At the downtown Civic Center Plaza, a small ensemble of volunteers with the Housing Justice Coalition and other groups who spent weeks knocking on doors and canvassing neighborhoods performed one final tally of how many signatures they had collected on Friday, Nov. 22. After a final count conducted with the city clerk, the total was 4,939 signatures, well over the 3,761 that is needed.
Janet Stevens, a Mountain View resident who lives out of her vehicle, said it was inspiring that so many people, rich and poor alike, were willing to help overturn a law they saw as unjust.
"This has changed a lot of lives. Over 200 people would have been kicked out of their homes if this went forward," she said. "To have so many people helping on this from sun up to sun down, it just swells your heart."
The referendum takes aim at an ordinance passed on Oct. 22 that banned all vehicles more than 7 feet high, 7 feet wide or 22 feet long from parking on most city streets. Under the proposed rules, this ban is expected to close nearly all of Mountain View's suburban neighborhoods to large vehicles, including RVs and trailers.
While presented by city officials as a traffic safety measure, the parking ban was widely interpreted as a crackdown on the city's surging homeless population. For years, the number of homeless individuals in Mountain View has been growing, and the most visible sign of it has been several large encampments where people live out of their vehicles.
Ever since the parking ban was first proposed, advocates with the Housing Justice Coalition warned they would work to overturn it. Under city rules, ordinances approved by the City Council do not take effect for 30 days, and they can be overturned through a citizen petition process. To qualify, a referendum petition must include signatures from about 10% of the registered voters in Mountain View, which equates to more than 3,700 individuals.
Housing Justice Coalition members have been working around the clock to collect signatures ever since the council's decision, said Edie Keating, an organizer with the group. About 100 volunteers with Housing Justice and the Silicon Valley Democratic Socialists of America were stationed outside supermarkets, Caltrain stops and other hot spots to solicit people to sign the petition, she said.
Earlier this week, Housing Justice members said they had only 3,300 signatures, about 400 short of what was needed to qualify. Organizers expressed optimism that they could close the gap before the deadline, but behind the scenes they were more nervous than they let on, said former Councilman Lenny Siegel.
"We just showed Mountain View and the region that we're a community for all," he said. "By working together we can reverse the flow of gentrification."
With the referendum petition submitted, the City Clerk's Office will perform an initial count to verify that it has enough signatures. If it passes muster, the petition will be sent to the county Registrar of Voters for signature verification.
Upon verification by elections officials, the City Council at its next regular meeting must either repeal the entire ordinance or bring it before Mountain View voters.
Even if the referendum fails, the city parking ban could still be challenged on legal grounds. As the council considered the ordinance, a coalition of civil rights attorneys warned that they were ready to file a lawsuit arguing the city's restrictions are unconstitutional.
Mountain View city officials have been working to expand a safe parking program at various sites across the city where people living out of their vehicles could sleep overnight. By the numbers, these safe parking sites will not be able to accommodate the hundreds of people currently living out of their vehicles any time in the near future.
Reached for comment, Councilwoman Ellen Kamei pointed out the city has been taking extensive steps to provide safe parking sites for vehicle residents. She was one of four council members who voted in favor of the large vehicle ban.
"I respect the public process and we will soon learn the outcome from the Registrar of Voters," she wrote in an email. "The City Council will then have to decide next steps should the petition be certified."
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