On Election Day 2020, 57% of voters in Mountain View, California passed a voting measure to address what many residents of the Silicon Valley city saw as a growing civic issue: people living in recreational vehicles. A July 2020 street count found 191 RVs [RVs] parked on city streets, 68 of which parked on approved municipal land. With the measure’s approval, city staff could ban most RV residents from staying in Mountain View via “no parking” signs. Almost a year later, the future of the measure is unknown; Shortly after voters approved the ban, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California and the Law Foundation of the Silicon Valley filed a class action lawsuit against the city, arguing it was discriminatory and unconstitutional.
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Although the lawsuit is ongoing, city workers began putting up “no oversized parking” signs on nearly every city street in August, at a cost of $ 1 million, severely limiting where residents can find them. RVs could park in Mountain View. It is just one city among dozens that is taking action to remove RVs and those who live in them through such bans.
“There were more people against us than for us,” Janet Stevens, 63, a plaintiff named in the lawsuit, said of the November election. “[But] it certainly has nothing to do with street safety. For Stevens, who has seen the city change as more and more employees of tech companies move in, the struggle for housing affordability and an RV ban comes down to nimbyism and “a lack. support and genuine understanding of who [vehicle dwellers] are to begin with.
The lawsuit underscores Stevens’ analysis. “[Mountain View] is in the heart of Silicon Valley where, in recent years, economic stratification has produced significant wealth for some, but soaring housing prices for all, ”the complaint states. “As a result, many long-time Mountain View residents have been excluded from the housing market and forced to live in [RVs] parked in the city streets. Most of those who live in RVs, like Stevens, grew up in Mountain View, lived there as adults, and depend on city services to survive. Stevens is undergoing treatment for breast cancer and suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome and high blood pressure. In addition to her friends and neighbors, Stevens’ medical team and support group are located in Mountain View. “If I had to get out of here, I don’t know. [I’d be in] profound, profound difficulty in being able to find physicians who were understanding and willing to support my treatment for my illnesses which have multiple symptom areas, ”said Stevens.
There is no constitutional protection for economic status.
Supporters of the ban say it’s not so much the RV residence itself, but the horror of oversized vehicles, littering on city streets and the lack of regulation. Proponents of a fair housing policy fight back by saying Measure C is an indirect ban on the poor: a targeted attack on city residents who cannot afford rising rent prices in one. from the most expensive regions of the country. While the median household income in Mountain View has doubled over the past twenty years, income inequality in Silicon Valley has exploded, growing twice as fast as the state and the national rate. Almost 20 percent of households in the region have no savings. For many, the zone’s rent – now $ 2,500 a month – is impossible to pay.
“It’s just getting worse and worse,” said Nantiya Ruan, a law professor at the University of Denver. “Inequity and this imbalance of power just means that people are becoming increasingly disadvantaged and kicked out of communities and have no say in government and everything that comes with it. “
According to Ruan, this leaves even more authority to the wealthy residents. “Communities have a lot of power to regulate how their space is used,” she explains. “And so what the municipalities are doing is making those who need to sleep in their cars or sleep in their RVs hostile by enforcing all kinds of different zoning code laws.”
The history of targeting and discrimination against unwanted members of the community is rooted in the US legal framework. Redlining is the best known example. In addition to the federally sanctioned segregation that prevented blacks from creating wealth in affluent neighborhoods, so-called “city at sunset” laws prohibited non-whites from staying within city limits afterwards. sunset. Oregon has banned black people, and some municipalities have required Natives, Japanese, and Jews to leave by 6:30 p.m. each evening. California also maintained an “anti-Okie” law, which prohibited unemployed and migrant workers from entering the state in 1937.
Ruan argues that these policies endure in the network of RV residency bans, although unlike discriminatory 20th century laws, vehicle laws do not explicitly target the poor. Even if they did, given that there is no constitutional protection for economic status, Ruan says, which makes these laws difficult to challenge in court. These laws aim “really to concentrate on keeping people out of public space and therefore out of [public] conscience, ”Ruan said. “[The laws] prevent them from being visible, right? [Politicians think] no one wants to see visible poverty.
Mountain View isn’t the only city to have vehicle residency laws. Los Angeles instituted its own “residential” parking ban in 2017, affecting a total of 7,000 homeless people living in their cars. Los Angeles’ neighboring suburbs like Culver City, Santa Monica, and Malibu are all prohibited from sleeping in your car at night. In April, Carlsbad city officials updated their city codes to include a ban on camping within city limits as well as parking oversized vehicles overnight on city streets. Those who wish to park their vehicle within city limits overnight are now required to obtain a 24-hour permit and are limited to six permits per month. In August, members of the Flagstaff, Arizona city council voted to keep a law in force that bans camping – including vehicle camping – much to the dismay of residents who have been driven from their homes by the increase housing prices and forest fires. Following the approval of an ordinance requiring residents to move their vehicles every three days, the city of Eugene, Oregon, is considering its own parking ban in “commercial industrial zones.” And in Lacey, Wash., Plaintiffs have filed a lawsuit against the city for effectively banning recreational vehicles and those who live there through a city ordinance that limits the number of hours a vehicle can be parked in the city. Street.
Instead of providing housing, some cities are creating “secure parking” programs with dedicated spaces like church parking lots where residents of vehicles can park at night. Mountain View offers such a program and is home to a third of all secure parking lots in Santa Clara County, but there aren’t enough spaces for everyone who needs them. Additionally, Stevens says she asked for a safe parking space three times but never got a response. Even if she had been approved, she doubts she would have accepted, given the restrictions of the lot.
Katie Calhoun, a doctoral student at the University of Denver who has studied the effectiveness of the Colorado Safe Parking Initiative, says it’s common for safe parking programs to have restrictions, such as banning alcohol consumption . The designated secure parking lots made residents feel safer in Denver, although the average length of stay in the secure parking lot was three months, after which just under half of the vehicle residents continued to live. in their car.
The City of Mountain View could respond to allegations of public safety concerns by establishing a waste disposal site where residents can easily access it and pushing for safer grounds. And, of course, the city could stop exacerbating the housing crisis by not approving, among other things, the destruction of rent-controlled apartments. For those who are unable to access safe ground in towns where vehicle residency is prohibited, there are not many alternatives other than risking a police encounter, potential arrest, or relocating. in a city that does not have a ban on books.
As to this eventuality, Stevens says, “There is no preparation for this. Except maybe, you know, driving around looking for a town where they’ll accept me to live.