Police say city’s ‘great services’ are attracting car campers — 291 live in vehicles

A man skates past a row of RVs where people live and sleep in Mountain View. AP file photo.

Daily Post Correspondent

The number of people living in vehicles in Mountain View nearly doubled in 2017, and one factor in the increase is that people are hearing about the services available to vehicle dwellers in the city, officials said.

Word even seems to be spreading via the internet, Mountain View Police Sgt. Wahed Magee told the City Council on March 6.

“It’s somehow getting out, even on the internet, that there’s great services through CSA and the city,” Magee said. “That’s one of the many reasons they state that they’re coming to town.”

CSA is the nonprofit Community Services Agency of Los Altos and Mountain View.
Magee’s comments were in response to questions from councilman John McAlister, who wanted to know how many of the people living in cars or recreational vehicles were city residents who had been displaced by high rents versus the number that have come to Mountain View from other areas. The city is working to obtain that information but doesn’t yet have figures.



Magee said when officers notice a new vehicle on the streets being used as a home, they’ll try to talk with the occupants to see what type of assistance they might need.

“It seems there are a large number that are not from Mountain View,” Magee said. In addition to being attracted to available services, Magee said, vehicle dwellers might be drawn to Mountain View to be near family or they might find the Bay Area location appealing. In addition, “It’s a beautiful town,” he said.

From 150 to 291 in less than a year

The city estimates that 250 to 300 people are living in vehicles. The police department tallied 150 vehicle dwellers in February, a number that grew to 291 in December.

The issue has generated mixed feelings in the community. On the one hand are those who are concerned about residents being displaced by the region’s housing crisis. But some Mountain View residents have complained about traffic hazards created by the oversized vehicles, which cluster on certain streets.

Sanitation concerns

Sanitation is another issue when vehicles are used as homes. In the 12 months ending June 30, 2017, special street cleaning was conducted 14 times due to RV waste dumping incidents, according to the city. From July through December, special street cleaning was needed 10 times.



Mountain View launched a pilot program in which vehicle dwellers receive a voucher that they can use at a waste disposal station. The program is scheduled to run through April.
The pilot program is one piece of a 50-item work plan for tackling issues related to people living in vehicles. Other pieces of the work plan that have been completed include funding a portable restroom at Rengstorff Park and sharing in the cost of an outreach worker with CSA.

The council met on March 6 to discuss potential next steps. Council members voted 6-1 to give police more resources for towing vehicles when officers think it’s necessary. And more parking restrictions may be implemented where safety is an issue, the council agreed.


  1. “Build it and they will come.” The more enticing we make our city to the homeless (those who call their cars home), the more homeless we will get. Who was the genius on the City Council who thought this was a good idea? The best policy for Mountain View is to encourage Sunnyvale and Palo Alto to improve their homeless services, so that they leave our city.

  2. I disagree with the police who think “good services” are enticing these vehicle dwellers. I think the number of car campers is directly proportional to the soaring rents people are forced to pay. Unfortunately the rent control law only applies to older apartments, and the renters in those places aren’t going to move and give up a good deal. But all those new apartments going up on El Camino or San Antonio aren’t covered by rent control. And good luck getting a below market unit, you have to wait years or know an insider to take advantage of that.

    • I beg to differ. Go to Rengtorff or Eagle park. Its thenpark sevices that drives them to park there. Added dumpsters and urinals for them. Plus the sewage dumping, and outreach handouts…its just the truth. Plates from Texas, Georgia, and oregon all over the place. CSA Gives food and god knows what not. Can we stop feeding the bears.

  3. Easy problem to fix. Tickets and tow trucks. Park one of these RVs longer than 6 hours and you get a ticket. 24 hours and you’re towed. Problem solved.

  4. Palo Alto Online interviewed the ones on El Camino South (at Embarcadero) and most were there not out of necessity, but because they want to live in Palo Alto. Some were employable but unemployed. We owe them nothing! They are stubborn and those who have jobs aren’t so specialized that they need to live in Palo Alto. If we residents don’t pay our mortgages, we move to another city or town!

  5. I appreciate the hard work our police force is doing to help our vehicle-dwellers, but I respectfully disagree with Sgt. Magee’s observation. Most vehicle-dwellers don’t engage either with police or CSA. The problem is that they are NOT taking advantage of the services we offer. So why would people be coming here to take advantage of services they don’t use? Meanwhile, we and our partners are finding housing for dozens of people, but the success is not visible because other people are losing their homes or finding the commute too horrendous – and replacing them on the streets.

    • Mr Mayor. Have you ever went out with the police to see their perspective? I heard Council member Abe-koga state she asked everyone to go ride along with the police to see what they are faced with. She pointed out you specifically never had. So how does a Mayor disagree with what I would consider an expert in the situation who deals with it everyday? Just curious because if you have no experience your statement seems unsupported. Also, from what I observed being there at the council chambers, the officer said it was many things including the city being beautiful and in the bay. I am at odds why statements, specifically about police officers, are not given in complete context. Mr Mayor, is there anything else you are an expert on or have a statement about that you have no real knowledge about?

      • Going out with the MVPD is one perspective. Going out with the Community Services Agency is another perspective. I have walked the streets with CSA Outreach and met some amazing people, living in cars, trucks and the RVs. They were a community and looked out for one another AND the people around them. I actually felt safer being there. I would ask that all of the Councilmembers consider going on a walk-along with a NON police outreach officer. I think they will see a different perspective.

      • If you were really at the City Council meeting on March 6 then you would have heard every single Council member and the Police Chief agree that the engagement with CSA services by the RV residents is very low. Where is the proof for these statements: “It’s somehow getting out, even on the internet, that there’s great services through CSA and the city,” Magee said. “That’s one of the many reasons they state that they’re coming to town.” I want to see an actual website reference for this claim.

    • I think there are plenty of services at our parks that dont require engagement. Portable bathrooms, schools and parks. All without oaying taxes for “vehicle dwellers.”

    • @lenny Siegal

      Let me make sure I have this straight. Most dont engage with police or the community services agency (csa)? From the council paperwork (and my attendence at council March 6th) 200 of them were referred to CSA by police. I am sure 200 people would mean a majority in my opinion. What is shocking is the 81 “vehicle dwellers” that have been arrested. Thats definetely some engagement if you ask me. Council member Margaret Posted the breakdown on her page. Most are for drugs (a shocker to me).

      And services, as someone mentioned on this chat, is not just CSA. I AGREE it is our parks, porta-potties you on council approved, the garbage bins full of their trash and junker bikes etc, barbeque areas that have been taken over by alcohol (and drugs I guess) using vehicle dwellers. Rengstroff park has been over run and I wont take my kids there on the skateboard side or bbq pit. Those areas are SERVICES as well.

      I agree with the first comment. You took a small portion of what the police officer said and are spinning it. He was very supportive of csa when he looked over towards the CSA president and smiled at him. I feel bad for the police that deal with this kind of fact twisting mr mayor. You should be ashamed since you are the leader of council. BTW I Believe many other council members agreed the services did attract people. HOW CAN IT NOT??? I Also observed the ones agreeing did go on a ride along and saw things for themselves.

      If you have me a long stretch of roadway by a park. With dumpsters and porta potties added for me. Services from csa or NOT from them, plus the area and schools available, then yes I agree I would move in an rv And live in our city if I could…all while bupassing taxes (property tax is killing me as it is).

      You sound like a confused man Lenny. Im fine helping them, but you are not making sense.

      • The Mayor isn’t saying that the police are not supportive of the CSA – it is you who is spinning what the Mayor is saying. If you were at the City Council meeting on March 6, you would have made note that the engagement of the RV residents with the CSA-led city services has been low. From the March 6 Council Report: “Many of the RVs remain a unique challenge to reach the people living in them as many are not engaging with CSA or Police Outreach.”

        And how can you be shocked that the police arresting people for drug use and possession – ever hear of something called the War on Drugs which even Nixon-era officials are now explaining that drug laws were put in place to criminalize people of color?

        And yes the Vice Mayor did explain that she rode along with police (not the CSA folks) to visit RV residents and her comments about the interior living conditions of the RVs she entered were unnecessary and displayed classism. Not everyone lives in 3 bedroom (or more) single family homes and doesn’t help people who are living in much more modest dwellings to judge their living conditions. And if you are so keen to move into an RV, more power to you but my guess is that you are not planning to do that any time soon.

  6. To prove whether CSA services are a factor, how about an experiment? Cut off all CSA services for a week and see where the RVs go? If they’re not here for the services, as Councilman Siegel asserts, then there will be no change. But, if they do disappear, we know how to fix this problem.

    • I don’t think the CSA services should be turned off but I do think the police knocking on RV residents doors should be stopped. Every single Council member and the Police Chief fully acknowledged that engagement of CSA services was low at the March 6 Council meeting. I fully agree with our Mayor that people who are down and out are not going to feel comfortable engaging with the police – please eliminate the Community Outreach Police Officer from the City’s Three-pronged Strategy which will save the City money and hopefully improve engagement so waste management can be the focus since that issue does affect the health of the community and the Bay.

  7. If you remember years ago when Rengstorff Avenue was used for “For Sales” vehicles and how much of a problem that was. The city ordinance related to Used For Sale vehicles was repealed by a high court but the solution was to place time limits and no overnight parking. This is a similar blight problem that can be addressed rather easily overnight (pun intended). Yes, the city would be pushing them elsewhere but then CSA services would be utilized for the truely homeless on the street, creekbed and parking structures.

  8. I find it comical that mr Lenny is so opinionated on this matter. The man said he wants to make MOuntain View the next Berkley. Are you serious?!?! Berkley is infested with homeless residential areas (tent cities) and vehicle dwellers to a point it is out of control. If the comment above about him not being in touch with police and what they experience, it is quite a sham. Blind leading the blind. When is the next election??

  9. Maybe Lenny doesn’t know this, but some of the RVs are being rented out to people. Why don’t they fall under the rent control ordinance?

  10. Im actually a supporter of helping who we can. It does seem like something is enticing a large number of people to Mountain View. So if 1/3 engage with police and community services, that is probably 120 people maybe? So couldnt some of those people come for services? I dont support our goverment turning on our police. They have no benefit to lie, unless I am missing something? Quite a weird dynamic to see a mayor publicly question a police officer. Is there other issues in Mountain View internally? I say we focus on the truth and how er help these
    People get on their feet. We should support helping the homeless and our police. God bless.

  11. I almost spit out my jamba juice (laughing). Is that really the mayor making a comment disagreeing with one of his sworn members of the city about a pretty generalized comment? Sounds reasonable as he/she says there are various reasons. All of seems understandable. The mayor have a tweet he throws out too to go against his owm people’s opinions? Thanks foe the laugh.

  12. I live in Palo Alto…in a camper. I use the services the city provides to help us (my wife and me). Yes, I stay here because of it. And how is that wrong?? I am a vet and paid my dues. Please stop harrassing us and just help us live a decent life.

  13. I am against ticketing and towing RVs. Give them a place to go. All 100 of them and get them jobs. But not sure if that will stop more from coming. Hard problem to fix. I thank the police who are helping them too.

  14. Greetings all. I can see this blog is striking some nerves. I have to say, if the information laid out on here is correct how can a City Mayor disagree with an observation someone has seen or heard firsthand. I actually did some research and Sargent Magee does do outreach with Sargent Taber. So my observation is the Police men have a valid experience to give an opinion. Do I agree with letting campers to be in town? YES. We should be helping the less fortunate. I think everything the the Sargent said was a positive thing. “The great services” is not a bad thing and I believe the Sargent means it in a nice way. Or they would say it in a bad context. The police men have donated clothes and toys to camper livers, so I want to say thank you for your kind souls. Please continue in your journey to help people.

  15. The city paid to have a roll in shower/laundry system brought to CSA. A church in town also allows for showering and food. All angles covered in Mtn View

  16. My sister volunteers at a homeless shelter over 20 miles from MV. She has heard multiple conversations from shelter clients remarking on the services and welcoming environment Mountain View provides to pearls living in RVs. It may not fit the Mayors narrative, but facts are facts.

  17. The Mayor sounds like Trump. Doesnt like a comment or a real/honest statement and he tries to undercut them. You want Officer Magee fired too? Gthoh!

  18. I attended council on March 6th. I believe we should do more for the homeless. I agree we are attracting homelss by great city services everyone gets and csa…but who cares? We should help if we can. I believe the officer and Chief were well apoken and both came from a positive place and with a good heart. I dont agree with the mayor. I believe John McCallister had some good points on distance with parks, but we need to find a place for them and help all we can.

  19. Going out with the MVPD is one perspective. Going out with the Community Services Agency is another perspective. I have walked the streets with CSA Outreach and met some amazing people, living in cars, trucks and the RVs. They were a community and looked out for one another AND the people around them. I actually felt safer being there. I would ask that all of the Councilmembers consider going on a walk-along with a NON police outreach officer. I think they will see a different perspective.

  20. Ya I bet some seemed real amazing, thrilled for the hand out! While the cops have to deal with the reality of drug addiction and the criminal element csa sees. The walk with csa is a great way to see the way bling engagement is. Rather be with the women/men in uniform who know when they see trouble.

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