In an optimistic scenario, city officials hope to open as many as 100 new spaces throughout Mountain View. These safe parking sites will include various public lots, such as parking areas at Shoreline Amphitheatre and a closed light-rail station on Evelyn Avenue. But reaching that goal will also require help from other do-gooders in the community, such as churches, commercial property owners or schools.
At the meeting, city staff presented a proposed set of regulations for safe parking lots, which will be brought later this month to the City Council for approval. Under those rules, the city would allow safe parking sites to open only in certain designated neighborhoods or zoning areas. Any safe parking site must provide restrooms, water, and sewage and garbage service. RVs would need to be generously spaced, and all vehicles would have to leave each morning. No more than 30 vehicles could be located at any single lot, regardless of its size.
On top of these requirements, before any safe parking site could open, it would need to notify all nearby neighbors and win approval from police and planning officials. In emergencies, city officials say they could expedite this approval process, but this list of requirements led some to worry that potential partners would be scared away.
"This plan needs to include some kind of incentives for lot owners to participate. I know that's difficult, but we need to find it," warned Dave Arnone, a Move MV board member. "We're going forward with a ban on oversized vehicles without a plan for where they're going to go. It's a hole, and it needs to be addressed."
As of the city's latest count, there are over 200 inhabited vehicles on the streets of Mountain View. As a result, city officials have been under pressure to relocate the vehicle encampments somewhere other than residential neighborhoods.
As an alternative, city officials have embraced the idea of safe parking lots, albeit in a very cautious manner. Advocates for the city's homeless population have admonished the city for opening new safe parking sites too slowly.
At last week's meeting, many advocates also criticized the city's restrictions, such as a prohibition on all electrical generators or other hookups. City staffers explained that they believe external power is unnecessary because RVs typically have their own on-board electricity.
In particular, critics seized on a proposed rule for all safe parking lots to operate only overnight, from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. During the daytime, anyone living in a vehicle would have to relocate, and presumably they would wind up back on city streets.
"Are these restrictions really necessary?" asked former councilman Lenny Siegel. "Why limit people so they have to move out every day? We have to create a system where people want to be in this system."
City attorneys say Mountain View would risk legal liability if the city operated safe parking lots all hours of the day. Lots that operate around the clock could be construed to fall under the state's regulations for mobile homes or trailer parks, which could create zoning issues. For now, they say it is simpler to just keep safe parking to overnight only.
"Any changes to the proposed safe parking program, including operation of a 24/7 program, would require additional legal review," said former city attorney Jannie Quinn.
EPC members said they want to at least investigate more flexibility for safe parking lots, especially at any city-owned properties. They urged staff to look into allowing some all-hours parking within the city.
"We're not implying that a person could live there forever and ever," said EPC chairwoman Pamela Baird.
EPC members asked that the city look into loosening its rules, allowing larger safe parking programs in other areas of the city. Under current rules, nearly all lots would be in the North Bayshore and East Whisman areas due to their concentration of commercial and industrial properties.
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