As the city of Mountain View prepares to increase the number of spots at the Shoreline safe parking lot by more than 50%, program participants still need a place to park their commuter vehicles – the cars they use to get around during the day, but not to sleep in.
The situation is part of a larger challenge the city faces in meeting the constant demand for more space devoted to people living in their vehicles, while also accommodating the secondary vehicles that many of those residents rely on to get around on a daily basis, city staff say.
From the perspective of local advocates for the unhoused, adding commuter parking at the Shoreline lot is “a small ask for a big gain,” as Hope’s Corner board member Marilyn Winkleby put it.
“It’s about allowing people that are from Mountain View and are working in Mountain View and have been here for some time to have a place to park their cars near their homes,” Winkleby told the Voice.
The Shoreline safe parking lot currently provides 29 spaces for people to park the vehicles they sleep in, which for the most part are oversized vehicles and RVs. In February, the city approved adding 17 additional safe parking spaces at Shoreline, a much needed expansion that’s slated to be implemented soon.
But unlike other safe parking lots in Mountain View, like the one on Evelyn Avenue, the Shoreline lot has virtually no space dedicated to commuter vehicles. According to city staff, the lot currently has two commuter parking spots. By comparison, the Evelyn lot has 21 spaces that can be used for both living or commuter parking purposes, plus an additional 15 spaces solely for commuter vehicles.
The city previously provided access to 15 commuter parking spots for Shoreline safe parking residents at the Shoreline Dog Park, staff told the Voice. However, those spots were discontinued in June 2021 after residents said the location was not desirable due to their distance from Shoreline Lot B, where the safe parking spots are.
Local advocate Dave Arnone, who delivers meals to RV residents every week, said that ever since parking privileges at the dog park ended, some residents started parking their ancillary vehicles in nearby Google-owned lots. But recently, the tech company blocked access to those private lots, Arnone said, forcing safe parking lot residents to park their commuter cars as far as Space Park Way or near the Computer History Museum.
“I am hearing from residents that this is a hardship and a threat to their safety as they walk to and from their cars in the dark,” Arnone wrote in a June 21 email to city staff. “There are young women at the lot who need to get to work in the early morning hours and they are frightened to walk back and forth.”
In a June 22 emailed response to Arnone, City Manager Kimbra McCarthy said city staff are working to balance the need for more safe parking spaces with the need for commuter vehicle parking.
“It is not easy,” McCarthy said. “We are in a situation where we do not have unlimited spaces given the operational, financial, legal and regulatory limitations, and it is beneficial (to) have more viable parking spaces for living when the goal is to help people find a safe place to park the vehicle they are inhabiting.”
As a board member for Hope’s Corner, which provides free meals to RV residents and the unhoused, Winkleby is in close contact with several families living at the Shoreline lot. She said one young person she knows who lives at the Shoreline lot is a full-time college student while also working a part time job.
“For the half-time job, the person gets up at 5:30 in the morning and has to be at that job at 6,” Winkleby said. “That just doesn’t work when your car is far away. A few people have scooters, or bicycles, or are just walking. But there’s a whole lot of anxiety now about what there is to do.”
City staff emphasized that despite the lack of ancillary vehicle parking at the Shoreline lot, the upcoming program expansion will offer a stable place for more residents to park their homes.
“The expansion at the Shoreline Lot B safe parking lot will provide 17 new spaces for vehicles being lived in,” the city’s Chief Communications Officer Lenka Wright told the Voice. “This expansion will bring Mountain View’s program capacity up to 114, which is the largest safe parking program in Santa Clara County.”
But from Arnone’s perspective, it doesn’t make sense to offer more safe parking spots without also providing more space for residents to park their commuter vehicles.
“If you take seriously this idea that this is housing to help people transition to a place more stable,” Arnone said, “then supporting somebody’s ability to commute to and from work feels very natural to me.”