News


East Palo Alto approves RV parking pilot program

City Council declares a shelter emergency, approves program and funding to aid homeless residents living in motor homes

The parking lot at 1798 Bay Road in East Palo Alto is set to become a temporary overnight RV parking lot in a program that will include case management and other services, including the Dignity On Wheels shower and laundry facility. Run by the nonprofit Project WeHope, the program goal is to encourage RV dwellers to move into transitional housing. Photo by Veronica Weber.

Watch Weekly journalists discuss the program with Pastor Paul Bains, executive director of Project WeHope, the organization that will be managing the RV Safe Parking Pilot Program, on "Behind the Headlines".

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The East Palo Alto City Council unanimously approved a program to support RV dwellers on government land on Tuesday night, July 17, to the applause of a roomful of community supporters who told the council "good job."

The RV Safe Parking Pilot Program, the first program in Silicon Valley to house and support RV dwellers on government land, could start as soon as November.

The council voted 4-0, with Mayor Ruben Abrica absent to approve the program, which will utilize $118,000 from the city's general fund surplus and $200,000 from the voter-approved Measure O, a residential rental business license tax.

The city declared the shelter crisis under state Government Code 8698, which grants cities authorization for declaring a local crisis if there is a significant threat to the health and safety. The lack of shelter falls under that category, staff said.

The declaration allows the city to take action to address the crisis, but it also grants the city immunity from liability for ordinary negligence by providing emergency shelter.

"Clearly, as a city and a community, I think we are trailblazing. I know that we're going to learn as we go," Councilman Carlos Romero said.

"This is a great opportunity not only as a city, but also for the other 20 cities in our region to follow," Councilman Larry Moody said. "This is a way to care for our own."

The vote followed a heartfelt discussion at the previous council meeting on July 3 about the need for communities to help the least fortunate. The council voted unanimously at that time to support the proposed RV Safe Parking Pilot Program, which will allow up to 20 recreational vehicles and motor homes to temporarily park on city-owned property.

The groundbreaking program will use the former Tanklage site at 1798 Bay Road for a one-year pilot program to allow people to park their RVs overnight while receiving support services, with the goal of moving the people into transitional housing. East Palo Alto nonprofit Project WeHope, which provides shelter and services to homeless persons, will manage the program and lease the property. The site will have portable toilets, security guards, meals at Project WeHope's gym, and laundry and shower services through WeHope's Dignity on Wheels mobile van.

The program is estimated to cost about $300,000. Project WeHope will contribute one-third of the funding, with the city contributing two-thirds through its general fund, primarily drawing on monies generated by the East Palo Alto residential rental business license tax.

City staff estimated capital costs of between $50,000 to $100,000 for amenities such as lighting and a hookup to water, which would be funded by the city.

At least 37 RVs, some housing families, are parking along Bay Road and Tara Street on the city's southeastern edge. Pastor Paul Bains, head of Project WeHope, said this number, which his team counted during outreach, did not include RVs in driveways and on private land, so the number of RVs that house people could be much higher.

The parking program will prioritize East Palo Alto families, the elderly, disabled persons and veterans, staff said. Persons in the program will have an entry pass to the lot, which a guard would check. Project WeHope and East Palo Alto police have been working to identify which RV dwellers are East Palo Alto residents through driver's licenses and vehicle registrations. The process has been somewhat complicated since some East Palo Alto residents have been renting out or loaning their RVs to homeless people, Bains said.

Families in the Belle Haven neighborhood of Menlo Park, many of whose children are enrolled in the Ravenswood City School District, would be accommodated in the program after East Palo Alto residents, if there are spaces.

Roots of the program

East Palo Alto's new program was formulated after some RV dwellers living in the 1100 block of Weeks Street were evicted last November just before a large winter storm. The city had to clean the site of hazardous materials, including 6,000 gallons of raw sewage that had been illegally discharged into the storm drain by a few of the RV dwellers. The effluence overflowed onto the street, which was also strewn with personal belongings and trash.

Acknowledging that the situation was getting out of hand and unsustainable, the city held multiple council and public meetings and instructed staff to work out details of what the parking program could look like.

To qualify, the RVs must be registered, operational and have insurance. Applicants must sign a waiver of occupancy, acknowledging that permission to park at the site is not a tenancy right. They can only park overnight at the site for up to 90 days.

During the daytime, they must park their RVs on the street or drive them to their workplaces. Applicants must agree to participate in a case-management program. They must be clean and sober, or if they are addicted to substances, they must be in a recovery program. No drugs or alcohol would be allowed on the site.

To address the sewage and garbage issue, the RVs must have the ability to dispose of sewage in a certified dumping station. The program would provide RV owners with vouchers for the sewage dumping and solid waste at a station in Redwood City. The nonprofit Samaritan House would help people get their RVs running.

Nonprofits LifeMoves and Abode Services would help the RV dwellers find and move into transitional housing. For RV dwellers who require more than the 90 days to do that, their stays at the property could be extended on a case-by-case basis, Bains said. Project WeHope would be required to file quarterly assessment and status reports regarding the program's progress and outcomes.

City staff members did not recommend establishing a permanent RV park, although they did study the costs. One-time capital costs for a full-time RV park would be at least $750,000 to $1 million. Operating costs would exceed $250,000 annually, according to the staff report.

There are legal considerations to launching the pilot program. The city acquired the Tanklage site from the East Palo Alto Redevelopment Agency after the state dissolved such agencies. The property transfer added a deed restriction as a governmental-use property. City ordinance defines such uses as a public purpose: a park, police or fire station, library, local agency administration building or public parking, as examples.

Staff has determined the use for a temporary RV parking program complies with the deed restriction and municipal definition. State government code also grants cities the power to declare a shelter crisis, which is deemed to be a local emergency.

"A shelter crisis may be declared when a city finds that a significant number of persons within the jurisdiction are without the ability to obtain shelter and that the situation has resulted in a threat to the health and safety of those persons," staff wrote. Declaring a shelter crisis, a city is authorized to take necessary action, including using public facilities to address the crisis.

Program faces opposition

Some East Palo Alto residents, while sympathetic, are opposed to the program's location at Bay Road and Clarke Avenue. Fifty nearby residents signed a June 11 petition and others spoke at a June 14 community meeting, expressing concerns about congested street parking, an influx of additional RV dwellers, a possible lack of police department oversight and environmental concerns, among others.

Residents at the July 3 council meeting offered a mix of support. Mark Dinan, whose yard backed up to the Weeks Street RV encampment, said the dwellers brought human waste, drugs, trash and prostitution.

Louella Parker, said she hasn't been able to sell her home because of the RVs in the neighborhood.

"It feels like a temporary thing," she said of the program, "But what happens after it?"

Elizabeth Pulido said her neighborhood at Fordham Street and Bay Road is already inundated with drug dealers, crime and violence. The city should instead use the funding to address these problems.

"Why does the city want to bring another burden to this community?" she said.

But Mike Francois said he supports the project, which could be emulated by other cities to help solve the broader regional issue of people living in RVs.

"What I like about this is you're going to put families first," he said.

Councilman Larry Moody, who has worked with ministries focused on homelessness, said 90 days might not be long enough for some people to get into housing.

"I would suggest we look at a six-month program that really identifies the 20 families we will work with over a long period of time," he said.

"It is also an opportunity for local churches to engage in true ministry," he added, where they could offer parking lots and perhaps breakfasts.

The importance of using in-city service providers, such as El Concilio for case management, can't be understated, he said.

"It holds the residents of the RV community to a standard" of accountability to their community, he said.

Mayor Ruben Abrica also asked the faith community to step up.

"I am definitely not a religious person, but I want to go ahead and say this. From what I know, particularly of the Christian tradition, if Jesus Christ showed up today in the same way that he lived, you know, we might be looking down on him and not really helping him and the people around him, which included all kinds of people who were having a lot of trouble. That's my appeal to the religious community: To help us solve these problems that do deeper than just specific situations."

Abrica said that he hopes that other cities will follow suit. He said he will approach Menlo Park in particular to help with a program for Belle Haven RV residents.

"This is a crisis that's affecting people at the very ground level: human beings. This is not to say that we have the solution. But we are the kind of city that has historically tried to address human needs directly and not be afraid and to try things out. And if they don't work, then we can modify them," Abrica said.

In fact, East Palo Alto is not alone in considering safe-parking programs for RV dwellers, but it's the only one to do so with public property. In Santa Clara County, San Jose and Mountain View are working on pilot safe-parking programs. Both would fund sites at faith-based organizations.

Santa Clara County approved on June 5 an agreement with Move Mountain View for parking and supportive services for up to $287,525 and with Amigos de Guadalupe in San Jose for up to $505,000 for a program running from June 5, 2018, through June 30, 2020.

Abrica said he has spent much time visiting with the people who live in RVs, and he cautioned against knee-jerk reactions against them.

"Just like any other community on this planet -- somebody (here) said it -- most people are doing the best they can. They're not creating problems. There are a few -- and I would say they exist in every community, whether it's a housing community, an ethnic community, a religious community -- there are people who are doing harm and are not doing right, and I do agree that we need to address that and deal with that," he said.

"But we should not paint all people with the same brush and then blame them for problems that run deeper in our society," he said.

To keep RVs from other cities from driving over to fill the gaps left after the existing vehicles leave the streets, city staff has recommended that an overnight parking ordinance, enforcement of the existing 72-hour parking rule and vehicle-operations codes should run in tandem with the pilot parking program.

Council members on July 3 agreed, warning that East Palo Alto's program should not be used to solve other cities' problems. They said there would be a future discussion regarding a potential overnight ban for all oversized vehicles in the city. The Public Works and Transportation Committee is expected to hold public hearings on an ordinance in late July or August.

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Comments

32 people like this
Posted by ABC
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 12, 2018 at 4:46 pm

Before you do something - think about exit strategy.
You can't get rid of them very easy (if you want to)
Those RV tennants will sue h...ll out of City in case something happened. I don't want my tax $ to go for settlement with tennants


20 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 12, 2018 at 6:13 pm

ABC - if you're not in our city how would your tax dollars go toward a tenant settlement?


10 people like this
Posted by ABC
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 13, 2018 at 8:54 pm

To Hmmm: Im in MY city (if i posted Downtown North does not meem anything, next time i will be more accurate).
And I DO NOT want my tax $ to be spend on obligations which city will get in to with this mobile park (including seeer, garbage ec). I DO NOT want my tax $ to be spend on lawers and payoff to tennants.
I WANT my tax $ to be spend on library, street improvement and needs of ELDERLY



11 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 13, 2018 at 11:20 pm

ABC - the article states that the RV folks will have to sign a waiver acknowledging that the permission to park there overnight does not grant them any legal rights of tenancy. So your tax dollars are safe.


16 people like this
Posted by rsmithjr
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 14, 2018 at 3:38 pm

rsmithjr is a registered user.

Regarding the issue of tenancy: I am not sure that these tenancy rights can be waived.

In Palo Alto, the state and Palo Alto laws became the wedge that basically made it impossible for the Buena Vista owners to repurpose their land.

There are public-interest law firms that would be happy enough to take the cases of people who stay there for the permitted 90 days and want to stay longer.

East Palo Alto needs to be careful lest they make a trap for themselves.


12 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 14, 2018 at 9:14 pm

... no good deed goes unpunished.


9 people like this
Posted by rsmithjr
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 15, 2018 at 5:46 pm

rsmithjr is a registered user.

I thought I remembered something in CA code about waivers.

The CA R.V. Park Rent Laws may be found here:

Web Link


Here is the section that would appear to invalidate waivers:


799.42. No occupant registration agreement or tenant rental agreement shall
contain a provision by which the occupant or tenant waives his or her rights
under the provisions of this chapter, and any waiver of these rights shall be
deemed contrary to public policy and void.


There are also health and safety standards that the city might find itself liable for.


14 people like this
Posted by EPAMom
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 15, 2018 at 8:30 pm

This is only going to work well if police presence is constant. Already that corner is a hotbed of drug dealing and crime. While the rest of EPA improves, all the problems are being concentrated in one area. Not good for decent residents!


9 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of another community
on Jul 16, 2018 at 2:19 am

"There are also health and safety standards that the city might find itself liable for."

How about general liability? Suppose someone is injured or their R.V. is vandalized on city property? If someone falls and breaks their hip on city property, they'll find a do-gooder attorney who will work on a pro-bono basis to haul the city into court in the blink of an eye, your tax dollars at work.

"Mark Dinan, whose yard backed up to the Weeks Street RV encampment, said the dwellers brought human waste, drugs, trash and prostitution."

Enough said.

The presence of security guards doesn't inspire confidence. In Palo Alto, railroad crossing guards wound up burglarizing surrounding residences.

The more amenities you provide for these R.V. dwellers, the more of a magnet EPA (or whatever city) becomes for them.

I don't see this working as well in practice as the pipe dream the proponents envision, and I don't see it as being a temporary stopgap until these people find permanent housing.


4 people like this
Posted by Rob
a resident of Atherton
on Jul 16, 2018 at 5:55 am

[Post removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by AllYouCanEat
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 16, 2018 at 9:19 am

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 16, 2018 at 12:40 pm

[Post removed.]


6 people like this
Posted by Homeless in PA
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 16, 2018 at 1:43 pm

I've got an Air Stream trailer that I've been planning to have transported to friend's empty lot in South Palo Alto.

Can I reside there without getting hassled? My friend says that I can live on the property for free.


Like this comment
Posted by Rob
a resident of Atherton
on Jul 16, 2018 at 8:26 pm

^ I don't see why that would be an issue...then again, it's Palo Alto. PAPD loves harassing people.


1 person likes this
Posted by Riding a Swing at Peers Park
a resident of Southgate
on Jul 17, 2018 at 8:18 am

^^^^ Trailer probably OK if parked in a private driveway or in the backyard.

>>>The presence of security guards doesn't inspire confidence. In Palo Alto, railroad crossing guards wound up burglarizing surrounding residences.

It doesn't 'inspire' much confidence in HR regarding the hiring/screening process.


4 people like this
Posted by LivesNearElC
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 18, 2018 at 10:51 am

@Maurice, I really like this idea over the current blight of all the RVs lined up on El Camino. I mean, it has really gotten out of control!

I was just driving through Ventura neighborhood and noticed the new signage around the Park that prohibits parking from 2am - 6am specifically for RVs, tent trailers, cabover campers, etc. Guess what, no RVs are parked there anymore.

I'm really happy to see that a solution is being provided and hope that El Camino Real can be allowed to adopt a similar time limit on parking.

Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by Midlander
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 18, 2018 at 10:54 am

Midlander is a registered user.

If I understand the numbers correctly, that's $300,000 for 20 RVs for one year. So $15,000 per RV per year.

To me that seems kind of high for the very limited assistance being provided. Is it a problem of scale? If the city supported 50 RVs, would the cost per RV be much lower?

Or to look at it differently, is there another way of spending $15,000 per RV per year that would help the owners more effectively?


8 people like this
Posted by Ravenswood
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 18, 2018 at 11:44 am

This is great - Remember all we are dealing with Human Beings! And for those who cite security concerns, the EPA Police Station is literally 200 yards away down the street.


22 people like this
Posted by REMINDER
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 18, 2018 at 1:21 pm

Please make sure ALL of those RVs and junky vehicles from El Camino Real and other streets move into this new location.


5 people like this
Posted by Asphalt Mafia
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 18, 2018 at 2:42 pm

Open the gates and get those vehicles off our streets!


2 people like this
Posted by Riding a Swing at Peers Park
a resident of Southgate
on Jul 18, 2018 at 2:56 pm

> "Please make sure ALL of those RVs and junky vehicles from El Camino Real and other streets move into this new location."

Space permitting, some of them are welcome to park in my neighborhood. It's fun watching some of my 'newbie' neighbors gloat about their aspiring RE valuations while complaining about the excessive property taxes.

Prop 13 baby...my house = $1500/year to the county. My yuppie neighbors = roughly $30K. The joke's on them. Welcome to the new PA.






1 person likes this
Posted by Michael Vilain
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 18, 2018 at 3:22 pm

If East Palo Alto can do this for the RVers, why can't SF's transit agency do this for their drivers who live in RVs during the week (and drive home to Sacto and beyond)?


Like this comment
Posted by Paly Grad
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jul 18, 2018 at 4:49 pm

The Santa Clara County Transportation Authority drivers are facing a similar problem:

Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by Riding a Swing at Peers Park
a resident of Southgate
on Jul 18, 2018 at 5:35 pm

>If East Palo Alto can do this for the RVers, why can't SF's transit agency do this for their drivers who live in RVs during the week (and drive home to Sacto and beyond)?

>The Santa Clara County Transportation Authority drivers are facing a similar problem:

Uh...maybe it's because our local elected officials aren't all that visionary when it comes to solving & addressing 'real' issues/problems.

For many of them, these elected positions are merely a 'stepping stone' to higher political aspirations (i.e. city councilmember --> county supervisor --> state assemblyman and so on).

The banquet circuit has its rewards & one makes a lot of connections along the way.







11 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 18, 2018 at 11:43 pm

Sanctimonious City is a registered user.

RV actually stands for recurring votes.

Rather than be accountable to current residents, the political class will just import new voters. An RV park gives the tenants a permanent address and the politicians a permanent, highly scalable, forever-dependent block of constituents.

For those that live in single family homes, they will soon never be able to generate a large enough majority to pass growth limiting referendums.

Developer money + RV tenant dependency = permanent incumbency

It's brilliant. Basically the same strategy the globalists came up with for open borders but at a local level.


6 people like this
Posted by No Wise
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 19, 2018 at 12:47 am

“If East Palo Alto can do this for the RVers”

That’s an enormous IF. Let’s revisit this discussion in December, then again in April and next October. Will this location become a magnet for vehicle-dwellers throughout the peninsula?




4 people like this
Posted by Not the solution
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 19, 2018 at 1:01 pm

I was not permitted to like some of the above comments.

I doubt this is a real solution, sadly. Likely this will attract numerous persons who refuse to abide by standard shelter rules, doubt this will benefit EPA.....


Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 19, 2018 at 1:40 pm

I love the idea of all those RVs moving north to a neighboring county.

If I were a resident of that county, however, I would love for those RVs to move to a different county. RVs are "the pestilence that walketh in darkness".

Sadly, RVs seem to be the future of BMR housing. Perhaps we should be thinking about some other way to provide affordable housing.


2 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of another community
on Jul 20, 2018 at 2:37 am

"I really like this idea over the current blight of all the RVs lined up on El Camino."

Of course you like the idea. Palm the RV dwellers off to an abandoned lot in EPA and let somebody else deal with the squalor. They don't pay property tax so they contribute nothing to the Santa Clara County tax base.

"The Santa Clara County Transportation Authority drivers are facing a similar problem"

It's not just bus drivers who can't afford to live here. It's basically anyone who isn't a Silicon Valley tycoon.

I still think EPA is asking for more trouble with this idea than they reckon on.


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