Mountain View Measure C Would Push RV Dwellers Off City Streets

3 min
RVs and oversized vehicles line Terra Bella Avenue in Mountain View. Measure C on the city's November ballot would restrict these vehicles from parking on streets 40 feet or narrower in width. (Adhiti Bandlamudi/KQED)

Misty Masvalo has been living in a retrofitted van for the past few years. She's added solar panels, a propane stovetop and a sink operated by a foot pump. She's working on installing a compostable toilet, too.

"I feel like [the van] is a little beach shack on wheels," Masvalo said. "I have to make it a little comfortable."

Masvalo wants to find permanent housing, but can't see how that's going to happen, unless the price of housing drops substantially — or her wages rise substantially.

Her wages as a part-time yoga instructor and preschool teacher have never been enough to make it easy to keep a roof over her head.

"Teachers in general don't make great money, but early childhood educators are especially affected by low wages," Masvalo said.

Sponsored

After moving several times between different apartments in the region, Masvalo decided to cash out her savings and buy the van.

Now, she's watching a local measure on Mountain View's November ballot. Measure C would ban oversized vehicles, or any vehicle "which exceeds 22 feet in length or 7 feet in width or 7 feet in height," from parking on streets that are 40 feet or narrower, unless the vehicle is parked for short duration activities like loading and unloading.

As more and more people like Masvalo park along major thoroughfares and back roads, the Mountain View City Council has come under pressure from homeowners who complain that oversized vehicles block bike lanes and line of sight for drivers.

After years of talking about a "safe parking" program, the city finally created one in 2019. People can park their RVs or oversized vans in sections of dedicated parking lots, as long as they agree to sign up for social services and support to find permanent housing.

Mountain View resident Prody Hazarika supports Measure C, because he thinks people should use the safe parking program instead of parking on the street.

"We have to encourage the right path," he said on KQED Forum. "That can only be accomplished where you have parking lots where you can get better in life."

Hazarika believes that Measure C gives homeowners a voice.

"[Homeowners] have a right to demand safe streets and good community living," he said.

His sentiments are echoed by Mountain View Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga. She also doesn't believe RVs are a permanent solution to housing and said Measure C would encourage people to find more stable housing or to use the city-funded safe parking program.

"What I'm really proud of is the safe lots that we've opened," she said. "They are successful and I'm open to adding more spaces if we can."

Mountain View's Safe Parking program is the largest of its kind in Santa Clara County, with 75 spots located across the city. But according to a Safe Parking report from September, the city's homeless population has grown over the years, from 276 in 2015 to about 606 in 2019. Move Mountain View, a nonprofit which helps run the safe parking program, says safe parking lots are often filled, leaving many on the waitlist.

Election 2020 Coverage

Despite evidence that most homeless individuals are local, many of Measure C's supporters hold a widely held belief that those living in vehicles come from elsewhere.

"Mountain View has become known for the services that we provide, so other cities are telling folks to come here," said former mayor Lisa Matichak during a recent forum on housing hosted by the Mountain View Mobile Home Alliance. Matichak is one of four former Mountain View mayors currently running for a city council seat this November.

Move Mountain View said participants of the program are asked whether they live in Mountain View before they can qualify for a parking spot.

"We need reciprocity," said former mayor Lenny Siegel, who is also running for a city council seat. A long-time affordable housing advocate, he opposes Measure C because he feels it pushes people out before providing an alternative housing option.

"We can't throw people out until there's a place to go," he said.

Masvalo's van is eight feet tall, which means she'd be affected by Measure C if it passes. She feels her job is important to the Mountain View community and wants be able to live in the city where she works.

"Who is going to take care of your children so that you can work your eight plus hours a day and make your wonderful annual salary?" she asked. "We're just doing our best to make ends meet."