In a quiet neighborhood near Google’s headquarters last month, rusty, oleaginous sewage was seeping from a parked RV onto the otherwise pristine street. Bloomberg reported that Sergeant Wahed Magee, of the Mountain View Police Department, was furious.
“You guys need to take care of it, like ASAP,” he said, lecturing the young couple living in the vehicle. “I’m not going to tow it today, but tomorrow if I come out here and it’s like this, it’s getting towed.” As he delivered the ultimatum, a self-driving car rolled past.
Mountain View is a wealthy town that’s home to Alphabet Inc., the world’s fourth-most valuable public corporation and Google’s owner. Magee spends a lot of his time knocking on the doors of RVs parked on the city’s streets, logging license plates and marking rigs that haven’t moved for several days.
This is the epicenter of a Silicon Valley tech boom that is minting millionaires but also fueling a homelessness crisis that the United Nations recently deemed a human rights violation. Thousands of people live in RVs across San Francisco and the broader Bay Area because they can’t afford to rent or buy homes. In December, Mountain View police logged almost 300 RVs that appeared to be used as primary residences. Palo Alto, Berkeley and other Bay Area towns have similar numbers.
Some Silicon Valley towns have cracked down in recent months, creating an even more uncertain future for RV residents. At a March city council meeting, Mountain View voted to ban RVs from parking overnight on public streets. The ban hasn’t taken effect yet, but soon, the town’s van dwellers will need to go elsewhere. The city council also declared a shelter crisis and passed a new ordinance to ticket vehicles that “discharge domestic sewage on the public right of way.” At the meeting, some people opposing the ban blamed Google for the housing crisis.
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