Mountain View Voters Passed Measure C. Now What Happens to RV Dwellers?

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Many RVs park along Crisanto Avenue in Mountain View. Voters have just passed a measure that would prohibit RVs and oversized vehicles from parking on streets 40 feet or narrower. (Beth LaBerge/KQED News)

Jan Stevens was born and raised in Mountain View. She raised her son in the city, too. She's disabled, unemployed and has relied on child support to help pay the bills. But once her son turned 18, the child support stopped and she began to run out of options.

"I wasn't able to afford rent [in Mountain View] anymore, so the only choice I had was to get an RV and find someplace else to live," Stevens said.

Stevens suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome. Shortly after buying her RV and dropping her son off at college, she was diagnosed with breast cancer as well. Now she sees many doctors, all of whom are in Mountain View.

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"You know, I would have gladly gone somewhere else, but at this point, I can't," she said. "I have longtime friends that support me in many ways. If I ask for a ride to the hospital or to get me groceries, I have a tremendous amount of support here that, if I were to go somewhere else, I would be without."

For the past two years, she has parked her RV on a cul-de-sac called Continental Circle, along with about 70 other RV dwellers.

Measure C, which passed with just 56%  of the vote in Mountain View, bans oversized vehicles — defined as any "which exceeds 22 feet in length or 7 feet in width of 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.

Mountain View officials spent six weeks measuring the 140 miles of city streets to determine what streets would be subject to the rules of the new ordinance. They found that 110 miles, or 78.6% of streets, could potentially qualify as narrow streets.

"I will just drive around and park somewhere every night and then move, I guess," Stevens said. "I really don't know."

Measure C was originally an ordinance adopted by the City Council in October 2019. But after several organizations — including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley — sent a letter demanding the ordinance to be suspended and a petition was filed against the ordinance. It was suspended, and RV dwellers were still allowed to park their RVs on city streets.

Michael Trujillo, a staff attorney with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, signed the original letter opposing the ordinance.

"This ban on oversized vehicle parking in Mountain View is cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment, and that comes from a decision called Martin v. Boise, which was decided in 2018," Trujillo said.

In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that because the city of Boise, Idaho, hadn't provided people with an adequate alternative to sleeping outside, they couldn't be punished for being homeless. Trujillo feels this same argument can be applied to the RV dwellers in Mountain View.

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But a majority of voters in Mountain View don't agree with that argument. Arnold Leon, one of the 18,000 voters who voted in favor of Measure C, has been a homeowner in the city for 50 years.

"If you truly can afford rent in Mountain View or elsewhere and that is an option, then I think people should consider that option," Leon said. "Not all of those RV dwellers are really needy, truly needy people."

Leon points to the city's Safe Parking Program, the largest program of its kind in the South Bay and the second largest in the Bay Area. The program offers 70 spaces across Mountain View for people to safely park their vehicles and receive social services and support to find permanent housing. The city plans to expand the program to about 100 spots eventually, but it recently counted more than 300 vehicles currently used as dwellings across Mountain View.

The city has to do more, says former Mountain View Mayor Lenny Siegel, who ran for a City Council seat opposing Measure C and lost.

"I don't expect [the City Council] to try to undo the will of the voters, but I'm expecting them to find places in Mountain View for people who are living in motor homes, who are from Mountain View, to continue to park," Siegel said.

The county of Santa Clara will certify the election results on Dec. 3 and the Mountain View City Council will discuss implementation plans during a meeting on Dec. 8. In the meantime, some RV dwellers, including Jan Stevens, say they are planning to sue the city over the measure and their resulting displacement out of the city.