News

Woman attacked in Homer Avenue tunnel

Man pushes businesswoman, hits her with heavy bag

A downtown Palo Alto businesswoman walking through the Homer Avenue underpass at Alma Street was attacked by a man on Tuesday morning, Palo Alto police and the victim said.

Nina, 77, who has owned and operated Tailor Plus for 43 years and whose last name is not being used for her safety, said she was traveling through the underpass connecting to Palo Alto Medical Foundation's offices at about 8:05 a.m. when a man pushed her from behind. As she turned to see what happened, he struck her twice in the head with a heavy bag, causing her to nearly fall down. He then yelled obscenities at her, she said.

She said she takes the bus to work and usually gets off at the Palo Alto Transit Center bus depot, but recently she has walked through the Homer tunnel because the bus drops riders off near the Medical Foundation due to a city construction project at the Palo Alto Transit Center bus depot.

"At that time there are lots of students walking and riding their bicycles nearby, but yesterday there was nobody," she said.

The man, who was in his 40s or 50s, was carrying two bags and appeared to be disturbed, according to Nina.

"There was something inside that was so heavy," she said of the bag that he used to hit her once from behind and once in her face as she turned around.

She said she felt dizzy and used the tunnel wall to support herself and keep from falling.

"It could have been worse. I tried to keep standing up. If I fell down, I don't know what would have happened," she said.

She went to police headquarters to report the crime and ask for more officers to patrol the area.

"There are lots of kids on bicycles going to school all the time," she said.

Palo Alto police Sgt. Brian Philip said the attack was not an attempted robbery, but it was a battery by a person who appeared to be having a mental health crisis. Police have not located the man.

"Palo Alto is typically a safe place. This was unusual," he said. But he added that officers are aware of homeless persons who may stay in or near the tunnel and who frequent the other underpass and tunnels between University Avenue. On-duty police frequently patrol both the Homer Avenue and Caltrain tunnels, he said.

Nina said she felt dizzy for most of Tuesday, but she feels better Wednesday. At about 11 a.m. Tuesday morning, just hours after she was attacked, a young woman came into her store and asked to remain there for a while. The woman told Nina that she was being bothered by a homeless man and that she was afraid, she recalled.

Nina said she fears the tunnels near the Caltrain station, which she said are worse than the Homer underpass, but now she is afraid to travel under the Homer location alone.

"Today when I took the bus a man helped me to walk through the tunnel," she said. "I asked him if he would help me and walk this way with me because I was afraid," she said.

Anyone with information about the attack is asked to call the department's 24-hour dispatch center at 650-329-2413. Anonymous tips can be emailed to paloalto@tipnow.org or sent by text message or voicemail to 650-383-8984. Tips can also be submitted anonymously through the police's free mobile app, downloadable at bit.ly/PAPD-AppStore or bit.ly/PAPD-GooglePlay.

---

Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.

Comments

46 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 6, 2017 at 1:43 pm

The city is encouraging residents to walk and bike instead of drive their cars and park downtown. Has there been an increase in police patrols along bicycle and pedestrian routes? The only police patrols I ever see are from inside police cars, which obviously cannot see into many of these pedestrian areas.


55 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 6, 2017 at 1:50 pm

@resident, excellent points.

Also, are there security cameras in the tunnels? Are there security cameras in the parking garages? Will there be security cameras in all the expensive new garages the city is planning on building to accommodate our ridiculous growth rates?

Safety-conscious people, esp. women, know that it's much safer to walk above-ground and to use on-street parking.


40 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 6, 2017 at 3:13 pm

The reporter writes 'Palo Alto police Sgt. Brian Philip said the attack was not an attempted robbery, but it was a battery by a person who appeared to be having a mental health crisis. Police have not located the man.

"Palo Alto is typically a safe place. This was unusual," he said. But he added that officers are aware of homeless persons who may stay in or near the tunnel and who frequent the other underpass and tunnels between University Avenue and the Palo Alto Caltrain station.'

Sgt. Brian Philip, you need to realize you are physically much more imposing than many, and you carry a gun, so to you Palo Alto is a "safe place". However for many who are less physically fit, can be subject to being preyed upon.

Unfortunately, our city manager and city council have been reducing the staffing of police officers; where there use to over 90 officers, they are now staff number around 70. The reduced number means less traffic enforcement, less patrolling, less community policing and just more of responding to calls.


16 people like this
Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 6, 2017 at 3:32 pm

The wide sidewalks, solid roof, and quiet of this tunnel attract poor men who have nowhere else to sleep. I often see camps there. I wonder if the assailant came from one of them; sleeping outside for months or years on end isn't good for your metal health.


69 people like this
Posted by dtn
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 6, 2017 at 4:04 pm

The homeless in Palo Alto is getting very extreme. When I ride downtown on my way to work on every street there are homeless, mostly disturbed homeless coming out of the alleys and building areas swearing and yelling at each other. There is constant loitering going on in front of stores asking for money. I feel bad for the business as I don't visit them when they are out in front. Over in back of parking lot by old zibbos constant issues going on in the back, either drug or fighting with each other WE need police to start walking the downtown starting at either end. Not sure what to do but we need to do something


47 people like this
Posted by Abtarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 6, 2017 at 4:21 pm

Police Sgt. Brian Philip claims "on-duty police frequently patrol both the Homer Avenue and Caltrain tunnels".

Well, I traverse these tunnels frequently and have never seen an officer on duty.


21 people like this
Posted by Guess what
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 6, 2017 at 4:24 pm

[Post removed.]


32 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 6, 2017 at 4:49 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

The tunnel provides a path for homeless along El Camino and from the Opportunity Center to panhandle, hang out, or commit crime. There was also the cyclist robbed at gunpoint a few years ago:

Web Link


34 people like this
Posted by Cameras?
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 6, 2017 at 6:15 pm

Can we afford a few cameras around our city? It might discourage some crime (excluding the mentally ill), or at least help identify the perpetrators. Put them at train stations, near bike racks, tunnels, etc.


41 people like this
Posted by RVs
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 6, 2017 at 8:53 pm

The possibility of random attacks by mentally ill homeless folks is yet another reason to deter the RV village along ECR, particularly across from Palo Alto Medical Center and the Opportunity Center.


29 people like this
Posted by Cameras are needed!
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 6, 2017 at 9:43 pm

Cameras!


24 people like this
Posted by Marrol
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 6, 2017 at 10:04 pm

Was any additional description of the man provided besides gender and approximate age? Race, height & build, facial hair, clothing, etc? I'm one of many people that use that tunnel every day and it might prove valuable if the general public had more to go on.

Although understandable under the violent circumstances that the woman may not remember or be sure enough to say, but if there is additional information on this assailant it should be reported for public safety and awareness.


11 people like this
Posted by Not Self-Centered
a resident of another community
on Sep 7, 2017 at 7:32 am

@dtn wrote: "The homeless in Palo Alto is getting very extreme."

This is a regionwide problem [portion removed.] It has reached a crisis point and needs to be addressed comprehensively and cooperatively, not just pushed out of sight by those communities that can afford it. [Portion removed.]


30 people like this
Posted by Midlander
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 7, 2017 at 9:34 am

Midlander is a registered user.

To "Not Self-Centered".

Gosh. What a strange and strong reaction to a local resident commenting on what they themselves see. Yes, what people see locally may be part of a larger problem and it may require a wider solution, but it is also direct local data on a perceived problem. It's worth listening to, not simply ignoring!


21 people like this
Posted by AlexDeLarge
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 7, 2017 at 9:41 am

Nina has been my tailor for years. I hope she's ok. I also hope the miscreant is prosecuted and jailed.


19 people like this
Posted by Hermia
a resident of Triple El
on Sep 7, 2017 at 10:23 am

Video surveillance of public areas might be useful in preventing robberies,
but I don't see it influencing a person having a mental health crisis.


18 people like this
Posted by He used to have a solution
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 7, 2017 at 10:29 am

Not jail, hospitals. We need mental care facilities for the majority of the problem homeless folks I see, not jail. Back in the day we used to have these places but nobody wanted to pay for them so they got rid of them back in the 80's. You pay one way or another Society, this is the price for saving a few bucks on mental care facilities...endless random street crimes that CANNOT be solved by jails.


20 people like this
Posted by Diana
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 7, 2017 at 10:59 am

Gosh, I'm worried about Nina. She really needs to get checked out if she was dizzy for most of the day. Head trauma is very dangerous. It can seem okay and then serious problems can suddenly appear hours or days later.


10 people like this
Posted by Stew Pid
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 7, 2017 at 11:16 am

[Post removed.]


24 people like this
Posted by Keith
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 7, 2017 at 11:16 am

Camera surveillance might have help police to identify the attacker, and social services to find a way to prevent future attacks by that person.

I have used Home tunnel on a daily basis ever since it was built (its a wonderful resource), but have never, not once, seen a police presence there. I wonder if the police still run bicycle patrols? There are always quite a few down-on-their-luck people in the tunnel, on the steps up to the clinic or between the tunnel and Paly along the walk/bike path. They may be residents at the Opportunity Center, but some are probably living outdoors. Much as I don't like to be watched by cameras myself, I do think that surveillance in public spaces like the tunnels would be quite helpful.


9 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 7, 2017 at 11:32 am

john_alderman is a registered user.

@He used to have a solution - "nobody wanted to pay for them so they got rid of them back in the 80's"

The deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill started in the 1960s. Reasons are complicated, and include "nobody wants to pay" but also a misplaced optimism about psychiatric drugs, and an overreaction to poor conditions in mental hospitals. The ACLU was on the forefront of fighting for deinstitutionalization, and feature it as one of their accomplishments.

Web Link

This NY Times from 1984 covers the issue well.

Web Link

Interesting number in the article, there were 37,500 in mental hospitals in California in 1959. That's the equivalent of almost 100,000 today. Society today doesn't have the stomach to round up and force people into mental hospitals. Though it would pretty much fix the homeless problem.


1 person likes this
Posted by Julie
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Sep 7, 2017 at 11:32 am

Thank you.
I do that some times too.
I will don't to it any more.


47 people like this
Posted by Grrrrowlllling
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 7, 2017 at 11:50 am

My daughter works as a nurse at PAMF; she walks through this tunnel and back twice a day.

My daughter says there are homeless men, seemingly very mentally ill, sleeping in the tunnel both day and night.

In the ten years she has worked at PAMF in Palo Alto, she has never seen any sign of a PAPD officer anywhere near that tunnel-- not once! Not even driving by on Alma or Homer.

Yet, these men often beg for money, and have even harassed some PAMF employees. There have been reports to PAPD of this in the past.

Obviously, PAPD is being dishonest with the public, and they need to assign a foot or bike patrol through the Homer tunnel at least a couple of times a day.


12 people like this
Posted by Barron Parker
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 7, 2017 at 12:25 pm

We need more video cameras, definitely.

I have wondered for several years about the sanity of putting a homeless shelter (Opportunity Center) next to PAMF and one block away from Palo Alto High. [Portion removed.]


6 people like this
Posted by Ellen
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 7, 2017 at 12:53 pm

I also use the Homer tunnel frequently and have never seen a police presence. I've also never been harassed by a "homeless" person.


13 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 7, 2017 at 1:19 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Grrrrowlllling - The police patrol the tunnel a couple times a day, your daughter walks through the tunnel a couple times a day. There are 1440 minutes in a day, so the odds are your daughter won't see the police patrols, even though they happen. Patrols aren't useful at stopping crime for that reason, too much space to patrol, too few police. They'll never be in the right place at the right time.

Empower the police to be proactive, not reactive. Vigorous anti-loitering laws would let police clear out the tunnel, not patrol it. Get rid of the RVs. We seeing the consequences of not being serious about crime. And definitely get cameras up.


7 people like this
Posted by dtn
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 7, 2017 at 1:27 pm

@midlander and Stew pid(quite clever)Thanks for the back up. @not self-centered, I didn't say to push it away, I said Palo Alto needs to do something!! It is getting dangerous around our town. For the police to say they monitor is complete crap as they would see the homeless items living under the tunnel. When I ride my bike I never know what to expect on the other side. Along the bike path is an issue also. Our town says enough is enough of the RV's but yet there they all are along the side. As reported last night on channel 5 nothing has been done with having them removed from the sides of El Camino. Do I think they are a huge problem, probably not but no body knows who really lives in them. I suggest that we open the parking lot behind red cross or designate a parking lot for them to park over night. They can pay a fee based on their income. Palo Alto and their surrounding neighbor cities need to get together. Menlo Park figured it out by not allowing parking along their streets at all at night.


25 people like this
Posted by Old and Afraid
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 7, 2017 at 1:48 pm

I am 81 years old and have lived in Palo Alto for 46 years. There has been a drastic increase in the number of mentally ill living on the streets and panhandling in PA in the last 10 or so years. I give cash and food to homeless regularly provided they aren't panhandling (I don't like the aggressive request and it makes me think they are trying to buy drugs or booze). Living on the streets is never pleasant and with mental illness they often can't take being in closed quarters unless they are regularly taking their meds. I was chased and yelled at by a homeless caucasian man last week while walking through the University Avenue tunnel. I almost got hit by a car because I wanted to cross at Ramona and Homer so I wouldn't have to face the panhandling at The Whole Foods crosswalk. I wish there were a way to help the mentally ill. The way they are living right now is not helping them and it certainly isn't helping our community. I'm afraid to walk alone. The only time I see police out of their vehicles is when they are eating lunch or writing a ticket. Walking or biking would give them a better relationship with the citizens of Palo Alto. (I do see parking enforcement on bikes)


Like this comment
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 7, 2017 at 1:55 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@dtn - Is there anything wrong with pushing it away? There is no larger solution coming, so it is the best we can do.


12 people like this
Posted by Ralph
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 7, 2017 at 2:45 pm

@john_alderman: how do you know the PAPD patrols the tunnel a couple of times a day? Have you seen or asked them if they patrol the tunnel? I frequently walk to downtown Palo Alto and rarely see an officer. For a short while there was an officer on foot on University Ave. at Emerson. She was great telling people not to ride their bikes on the sidewalk and warned pedestrians about walking through red lights, etc. For some reason that didn't last long...

There needs to be an officer(s) whose beat is the downtown area, from Litton near the park to Homer, including the train station, University bike/pedestrian underpass and Homer tunnel. I also agree that stiffer laws need to be enforced. The sit-lie ordinance needs to extend beyond University Ave. and include no sleeping on benches.

I feel sorry for the police officers that have to try and take care of a problem that was formerly taken care of by mental institutions. I also feel sorry for the librarians who have to spend their time monitoring the homeless who hang out in the library, using it as a place to sleep.

I'm tired of the politically correct do-nothing people who complain every time someone brings up the homeless issue. Nothing gets done. I don't think it's healthy for the mentally ill to be sleeping rough on the streets. It's not good for them and it's not good for the community.


3 people like this
Posted by @Not Self-Centered
a resident of another community
on Sep 7, 2017 at 3:23 pm

This is a Palo Alto newspaper, so yes, it's about Palo Alto.


13 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 7, 2017 at 3:40 pm

"I'm tired of the politically correct do-nothing people who complain every time someone brings up the homeless issue. Nothing gets done. I don't think it's healthy for the mentally ill to be sleeping rough on the streets. It's not good for them and it's not good for the community."

You're right, but the politically uncorrect people don't want to pay for mental institutions. Got any workable ideas?


10 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 7, 2017 at 4:00 pm

"This is a regionwide problem, not one limited to your elitist little bubble. It has reached a crisis point and needs to be addressed comprehensively and cooperatively, not just pushed out of sight by those communities that can afford it."

Gee, if we were elitist here, don't you think we'd have pushed this out of sight by now? We obviously have not, so draw the dots.

And don't you, in your enlightened state, agree that applying the word "problem" to a class of human beings is an elitist affectation?

So tell us: what is your exemplary program for treating the mentally ill street people in your anonymous enlightened community?


Like this comment
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 8, 2017 at 12:35 am

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Ralph " how do you know the PAPD patrols the tunnel"

Read the article, and you will find out. Then read my post again and you will also find out why you are statistically unlikely to see the police when you walk downtown, even though they are also patrolling downtown. If Downtown wants a dedicated police officer (I agree it is a good idea), then maybe the Business Improvement District should up their fees and pay for one.

@Curm - Are you going to help get the ACLU onboard for forced institutionalization of the mentally ill? We'll need that before we start investing in new mental hospitals, or converting prisons. The expose Life magazine did had far more to do with the closing of mental hospitals than funding cuts. These are some pictures from the expose:

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link


9 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 8, 2017 at 10:00 am

It's why trains belong underground, not people.


Like this comment
Posted by SS
a resident of another community
on Sep 8, 2017 at 11:57 am

PAPD is below minimum staffing. Officers have been leaving to other agencies. Several have gone to Santa Clara PD. No one wants to join PAPD.


2 people like this
Posted by PaloAlto Aint Mayberry
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 8, 2017 at 1:52 pm

>> Several have gone to Santa Clara PD. No one wants to join PAPD.

I stumbled on a web page in the City of Palo Alto webpage that lists the salaries
of all city employees.

Police officers in Palo Alto make around or over $200,000 a year. It is hard to say
that is enough to risk one's life, or even it is too much, but clearly in terms of some
of the crime and law and order issues we do not have enough people to patrol
our city.

Our police are pretty good and professional, and I don't mean anything
bad about them, but $200K is quite a bit. Some of them, maybe most of them do
not even live in the area, or pay for family to live out of the area while they commute
here. Our cops do a good job, but in my interactions, just what I have seen, in almost
every incident that I have seen that involved a police officer, they are far from perfect.
The best thing about Palo Alto police is that in general after they exhaust other
alternative they do the right thing in a mostly non-lethal manner and things work out
and they get along with the community ... that is very important.

I think $170,000 would be fine, or raise the taxes of Palo Altans, IN A FAIR AND
PROGRESSIVE WAY instead of surreptitiously dumping costs on the middle and
working class with all these fees and assessments. Imagine the cost of these
pensions and how long that is going to last, and how many can retire early, get
another job another pension. The way we fund things in Palo Alto now we are
subsidizing the very rich by charging fees, etc. As we have shifted over to this
elitist paradigm of course things have gotten worse in Palo Alto. It hollows out
the rest of the economy and is an indirect cause of workers not being able to
afford to work and live here. Meanwhile every time and issue like this comes up
someone tries to find a way to blame ALL the homeless or even point to the
RV parkers.

If we cannot lower police salaries, and we cannot raise them or afford to pay enough
of them to adequately protect our city, then we must find other better ways to
patrol and respond to incidents. Is there an emergency button or something at the
Homer underpass?

Instead of bringing in more money from people who have it and should be paying
their taxes, we coddle the richest Palo Altans at the expense of everyone else. This
is unworkable in the long term, but it is the American way these days. What do the
very rich care, they live in gated compounds and don't care about other people's
safety if their propensity for avoiding taxes is any indication.


Like this comment
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 8, 2017 at 2:15 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@PaloAlto Aint Mayberry - "Police officers in Palo Alto make around or over $200,000 a year."

You are reading something very very wrong, because that is not true. Only The Chief, Assistant Chief, and one Captain are salaried at over $200,000. Median salary for an officer is ~110k, and median total pay including overtime is ~130k.


3 people like this
Posted by PaloAlto Aint Mayberry
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 8, 2017 at 3:00 pm

john_alderman ... look at the column marked total compensation. I could not find one that with
overtime and benefits does not make over $200K ... and then there is retirement.

Transparent California ( City Workers' Salaries ): Web Link

In fact the chief and officers mostly make over $300K, here is two examples:

Ron Watson Assistant Police Chief
Palo Alto, 2016 $203,096.90 $0.00 $22,172.00 $225,268.90 $112,893.99 $338,162.89
Patricia Lum Police Captain-Adv
Palo Alto, 2016 $201,317.55 $0.00 $18,199.20 $219,516.75 $112,156.43 $331,673.18

Where are you getting your numbers from?


6 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 8, 2017 at 3:14 pm

Not too long ago a PAPD night dispatcher made $300,000 with overtime so her pension was based on that $300K figure. Many PAPD employees retire very early -- at 50 I think -- and take their Palo Alto pension with them while they work in other districts.


2 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 8, 2017 at 5:32 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@PaloAlto Aint Mayberry - Like I said, you are reading it wrong. You are looking at the last column, which is the total cost of employment. Their salary is the first column, total pay is the 4th column.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Why is it becoming increasingly impossible to open a restaurant on the Peninsula?
By Elena Kadvany | 27 comments | 5,099 views

Firing Judge Persky as a tennis coach was a big mistake
By Diana Diamond | 23 comments | 2,830 views

Electric Buses: A case study
By Sherry Listgarten | 3 comments | 2,185 views

It just takes time
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 562 views

Helping Partners Become Couples (vs. Helping Couples Become Partners)
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 463 views

 

PRICE INCREASES MONDAY

On Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

Register now