkolnikov said he’s not satisfied with the solutions the city has offered for residents.
“What do we do if we don’t want to call the police if there’s an issue with an RV?” he said. “Because during the meeting, that’s the phone number that was given to us. … I think that’s a lot of people’s concerns: they don’t want to call the police on RV residents because police isn’t the way you deal with this."