A legal battle brewing in Mountain View highlights the increasingly desperate struggle among RV dwellers to find safe places to live in the South Bay.
Last week, the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Disability Rights Advocates filed a class action lawsuit against Mountain View opposing a recent parking ban targeting RVs and oversized vehicles. The lawsuit alleges the ban violates state and federal law by discriminating against several RV dwellers who have disabilities. The filers claim the ban will contribute to the displacement of homeless people and the roughly 191 RV dwellers in Mountain View.
“We filed the lawsuit with the hopes of striking down the RV ban so folks will have a place to park in Mountain View,” said Michael Trujillo, a lawyer with the law foundation. “We’re really hoping the city will not ticket or tow any RVs that are being used for shelter until folks can access affordable housing.”
Lenka Wright, spokesperson for Mountain View, said it will take at least six months to finish installing signs listing restrictions on oversized vehicles such as RVs.
It’s possible some RV dwellers will consider moving to San Jose, a city where approximately 17% of the unhoused population lives in vehicles, according to a survey from 2020.
But they may not find life easier in San Jose, said local advocate Scott Largent.
Largent said the San Jose Police Department cooled its parking enforcement during the pandemic. But prior to COVID-19, the city aggressively towed vehicles. And in recent years he’s witnessed San Jose restrict where RV dwellers can safely park, including places like Spring Street where many homeless residents live.
“This (no parking) signage has been going up everywhere in Santa Clara County,” Largent said. “They do this damn near everywhere someone could park an RV or a car.”
Largent added that SJPD used to tell RV owners to park in the industrial parts of the city and they wouldn’t be bothered. That changed several years ago when the city started impounding vehicles more frequently for violating parking laws, he said. Largent claims the DMV also stopped issuing temporary one-month registration tags to RV owners doing repairs on their vehicles, which created a bigger pool of unregistered RVs for police to target.
SJPD spokesperson Steven Aponte told San José Spotlight that the city reduced overall enforcement of RVs during the pandemic.
“We are cognizant of the needs of the unhoused, while mitigating quality of life issues on the streets of San Jose,” Aponte said. He added that the city is currently enforcing municipal codes that forbid vehicle owners from parking on a city street for more than 72 consecutive hours.
In Mountain View, community organizers tried to stop the RV ban by circulating a petition demanding a referendum. The city put the issue on the ballot last November and a majority of residents voted in favor of the ban. Wright said the city mailed notices to property owners about the signs and reached out to RV dwellers to tell them about alternative housing options.
Janet Stevens, one of the plaintiffs in the case, has lived in an RV for more than two years. She told San José Spotlight she never intended to live in her vehicle, but a series of medical crises—including breast cancer and a recent heart attack—prevented her from leaving. The threat of being booted from the city where her doctors and support network are leaves her terrified.
“It engulfs your thoughts from the second you wake up,” Stevens said. “I have friends (here) who support me—I sometimes literally couldn’t eat without them.”
Sandy Perry, president of the Affordable Housing Action Network of Santa Clara County, said while he’s concerned with street sweeps of homeless encampments, he’s less concerned that the police will be able to permanently remove RV dwellers. He said the San Jose Police Department followed a pattern in recent years of looking the other way while RVs cluster in one part of the city, then suddenly forcing them to move en masse. The process repeats again and again with no resolution, he said.
“Since there is no place to go, if people get moved along, they will move back,” Perry said. “I’m sure Mountain View will experience the same thing.”