Young Menlo Park couple could face fines of $500 per day for living in driveway RV


Arlena Bain and her boyfriend, Alex Mulholland, both 27, might be the young people any great-grandmother would hope could move nearby.

They care for cats. They work together at Wahlburgers in Palo Alto, where they earn that city's minimum wage – $15 an hour – plus tips. Mulholland takes classes at De Anza College an his mother is on Mountain View's Rental Housing Committee.

Given the area's housing costs, their relatively meager joint income made living on the Peninsula difficult, but they thought they'd found a workable workaround. For months, they've been living quietly in an RV parked in the driveway of Bain's great-grandmother's house on Madera Avenue in the Belle Haven neighborhood of Menlo Park, a setup that offers them some privacy while still being close enough to be of support to the 93-year-old homeowner.

But come Dec. 3, their housing situation will cease to be an option.

According to Bain, the problem started in September when Menlo Park's code enforcement officer, Eleonor Hilario, responded to a complaint from an anonymous neighbor about the presence of the RV.

The complaint triggered an inspection, after which Hilario found the RV to be out of compliance with Menlo Park's municipal code, citing sections including the prohibition of RV "storage" on properties zoned for single-family residences. She gave the couple verbal warnings before they received a formal notice of violation on Nov. 7, with an initial deadline of Nov. 25 to comply with the ordinances. The deadline has been extended until Dec. 3, but it still doesn't give the couple long to find a new housing situation, they said.

Menlo Park Mayor Ray Mueller told The Voice's sister paper The Almanac that he had requested an extension for the couple through the holidays, but the police department denied the request. According to Mueller, the extension was denied because the couple has already been granted an extension.

As Bain explains it, there was lag time between the initial inspection and the issuance of the notice of violation, and that gap created even more stress because she wasn't entirely certain that the enforcement notice would come through. Yet without having information in writing about what part of the code her home was in violation of, she said, she couldn't take the matter to the local legal aid nonprofit, Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, to see if she'd have any way to fight it.

Given less than a month between the formal notice being sent on Nov. 7 and their hard deadline of Dec. 3, they now have little time to find a new housing situation or find a new location for the RV, Bain said. To comply with the municipal code, Bain and Mulholland will have to move the RV to a new long-term location, whether or not they continue to live in it. They're considering selling it because RV parks and safe parking facilities in the area are full, Bain said.

"People who get evicted from apartments have longer than we have," Bain said. "In a mobile home, it's like we don't have any rights."

The notice of violation includes a copy of municipal code sections, with purple check marks next to where Hilario found the RV to be out of compliance. Hilario declined to comment for this story.

The notice indicates that the RV's siting violates the city's nuisance ordinance in the "menace to safety" category and the "storage in yards" section, which prohibits RVs from being stored in a front or side yard for more than five days. It marks a third violation in that section of the code, under the heading "further limits on motor vehicle storage," stating that no more than one vehicle can be stored on a single-family lot, and laying out specific driveway parameters.

Police Comdr. Rich Struckman said that the department is still working with Bain and Mulholland to correct the violations. "This is where we're at," he said. "This has been going on since September."

If they don't correct the violations, though, they will be subject to citation and fines. He added that the way the vehicle is parked creates a fire hazard, and that a previous configuration of the RV made it intrude onto the sidewalk.

"I think the spirit of the ordinance as written long ago is to ... keep the neighborhood tidy," he said. "We have neighbors who are complaining.

"We can't go on forever and ever. Ultimately we have to take action or the problem never goes away."

Limited options

Bain said she has explored moving the RV into a local RV park, but such parks all seem to have waiting lists and are beyond their budget.

And resources suggested by the code enforcement officer that might help other households, such as a housing support program that helps low-income residents secure down payments to buy a property, aren't helpful for their situation.

"We obviously can't afford an apartment if we live in an RV," she said.

On top of their existing challenges with looking for a new housing situation, she added, is that when she's applied for apartments before, she's run into difficulty because applications typically ask for paystubs to confirm income, which don't account for tips, so her income appears lower than it is to potential landlords.

"Even to try (to get) another job to get a higher income in the time they gave us is not possible," she asserted. "The city is forcing us to be homeless and it doesn't need to be that way."

Mulholland's mother, Susyn Almond, who sits on the city of Mountain View's Rental Housing Committee, expressed frustration with the situation.

"I feel like my son and I are sort of the prototype ... of what's happening in Silicon Valley housing," she said.

"I live in a mother-in-law unit in Mountain View; he lives in an RV. ... He's starting a new part of his life, going to college, and gets hit with this even more insecure housing. ... It just kills me."

Related story:

Menlo Park: Mayor, county supervisor to explore RV safe parking program

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7 people like this
Posted by Humble observer
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Nov 23, 2019 at 10:26 am

' "sort of the prototype ... of what's happening in Silicon Valley housing," she said.'

Well, it's been happening in silicon valley since that very phrase appeared in print almost 50 years ago -- or longer -- as silicon-valley housing prices pulled away from the rest of the Bay Area's due to concentrated high-tech hiring. So, word has been out about this for a very long time. It's an expensive region to choose to live in, and you do choose.

Best take any complaints up with the latest group of fast-growth high-tech firms, and their highly-compensated employees (some even with extra housing allowances) who eagerly bid up the housing prices (even faster than in the 1970s, as some recent firms grow much faster). Employees who then turn around and complain too about the high prices (and accuse existing residents of somehow orchestrating it), as though they themselves had no role at all. . .

26 people like this
Posted by Polomom
a resident of Waverly Park
on Nov 23, 2019 at 10:38 am

Polomom is a registered user.

Other surrounding cities have this code violation in the books, too. Nothing unusual. They should just move their RV to MV, we are welcoming any vehicle dwellers, especially from out of town!

45 people like this
Posted by Really?
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Nov 23, 2019 at 12:08 pm

Here’s a mind blowing suggestion - move in with your great grandmother.

65 people like this
Posted by Menlo Park sounds good to me
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Nov 23, 2019 at 3:02 pm

Had Menlo Park had Lenny Siegel on its council, he would have ordered the city manager to not enforce this RV ordinance. Just like he did in our city. Then you have the problem grow so big that you say we can not end it, but we need to open up the entire city to expand the parking to the rest of the city.

42 people like this
Posted by Rasmusen
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Nov 24, 2019 at 7:24 am

Duh, just bring it over to Mountain View and park it here! Problem solved! Preferably in front of Hick's, Ramirez's or Siegel's homes.

50 people like this
Posted by MV Resident
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Nov 24, 2019 at 8:53 am

“Limited options?” How about living for free in the house that is 10 feet away where your great grandmother lives? The house you’ll probably inherit anyway.

If this is the best the Voice can do to give us an RV sob story, they need to try harder.

41 people like this
Posted by Sophie88
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Nov 24, 2019 at 9:03 am

“ For months, they've been living quietly in an RV parked in the driveway of Bain's great-grandmother's house on Madera Avenue in the Belle Haven neighborhood of Menlo Park, a setup that offers them some privacy while still being close enough to be of support to the 93-year-old homeowner.”. Why this great-grandmother doesn’t want them to live in? And they have to violate the code and ask for public’s support to their housing arrangement?

6 people like this
Posted by HumbleServant
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Nov 24, 2019 at 8:25 pm

Her grandmother has a right to have a vehicle in her street, and they should be able to live there without any nuisance. As far as I am concerned, Arlena and her boyfriend weren't causing any problems in the neighborhood. It looks like some [Portion removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]
got bored in their houses and decided to phone up bogus complaints regarding an "unsightly" RV. If she was able to live with her grandmother, she would've. Why do you [Portion removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]
do not understand that people have domestic issues?! They've a right to live in that RV, and they've rightfully claimed a space in their neighborhood with their grandmother's permission.

8 people like this
Posted by SRB
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Nov 25, 2019 at 8:27 am

SRB is a registered user.

The relevant part of the Menlo Park City Code (8.20.020 Front and side yard storage) is under chapter 8 "Peace, Safety & Morals"

Hard to see how storing a boat, an RV or pars of it in a private yard... interferes with Peace or Safety.

Menlo Park has a dubious sense of morality if it uses Morals as the basis for that ordinance (and for displacing these grand children).

3 people like this
Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Nov 25, 2019 at 10:59 am

Steven Nelson is a registered user.

Is MP run by a Council of members from the Democratic Suburban Party? They of course are much more responsive to suburban property concerns than any old compassionate Progressive of any persuasion. The Democratic presidential candidate in 2016 got 12.8K votes in the city and the Republican got 1.9K. So MP does not "appear" to suffer from loyalty to Trumpian political ideas. Or looking deeper ... ?

MP's elementary school district, like MV's suffers from an ongoing "20 worst in the nation" academic Achievement Gap between well-off/poor. NY Times' report from a few years ago, and recent updates of Stanford Professor Reardon's national research data base.

NEVER a Trumper (but he is not the only USA public policy malady IMO)

14 people like this
Posted by PeaceLove
a resident of Shoreline West
on Nov 25, 2019 at 3:24 pm

PeaceLove is a registered user.

This is a textbook example of the Rational Industrial structure of consciousness (rules, laws) gone pathological. Young people who are productive, tax-paying members of society, living on private property, caring for their elderly relative (thus removing that burden from the state) are being harassed based on a pathological need to enforce every law "objectively" despite it being objectively harmful for absolutely everyone involved.

Zoom out to 100 feet and the pathology becomes clear.

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