MOUNTAIN VIEW — Two days after Tuesday’s election, Ida Seclen made her daily rounds in the community of RVs on Crisanto Avenue where she lives, just as she would on any Thursday.
Since losing her job as a nanny and babysitter when the coronavirus pandemic hit, Seclen, 74, now spends much of her time inside her RV, picking up trash on the street, checking up on neighborhood kids left alone for the work day, and going for walks around Rengstorff Park, She sometimes gets food and water for the homeless folks she runs into.
But Seclen’s routine could soon be interrupted.
That’s because Measure C, a City Council-sponsored ballot measure that would ban RVs and other oversized vehicles from parking on narrow city streets 40 feet wide or less, was passing with 57.01% of the vote in the latest election results, raising anxieties among vehicle dwellers such as Seclen.
The council took the unusual step of placing the measure on the ballot after opponents of an RV-ban it approved 4-3 in September 2019 collected enough signatures for a referendum to overturn it. Rather than rescind the ordinance, the council decided early this year to put the question to voters. In the Bay Area, Berkeley also prohibits RV parking on certain city streets, but its City Council did not ask voters to make that call.
Not much wider than nearby residential streets, Crisanto could be targeted for enforcement under the Measure C. If enforced, the ban could displace about three dozen oversized vehicles, including Seclen’s RV.
“I have absolutely no one here for me,” Seclen said. “How are they going to throw us out? The people who really don’t have anything, where are they going to put them? Thinking about it makes me stressed and puts me in such a bad mood. I just feel like, when the moment comes it comes. I can’t think about it too much, otherwise I’ll have no peace.”
The measure’s proponents had argued that people such as Seclen who camp out in their vehicles pose a threat to public safety and lower the quality of life in the city. For years, residents have associated RV camping with sewage spills, trash piles, drug and alcohol abuse and crime.
The prevalence of vehicle dwellers has increased at such an alarming rate over the past several years that the city has started a safe parking program for overnight campers that offers about 70 spaces — but its nowhere near the amount needed to accommodate the nearly 300 vehicle dwellers estimated by officials to be currently parked on Mountain View’s streets.
Many vehicle residents were encouraged to hear Measure C won’t be implemented any time soon. The City Council must first pass a resolution to enact the new policy, then begin the daunting task of measuring the width of streets in Mountain View where vehicle dwellers have congregated.
Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga, who was re-elected to the council this week, said she felt voters’ approval of Measure C was “appropriate” and noted that the restrictions are just one part of a “bigger plan we have to continue to help the homeless.”
Fifty-seven-year-old Chris Petti — who lives in Abe-Koga’s neighborhood south of Castro Street — still had a yard sign supporting the mayor in his lawn on Thursday. He said voting “yes” on C was the hardest bubble to fill on the ballot Tuesday, but he was ultimately persuaded by the campaign messages of Abe-Koga and her colleagues.
“I was swayed by the argument that Mountain View has safe parking lots for them to go, but I didn’t celebrate so much when it passed,” he said. “It was difficult because I sympathize with the plight of these people, and I don’t want to kick them out. Many of them work here, so that was my hesitation.”
Now the council’s goal should be “to work like crazy to open more safe parking sites,” Petti said, adding that the city should continue to work with the Shoreline Amphitheatre’s owner to open up more spaces at its giant parking lots, which are mostly empty these days.
Seclen said she of course wants to get out of living in an RV, but on her terms. She and the dozens of RV dwellers who live on Crisanto have tried to make the best of a difficult situation over the past several years.
The RV she lives in isn’t very big, but it’s impeccably clean and organized. To maximize space, she uses her bathroom as a closet and pays the residents of a nearby apartment $40 a month to use their bathroom — something she said is common among her neighbors.
Seclen says a lot of people’s stories on Crisanto are like hers: All her connections are here, she’s lived here her whole life — at one time joining four other families in a two-bedroom, one-bath unit in order to stay nearby — and her work opportunities are here.
Many of her neighbors don’t own their RVs outright and instead rent them. With COVID-19 wreaking havoc on local economies, the kind of work folks on Crisanto usually get — housekeeping, construction, landscaping and domestic work — has all but dried up.
Facing the constant stresses of poverty after losing their jobs, Jose Alfaro and Cristobal Sanchez — who Seclen cares after — got into a nasty fight that got them kicked out of the RV they rented together.
On Thursday, Sanchez and Alfaro were sitting on a bench feet away from their old RV at Rengstorff Park. Sanchez, who has resided in Mountain View for nine years, said he can’t conceive of living anywhere else and has built a makeshift shack at a homeless encampment.
Seclen said she sees no difference between herself, Sanchez and Alfaro. To her, a single crisis or difficult situation could put her out on the street, too, something she wouldn’t be able to weather long in her old age. Because she’s “not getting any younger,” Seclen said she’s considering going back to Peru to be with her family.
“In a country with so much wealth, why so much poverty?” she said, tearing up. “The rich can only see money. It’s incredible. Just because you live like this doesn’t mean you don’t want a home, a roof over your head. I’ve seen so much evil, so much suffering, so much poverty, so much sadness living here. For what? We have enough for everybody. Why do they want to take this away from us?”