Safe parking lots? Check. Entitlements? Check. People who will sign up? That's a no.
After crossing off everything on the list, Mountain View is ready to dramatically expand its safe parking program as an alternative for those camping out on public streets. But they're missing one important thing -- people who actually want to use the lots.
As the city prepares to launch space to take in up to 70 vehicles, it is having trouble finding participants willing to resettle there. After weeks of outreach, only 13 people have agreed to sign up for overnight parking, according to officials from the Community Services Agency (CSA).
That number pales in comparison to the hundreds of inhabited vehicles parked along streets across the city. The safe parking expansion comes as city officials are preparing to roll out new parking restrictions that would heavily restrict where large lived-in vehicles like RVs and trailers can park. As part of that plan, these inhabited vehicles are expected to relocate over to the safe parking lots.
One primary reason why there are so few sign-ups is the city's requirements, according to case workers and people living out of their vehicles. In particular, many sources highlighted the city's overnight-only rule that restricts safe parking sites to operate only from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. During the day, safe parking residents are required to move their vehicles to somewhere off-site.
For anyone living out of their car, this requirement is a non-starter, said Janet Stevens, an RV resident and member of the Vehicle Residents advocacy group. This would mean each RV resident has to relocate their vehicle twice each day and find street parking during the daytime hours. It's a rule that is counter-productive and burdensome, she said, estimating that it takes at least an hour just to find parking under normal circumstances, not counting the time needed to pack up and get ready.
"For RV people, this is just not a well-crafted plan, and it's just not feasible for many reasons," Stevens said. "It's not as easy as it sounds to move your car twice a day in a moment's notice. For me, it would be impossible."
As Mountain View officials were reviewing rules for safe parking lots, homeless advocates repeatedly warned that the overnight-only restrictions would turn away many people. But city officials say they have little choice in the matter.
City attorneys claim Mountain View could be legally liable for operating the equivalent of a mobile home or RV park if it didn't enforce temporary hours of operation. If city leaders wanted to change this rule, attorneys suggested that Mountain View should seek state legislation that would grant an exemption. Similar daytime restrictions are enforced by most other cities that operate safe parking lots, including East Palo Alto and San Jose.
There are other reasons why safe parking sites are seeing low sign-ups. Under city rules, anyone residing in a safe parking lot must have a working vehicle that doesn't leak oil, sewage or other hazardous materials. Vehicles must also have current registration and insurance. In many cases, lived-in vehicles fall short of one of these stipulations, CSA officials say.
CSA does provide financial help to people living in vehicles who need repairs or DMV registration. As of this year, the organization reports more than 16 vehicles have been repaired with its aid.
Another problem is, in many cases, the people who reside in vehicles don't actually own them. City officials say many residents are renting their vehicles, which means they often lack information on insurance and registration.
In any case, CSA officials say the safe parking sign-ups should be expected to come in gradually. More should come as the program ramps up, said Nicole Fargo Nosich, CSA associate director.
"It does take some time to get people prepared to get on the lots," she said. "Like most new initiatives, it can take some time for the word to get out, and others may need to hear feedback from other participants before they decide to enroll."
City officials say they are just about ready to open three new safe parking sites that will dramatically expand their capacity to take in vehicles. These locations include a city-owned parking lot near Shoreline Amphitheatre at the corner of Crittenden Lane. Under city guidelines, the lot is expected to hold up to 30 RVs or trailers, significantly more than city officials originally expected.
As many as 30 more vehicles could soon be parked at a former VTA parking lot at the now-closed Evelyn light rail station.
It remains unclear exactly when the new safe parking lots will open.