Calling it a clear mandate from voters, the Mountain View City Council voted 7-0 Wednesday morning to reinstate its RV parking ban on most city streets, along with a roadmap for enforcement beginning in April.
The ordinance prohibits oversized vehicles from being parked on streets less than 40 feet in width, and was crafted as a means to remove homeless people living in RVs along public roadways. It's expected to cost $980,000 to place thousands of parking restriction signs across the city, likely taking until November 2021 to complete.
The council passed the parking ban last year, but it was challenged by a voter referendum, leaving it up to voters to decide last month. The ordinance, Measure C, passed with 56.6% of the vote, putting the ordinance back in the hands of the City Council.
Though the ban divided council members last year, it won unanimous support at the Dec. 8 meeting. Council members voted 7-0 to reapprove the ordinance, citing the results of Measure C as a clear message from voters to move forward.
"When people vote they expect -- they demand -- that we implement the law that they voted for," said Councilman John McAlister. "And if you disagree or agree with it, that's part of democracy. The majority rules."
The wide-reaching restrictions mean that oversized vehicle parking will be prohibited along 435 of the city's 526 public streets, spanning 88 miles of roadway. The massive undertaking means 2,600 signs will need to be fabricated and installed along all of these streets, using staff time and costing close to $1 million.
Prior to election day, city officials had provided only a preliminary map of the streets that would be included in Measure C, and had an early -- and lower -- estimate for how much it would cost to implement. A list of the streets is available here.
Council members agreed on a timeline in which signs will be installed from April through November next year, rolled out clockwise through the city starting with the Monta Loma neighborhood. Areas with the highest concentration of inhabited RVs will be hit later in the year.
Numerous speakers at the meeting urged the council to pump the brakes and delay implementation of the parking ban until after the coronavirus pandemic subsides. Homeless residents are particularly vulnerable to contracting COVID-19, and could be displaced if the city chooses aggressive enforcement while the public health emergency is still in effect.
"There is no April deadline for starting implementation of Measure C," said resident Connor O'Brien. "Mountain View voters were not asked in November whether this council should rush to make sure that enforcement starts during a pandemic."
Resident Blaine Dzwonczyk said the city should install signs as staff time permits rather than make it a priority, and said the money needed to hire contractors to expedite the rollout would be better spent on COVID-19 relief.
"There is not urgency for displacing people from our community. There is absolutely urgency to use $980,000 for a wide variety of other public health needs during a pandemic," she said.
Others insisted that the city should speed things up. Resident Chris Lehner urged the council in a letter to start enforcement as soon as possible, starting with streets filled with inhabited RVs, in order to show its commitment to implement Measure C "as quickly as possible according to the voters' desire." He said the city should be ready to deal with homeless residents who refuse to comply with the rules, and may need to have police forcibly enter vehicles to evict people.
"There are sufficient numbers of people on Crisanto (Avenue) for a riot to break out," Lehner wrote. "Mountain View needs to be aware of the possibility of these scenarios happening as Measure C is implemented. It needs to be prepared in order to avoid negative media coverage, which is predictable."
Council members backed the staff's recommended timeline of starting enforcement in April 2021 at the earliest, approving it in a late-night vote around 1 a.m. Councilman Lucas Ramirez, who previously voted against the ordinance, called the timeline a balanced approach that doesn't affect most of the inhabited RVs until later in the year. Councilman Chris Clark said the council should not slow-walk Measure C and should follow the will of the voters, but that he doesn't believe residents wanted aggressive enforcement from day one.
"It falls to us to think about what the voters were thinking when they passed this, and I don't think that anyone wanted to throw anyone out on the street or create situations where this had a significant negative impact on folks, especially during a pandemic," Clark said.
Where will homeless people go?
On the campaign trail, proponents of Measure C described the parking ban as a way to clear out city streets that were never meant for habitation, and said that those living in vehicles now have alternatives. Mountain View's safe parking program has several dozen spaces available for unhoused people to move their RVs, and the city is building a 100-unit transitional housing project that could prioritize city residents.
Those same arguments rang throughout the Dec. 8 council meeting. Ramirez said he felt "pretty good" about the viable alternatives to living on public roadways, while Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga said there is enough room for everyone living in vehicles to relocate from the soon-to-be-banned streets.
"I believe that our city is compassionate, I believe this council is compassionate and that's why we have worked hard to come up with solutions," Abe-Koga said. "This is not about kicking people out of Mountain View, we are actually in fact finding places for them to go."
Whether that's true remains to be seen. The transitional housing project has yet to be built, and the safe parking lots -- some of which are temporary -- are packed. Data from last month show the Shoreline, Evelyn and Terra Bella safe parking lots are at capacity, housing 148 people living in 68 oversized RVs. A street-by-street count in July found that 191 RVs are still parked on city streets.
"We have been 100% full for quite some time even before the passage of Measure C, and we currently have a waiting list of 26 RVs and 9 cars," said Cheryl Ho, a board member for the nonprofit Move MV. "We have seen that safe lots are successful, but it is clear that they are full and the demand clearly outstrips the current supply."
Also raising alarm bells is Community Services Agency (CSA), Mountain View's nonprofit social safety net. CSA leaders wrote in a letter to the council that their case management services are stretched to the limit, and that a near-term implementation of Measure C would mean a "significant increase" in requests for services. Between that and a potential eviction crisis as a result of COVID-19, the workload will not be sustainable.
"Finding housing, be it temporary or permanent, requires intensive case management, especially in the context of an ongoing housing crisis. At CSA, we are stretched to the utmost," according to the letter.
Abe-Koga encouraged speakers at the meeting to ask neighboring cities like Palo Alto to pitch in and provide more safe parking and homeless housing, and that Mountain View has done its fair share. By her own math, she believes the safe parking sites and the transitional housing project will be enough to house all the RV dwellers from previous counts, and that the city cannot keep accommodating new arrivals.
"We really can probably help everyone who wants to be helped, but we can't continue to have that number increase, and that's what we've been seeing," she said. "We can't keep doing that."