Ban on car-dwelling heads to City Council | July 15, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 15, 2011

Ban on car-dwelling heads to City Council

City ordinance could take effect in August

by Sue Dremann

Palo Alto's status as the only city in the area that allows people to live in their vehicles could end July 25, when the City Council is scheduled to vote on an ordinance making the practice illegal.

This story contains 1071 words.

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Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at


Posted by Tom, a resident of Stanford
on Jul 11, 2011 at 9:59 pm

It is time to ban this.

Posted by Concerned Dad, a resident of Community Center
on Jul 11, 2011 at 10:13 pm

I agree: Palo Alto ought to ban living in vehicles that are parked on public streets. All of our neighboring cities have already done so.

Posted by OK, I'll say it since everyone is thinking it, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jul 11, 2011 at 11:54 pm

Vehicles being stored on city streets should be banned. We pay millions for our houses and should be able to live in nice neighborhoods without having to look at eyesore autos. Sure, this sounds elitist, and it is. I volunteer at food banks and help the needy. I shouldn't have to live with them too.

Posted by neighbor of palo alto, a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 12, 2011 at 12:15 am

First I'll address the article. I think this will pass because it's common sense, but the human standpoint that the homeless advocates are taking is a much more appealing approach to take because it is slower.

The approach that was voted 6-0 doesn't mean the residents of college terrace aren't just fed up with looking at vehicles whether its occupied by a resident or not. To solve their problems might not require a city wide ordinance.

Now to address the posters comments above, its funny you paid millions for your house, because a lot of your neighbors did not even pay six figures for their houses. I actually hope you work at a company that goes under with the next internet bubble and can try to live in your 2 seater luxury convertible. Please don't think everyone in Palo Alto is like you.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 12, 2011 at 8:50 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

An obvious solution is to provide a location where living in a car IS permissible. A caravansary somewhere with reasonable security, restrooms and even some hostel type sleeping arrangement would be a wiser resolution. A kinder resolution, too.

Posted by what's up with the city council?, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 12, 2011 at 9:31 am

Whatever College Terrace asks for, College Terrace gets! It's time to end all CT subsidies.

Posted by narnia, a resident of another community
on Jul 12, 2011 at 10:03 am

I agree with Walter.

Posted by RV Willie, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 12, 2011 at 10:20 am

San Carlos, here I come.

Posted by There But 4 Fortune, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2011 at 10:41 am

Thank you Mr. Wallis for your compassionate comments. I have volunteered at the food bank myself and find that having had that experience makes me more compassionate toward those that need to park their vehicle on the street to sleep. I feel especially sympathetic towards women that need to sleep in their cars. It would be best if we had a society that could provide for those less fortunate in the way that Mr. Wallis suggests but I could just hear the screams of outrage from those that would not want to provide the money to support his suggestions. Communities and the state are so broke that it would be difficult to find the money to support car parks for homeless.

Posted by Enough!, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 12, 2011 at 10:51 am

Ciampi had no business parking himself in front of a home where a woman and her daughter were coming and going regularly. That is creepy and unacceptable. In his particular case, it's even more egregious in that he had a rental place, and more than one offer to live in some local resident's driveway's. He made it a point, instead, to be as uncooperative and resistant as he could. HIS civil rights have been violated? Pah. So were the rights of the cops and the homeowners. No one likes to be spied upon, or have someone spit on you. By the 'reasonable man' standard, since Ciampi had other offers, he should not be allowed to sue, he had a viable and REASONABLE alternative. Instead, he chose to stay put and what ensued from that action is, in part, his own damn fault....I have heard about him for years in this City...and notably, other homeless people made it a point to go into the libraries and post about Ciampi's well known hair-trigger temper.

Regardless of whether we paid $2 million for our house, or $77k forty years ago, the fact remains that having a person live in front of your home is disconcerting, unsanitary and unsettling. More, many of us have more than one car owner living in our homes, we need those spaces to park in front of our own homes and not take up the parking spaces that our neighbor's may need. No one needs their teen who may be working or participating in a late sporting event to walk half a block because someone is squatting in front of their home.

It wouldn't be so bad if some of these people chose to park in front of businesses that are closed at night. At least then, they would not be violating anybody's privacy. One more thing, some of these people have laptops with wireless access, and more than once I have seen them walking around with their laptops in hand, holding them aloft then checking something on the computer...I asked one guy what he was doing, he said checking for 'unsecured wireless networks' so he could get online. I suggest people doing regular transactions on their computers, such as online banking, password protect their wireless...or you just may be sharing your information with a stranger camping close by you!

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 12, 2011 at 11:02 am

What's wrong w/using the WalMart parking lot instead of neighborhoods? Or is that only for RVs?

Posted by Wha?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 12, 2011 at 11:07 am

Funny how some posters are suggesting a spot for these unfortuneate people be created with bathrooms and some security. How are we to pay for that when we can't keep our existing infrastructue going.

But compassion would be greatly appreciated.

Posted by Enough!, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 12, 2011 at 11:13 am

I think some people have compassion...but it's a work with me and I'll work with you attitude, which is reasonable. The one thing that I have noticed of late, having been here through the tech bubble, is that I see signs of personal fortunes once again on the rise..not as pervasive as before, but yes, the signs are there. I know there are people in this city who can help out more...instead of giving money to politicians, sexy PC causes overseas, or handing your kid $200 a month allowances, which only allows them to buy more pot, alcohol, expensive coffee drinks and designer label clothing, halve that amount and give, >gasp<, to your community instead. And yes, I DO exactly that.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 12, 2011 at 12:19 pm

I'll be the first to admit that I don't have all the answers. However, the idea of finding space for overnight camping is interesting. do we keep it from becoming a magnet for "campers" outside of Palo Alto?

To borrow a phrase from the "Field of Dreams": If you build it, they will come...

SF was a huge draw for out of town homeless and scammers when they just gave away benefits and cash. People as far as Reno, would drive to SF to take whatever they could get.

So if you build a site - how do you keep it for "residents" only? Also, how do you police it? Keep it violence, alcohol and drug free? Restrooms and showers? Maintenance?

Posted by DDee, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 12, 2011 at 2:12 pm

I also agree with Walter.

This actually has been done elsewhere and works.

There are large, well-lit parking lots at our local malls, and at some of our churches where an area can be fenced in, a couple of porta-potties provided and someone hired for a low enough but decent salary to check people in at night, make sure they vacate at a reasonable time in the morning, and keep the area clean. One or twp patrol visits during the night should be all that was needed.

If we are that cheap about doing unto our neighbor as we would have done unto us, we could charge a buck or two per night for those who might actually be working or have income, but not enough to make rent or buff up their credit sufficiently to get accepted somewhere.... all problems that only poor people have to worry about.

This would:
a- be cheaper for the city or the county to manage than putting this on the list of to-dos within the man-hours of cops who have bigger fish to fry.
b- be a compassionate outreach that allows people to stay safe in their vehicles at night and be able to relieve themselves without breaking the law
c- give local temporary solution to someone from here or nearby who lost their home for whatever reason but have no support network elsewhere or place to go
d-speaking of places to go.... where the heck are they supposed to go?!

Posted by Shaz, a resident of Professorville
on Jul 12, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Is there a good reason for passing this ordinance? And no, "We don't like those icky poor people near us" is not a good reason. They may not like us and our pretentiousness. Does that mean we should move?

Have car dwellers been involved in more than their share of crimes lately? If not then we should just leave them alone. There are a couple of people living in their vans near me. They are polite, friendly, quiet, don't smell and make better neighbors than some of the housed folks in the neighborhood.

Posted by DDee, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 12, 2011 at 2:24 pm

As for locations that might ease some of the other logistics... how about we chip in for one or two more salaries at the Opportunity Center, and then create a parking zone a close walking distance from there. That would solve the toilet and shower issue, and would put these people close to where they have support systems and other aids.

The big empty field across the street on the Stanford campus might be a good community outreach and help for those less fortunate on the part of Stanford.... just an idea.

AS for keeping it drug and alcohol free. I don't know. How do we keep YOUR house drug and alcohol free?
Basically, we don't apply the law or infringe upon your right to privacy unless you make it a public issue by your behavior. My suggestion would be that the same rule apply to the parking area residents. They may be down and out but they are still Americans last I checked and have rights --- or should.

Having the police do drive by patrols several times in the night or get a call from the night watchperson should be sufficient to catch any BEHAVIOR that is illegal or dangerous.

Besides, if I was living in my car, and broke so badly that possession of 2 bucks would not make a big difference in my circumstances but might make me more exposed to street violence because someone would rob me, I'd probably want to find some solace in a tall cold beer or equivalent before going to sleep in my "palatial manor." Wouldn't you?

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 12, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Shaz - yes, there are many good reasons for passing this ordinance. There is also a valid reason for not wanting someone living in a vehicle in front of your home. A few years ago, an unhoused man was living in his van across from our home. Our kids would not play outside or stay home alone when he was there. When you buy or rent a home, your reasonable expectation is that your neighbors are your neighbors - not car dwellers. People live in their cars in Palo Alto because it is legal. Whether they are polite and friendly or using your yard as a bathroom (yes, I've had to clean up after not just dogs...) is beside the point.

If you feel strongly that people should be allowed to live in their cars in Palo Alto, find the above mentioned well-lit parking lot and organize a place for people to spend the night in their vehicles. I'd even be happy to contribute to the start up costs.

Posted by did u know, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 12, 2011 at 3:02 pm

that people in cars are actually good for neighborhood security because they are very aware of their surroundings and know when somethings up and watch passeby very carefully precisely because they are living a different life. they usually know the people arond town and watch out for their surroundings. something home dwellers are not always aware of. do not pass this ordinance now. let us have a new way of social suvival. everyone is going through tough times, even housed people. we do not need anymore animosity.

Posted by Shaz, a resident of Professorville
on Jul 12, 2011 at 7:05 pm

palo alto mom, the many good reasons are?

If the guy parked in front of your house pooped on your lawn or was otherwise acting erratic, why didn't you call the police? That applies to anyone, not only those living in their cars. If the man in the van was not acting nutso or threatening, then there is no reason to be afraid. Not all homeless people are Jack the Ripper. The overwhelming majority have human being status.

I do feel that people should be allowed to live in their cars in Palo Alto. There is no reason to herd them anywhere simply because of irrational fears. A ban on living in vehicles won't work. The affected nomads will simply move their vehicles around town every few days to skirt the ordinance.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 12, 2011 at 8:41 pm

How does the city know that these are PA residents? Doesn't residence mean having a physical address? Would someone driving from San Jose to live in their vehicle in PA make them PA residents? Or are they being referred to here as residents because they've been living in their cars for awhile in PA?

What's the lure of living in your car on a residential street? Access to other amenities? I think I'd prefer a camp ground, w/a restroom and a grill nearby.

I feel for the families whose quality of life are greatly reduced when an unknown person is living in a vehicle in front of a home. Security, safety & sanctity of home are crucial.

Posted by danny, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 13, 2011 at 11:02 am

I see this as a high paid bureaucracy placing their occupationalism above human rights.

Posted by Robit Noops, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 13, 2011 at 11:28 am

When I grew up in Menlo Park, you weren't even allowed to park your car on the street overnight without being ticketed, let alone live in a vehicle.

Posted by Tony Ciampi, a resident of Professorville
on Jul 13, 2011 at 12:26 pm

"Mr. Enough a resident of the Charleston Meadows neighborhood,"

You know not of what you speak. Before you make statements to the public about me or anyone, I suggest you get the facts correct. I was not parked in front of anyone's home at any time. Should you care to debate the merits of your position please let me know. You make it sound like I'm some black man in the south who cannot be on the same side of a public street as a white woman.
I would appreciate it if you would remove your remarks that I spit on anybody, because that is a false statement made by you.

Posted by Shaz, a resident of Professorville
on Jul 13, 2011 at 12:50 pm

If homeless living in cars are going to be banned, will homeless living on the street and in creekside encampments also be banned from PA? That would not be politically correct. If someone sleeping in a car is a threat, so is someone sleeping on the sidewalk.

Posted by Walker, a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 13, 2011 at 4:14 pm

People live in cars and RVs in Mountain View, also. So, Palo Alto is not the only place where homeless people are allowed to live in their vehicles. I have never seen any of these people cause any problems. In Mountain View, they usually park their RVs near small, neighborhood parks and move them almost every day. Not a real problem.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 13, 2011 at 4:35 pm

How many people in PA are living in their vehicles? I see a lot of regularly parked, unmoved vehicles in College Terrace, on the side streets & on ECR. Where else? The library on Newell, I see a few regularly.

Posted by Jeff, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 13, 2011 at 4:51 pm

I was driving by JJ&F last week, around 9:00 AM. I saw one of the regular bums completely harassing a woman going into the store. ", etc. She was petrified, and she moved all the way out into the street. I spun a u-turn through the gas station, and came back into the street, in case I needed to deal with it. The bum took off at that point...I followed him down to the bus stop, next to Wells Fargo, where he disappeared on the next bus. I saw him, again, yesterday, getting out of one of those parked vans in the area.

Get rid of the bums, and the cars and vans that contain them!

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 13, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Jeff, that's an interesting bit of news. Good for you for taking the time to check it out.

I went recently to pick up my friend's elderly mom from an appointment in College Terrace. I was harassed going in to the building where she waited & we were both harassed by the same guy when we came out. This went on for a bit of time, as I had to get her into my car - you know that can take a few minutes w/an elderly person. I threatened to use my dog spray on him to get him to knock it off. When we left, I saw him near the Jack in the Box, where there seem to be a number of those long parked vehicles. Isn't that the area where some guy rents out his vehicles to people?

I call the police or code enforcement when I see suspicious people in their vehicles or vehicles left too long in my 'hood. A lot of the time, they're NOT EPA residents. Sometimes they're up to no good, sometimes not. Sometimes I feel a little bad for calling on an innocent person, but it's balanced out by all the bad stuff that we prevent. We've also helped people recover their stolen vehicles this way, stopped prostitution & DUIs. If we didn't take action, the creeps win by default. We pay a high price for ennui where I live. We may not live in multimillion dollar homes, but we all deserve safety & peaceful enjoyment of our homes.

Posted by MoneySource, a resident of Ventura
on Jul 13, 2011 at 5:35 pm

How about if developers pay enough to provide reasonable security, restrooms etc. in a parking lot for vehicle dwellers as a requirement for permission to increase density beyond current zoning?

Something like providing the cost for one such vehicle for every 50 units they build.

Posted by Jeff, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 13, 2011 at 5:44 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of another community
on Jul 13, 2011 at 5:51 pm


Please don't give the liberals any ideas. They just may find a way to include your idea in the current "below market rate housing" extortion scam they hit all developers with.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 13, 2011 at 6:10 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Thanks, Jeff. I don't scare easily & neither does the woman I was with, but an elderly person is often a target. When someone's legit, they don't harass people, no matter where they live. It's one thing to be poor, it's another to prey on the vulnerable. We have to recognize & respond appropriately to these kinds & still stay safe.

So in the CT area, are these folks begging for money, or actually mugging people?

Does anyone here recall the books by PA author Lora Smith featuring a woman living in her VW van, who'd be harassed by the cops? I think they were written in the 80s & 90s.

Posted by Jeff, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 13, 2011 at 6:28 pm


"So in the CT area, are these folks begging for money, or actually mugging people?"

They are harassing people for money, especially women and the elderly. They are very agressive, verbally and through body language. I have seen some physical stuff, but it is usually among themselves. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Pickle, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 13, 2011 at 6:31 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Long time house dweller., a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 13, 2011 at 7:37 pm

This could be solved without any law. The folks that do not want a law banning car dwellers should post their address. That way car dwellers would know where they would be welcome and leave the rest off us alone.

Posted by Pickle, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 13, 2011 at 9:23 pm

Palo Alto weekly you removed my post regarding "Hmmmm of EPA and Jeff." Please state why you removed my post.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 13, 2011 at 9:25 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Heh heh heh. No more Ted Bundy for Pickle!

Posted by Pickle, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 13, 2011 at 10:36 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Midtown Guy, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 14, 2011 at 6:49 pm

Midtown Guy is a registered user.

Too many commentators quick to judge someone they've never met.
Palo Alto can be better than this. We all will have tough times;
believe it, 0r you will invite it into your life, and you will
be the target, instead of the accuser. Walk in another's footsteps, people! The man who was taser'd because he lived (legally) in his van
shows dignity, strength, patience, and diligence in pursuing
his day in court, capably representing himself, something few of us could pull off respectably.

I would like to see him being offered part time work instead of jibes. He has skill, intelligence research abilities, communication skills, and due diligence in legal matters despite his homelessness.

Someone please step up and contact him, mentor him, recognize his potential, say as a legal assistant, or even as a helper in some project requiring skilled hands and quick thinking. Can't a place be found for him one of the many Single Occupancy units built over the last ten years in Palo Alto? Think of all the worse chances you've
taken in life, and try something noble for a change.

The man deserves some breaks, a hand up, not blind criticism.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 14, 2011 at 9:45 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

This thread isn't about Ciampi, it's about a ban on car dwelling. There seems to be quite a negative impact on residents from car dwelling. It's hard to know what the upside is, because that would go largely unnoticed, right? People living peacefully in their cars, not causing a public nuisance or problems w/not having a restroom or shower to use, not having drug or alcohol problems.

In order for these dwellers to have legal tags on their car, they have to have a registered address or PO Box. Is that what makes them PA residents, not where they park & live in their vehicle?

Posted by Edgarpoet, a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 29, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Edgarpoet is a registered user.

The problem is Homelessness, NOT people living in Cars, That is an impact of the problem. Until this well educated society wakes up and gets the just of this situation, this "homeles problem " will not be dealt with by those who have the means to try and solve the real problem. We spend millions fighting the situation instead of spending
half that actually solving the problem.
Our society has to first get over the bigotry and "class antagonisms"
that I notice throughout these comment pages here online. For this to happen we must first look closley at ourselves and ask this question: what if I were in the shoes of that other person whom I seem to dispise? When we ask this question, then we can begin to solve problems instead of just perpetuating somebody elses misery.
Giving Handouts and funding top heavy poverty pimp programs that do not have enough successful results is NOT the answer.
The answer exists in a common sense venue, a grassroots approach
opperated by people who actually have some compassion for those they are helping. Corporate agendas and methods will never work to solve this type of problem.
But it all begins with this: "end the bigotry"

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