Speaking in Spanish in front of Mountain View City Hall at a news conference earlier this month, resident Celerina Navarro patiently explained why she and her family deserve a place to stay. Navarro lives with her family in a large recreational vehicle parked in approved city parking lots.
“Mountain View is my city, too, I have a community here,” said Navarro, whose remarks were translated by the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley’s J.D. advocate Maricela Lechuga. “I want the city to provide permanent affordable housing options for myself and all Mountain View residents.”
The Law Foundation of Silicon Valley has sued the City of Mountain View over the city’s new ordinance that bans recreational vehicles from city streets, which RV residents say leaves them feeling unsafe.
Navarro and other RV residents are named as plaintiffs in the class action complaint, filed in the United States District Court Northern District of California. The Law Foundation is suing along with the ACLU of Northern California and Berkeley-based Disability Rights Advocates. Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the international law firm King & Spalding are pro bono partners in the suit.
The Law Foundation is asking the court to declare that Mountain View’s RV ban is discriminatory against residents with disabilities and is seeking a preliminary and permanent injunction preventing the city from enforcing its ban.
The City of Mountain View adopted its RV ban as ballot Measure C in November, prohibiting RVs from being parked on streets deemed too narrow. The Narrow Streets Ordinance, as the law is named, designates streets less than 40 feet wide to be “narrow.” More than 80% of the city’s streets qualify as narrow, according to a city news release.
The city did not begin enforcing the ban until this month, when it began erecting “No Parking” signs on the so-called narrow streets. The city plans to install thousands of signs across 1,035 blocks over the next six months, starting with the Monta Loma, Farley and Rock Street areas.
Navarro lives with her three children—two minors and one adult—in an RV. She’s been living in an RV for six years since she lost her apartment following a rent increase.
She participates in the city’s Safe Parking program, which gives RV residents a place to park their vehicles for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The city enacted the program in 2019, but the Safe Parking lots did not open until early 2020. There are currently two Safe Parking lots open to RVs in the city, which together host 67 vehicles. There were 191 RV households in the city as of July 2020, according to a City of Mountain View study.
The new ban does not explicitly affect the operation of the Safe Parking lots. However, Navarro said even though she parks in the city-sanctioned lots, she still feels unsafe. She’s heard that some of the new safe parking residents have been issued month-to-month contracts, meaning their leases can be ended at any time.
“We try to be (as peaceful) as possible, because I don’t want them to kick me out,” she said. “They're very demanding; one time one of the program managers… came and demanded that I move one of my shopping carts, and was very insistent.”
Navarro said she’s worried that now that the RV ban is in effect, her place in the safe parking program is in peril.
“We feel bad, because it’s a lot of pressure every day, and (the RV ban) adds to the pressure,” Navarro said. She said she wants to wait for the outcome of the lawsuit to talk to her kids about the ban.
Michael Trujillo, housing staff attorney with the Law Foundation, said the city is spending money on enforcing its RV ban, when it should be spending money on helping RV residents find homes.
“The city announced last year that the signs needed to enforce the RV ban would alone cost over a million dollars,” Trujillo said. “We’re urging that city resources and efforts be used to work with RV residents to find long-term housing solutions.”
Trujillo said the Law Foundation had worked with RV residents to prepare the lawsuit since Spring of 2019, when the city first announced it would pursue an RV ban.
“We’re hoping that the city will actually work with us and find alternative solutions here,” Trujillo said. “But we are prepared to seek injunctive relief if that’s required to prevent the ban from taking effect.” This injunctive relief would stop the city, at least temporarily, from enforcing the ban.
Nadia Aziz, the Law Foundation’s Housing Directing Attorney, said the Law Foundation was proud to defend the rights of RV residents to park in the city.
“Housing and shelter is a fundamental human right: a right for everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity and disability,” Aziz said.
Navarro said she doesn’t know what she and her family will do if she could no longer park her RV in Mountain View. She said residents need to continue to organize to stop the RV ban from sweeping across the city.
“Continue getting together, no matter how many times it takes,” Navarro said.