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Palo Alto looks to launch 'safe parking' program for people living in cars

Original post made on Sep 10, 2020

A parking lot near the Palo Alto Baylands would be transformed into a temporary haven for people living in cars under a proposal that the City Council will consider Monday night.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, September 10, 2020, 11:27 AM

Comments (20)

Posted by VS
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 10, 2020 at 4:21 pm

VS is a registered user.

Great to hear Palo Alto making progress on this. One small step for humankind.

Can the author please clarify who they are referring to when they say, "the non-profit"?

Posted by hkatrs
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 11, 2020 at 10:34 am

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It is great to hear Palo Alto is 'stepping up' to help the poor people who have to live in their cars to be able to get to their jobs in the area!

Now, what about the affordable housing projects? What's happening at the old Fry's location? A perfect location for Affordable Housing and a Supportive Community of Internet Resources for Students, Personal Finance Coaching for Adults and Teens, Fresh Vegetables & Fruit, No Junk Food, Etc.. Palo Alto has resources to do everything possible to support all kinds of needs to help people prosper and feel like they matter!

Posted by Suspect This Will Have Little or No Impact
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Sep 11, 2020 at 12:05 pm

Suspect This Will Have Little or No Impact is a registered user.

There is a strange dance here between what the CA Supreme Court seems to think is ok (spending the night in a parked car) and the realities we are facing.

Our office has about 20 on-street parking spots. For the past 10 years between 14 and 16 of these spots have been occupied by four different RV squatters (3RVs/Trailers) and a dozen or so cars that the RV owners use/store on the street.

CPA has told us on various occasions that:
* These squatters are not a CPA Council priority
* As long as they move once every 72 hours they are within the law (CA Supreme Court)
* CPA does not have resources to tow the offending squatters
* We are not being compassionate

On occasion, we have chatted with the squatters and here is thier take: Firstly, they feel they are owed these public spaces and that our staff and clients have no right to use them. Secondly, they only get hassled by the PAPD once or twice a year, so no big deal. Third, they know that even if they are ticketed, PAPD will not tow as there are no tow companies willing to rig up an occupied RV due to hassle and fact that the cost to tow & store is not compensated by what they get when they sell unclaimed RVs.

So the issue as we see it is, having a "Safe Place" will not result in these RV folks moving thier squatting RVs and motor pools to a new location as there is ZERO downside to staying put.

I cannot believe that the CA Supreme Court envisioned this type of abuse of public streets when they agreed that its ok to sleep in your car in one location for 72 hours at a time.

Posted by David Page
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 11, 2020 at 1:14 pm

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Thanks to everyone involved! It's not enough, but perhaps there's a possible pathway for expansion? It's so nice to see lots of hard work paying off.

Posted by Alice Schaffer Smith
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 11, 2020 at 2:34 pm

Alice Schaffer Smith is a registered user.

This is one step in the right direction. Why not also look at the parking garages in downtown Palo Alto, much like the program that was run in Santa Barbara and other cities. There it would be more sheltered in the wintertime. I would ask that noise and lighting be kept to a minimum with real enforcement (cameras and community social workers intervening if needs be) because this is an important avian and animal area so the parking lots next to bird sanctuaries need to be very carefully calibrated. Personally, I would make this very temporary and find a better location in more urban, less pastoral regions. In any event a necessary interim step.

Posted by marc665
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 11, 2020 at 2:58 pm

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How about we make it mandatory that all members of the city council, the city manager and all members of the community in favor of people living in their cars have to host at least two vehicles in front of or on their own property.


Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 11, 2020 at 4:14 pm

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"So the issue as we see it is, having a "Safe Place" will not result in these RV folks moving thier squatting RVs and motor pools to a new location as there is ZERO downside to staying put. "

Good point. Perhaps we should be pairing this effort with stepped up enforcement of *existing* parking and traffic laws.

Imagine that.

Of course this is Santa Clara County, where the local government expects someone else to enforce the rules they put in place.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 11, 2020 at 5:02 pm

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I strongly oppose this. It will be an ecological disaster so close to the Baylands, a fire risk, and a crime risk to nearby Palo Alto residential neighborhoods. How dare the city let the county demand this? This is not near police, public health, employment services. A rotating group of vehicles, difficult to supervise, will people panhandled up at the 101 freeway entrances? There is dry brush nearby.
There is the Opportunity Center, a good location on EC Real for transit, central for frequent police support; a bad location so close to Palo Alto High School.
I see zero logic in this location.
Will these be transients or those working in trades up on Stanford construction projects? What IS the basis for this. I am VERY disappointed in the City of Palo Alto.

Posted by Mariluz
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 11, 2020 at 7:14 pm

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Is this the best we can do? Is this just a temporary situation with plans to offer these people/families affordable housing in the near future? How is it possible that in a place of so much wealth, so many are living in cars? It's very upsetting.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 11, 2020 at 8:46 pm

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Are these local people who have been laid off? Did they receive severence? Or were they fired for cause? What choices/behaviors have occurred?

What happens when word spreads and more random persons/ vehicles arrive and demand parking there?

Not to mention I object to the location, the plan is also illogical and not viable.

Public health and public safety and public finances must be considered by our politicians, also.

Are they transients - or workers choosing to commute over here from great distances? Are they employed?

It isn’t practical for taxpayers to be required to offer free parking or housing to anyone claiming to want it.
What IS the basis?

Those with felony criminal records, severe drug use, mental illness require social services help. They pose a risk to nearby residential PA and EPA neighborhoods.

These persons aren’t entitled to drive into a random place and demand free housing or endless parking of a motor vehicle.

If they’re seeking a mobile home park, there are various ones including on Borregas in SV/Santa Clara area.

Do not allow them to endanger themselves and others panhandling by 101. We ALL have seen able bodied men who panhandle from various medians, like ECR/Alma at tines, this is NOT reported income nor viable or appropriate “work.”

What efforts for educational or work skills improvement have been taken? Have they signed up for counseling?

Have they requested assistance from proven charities like the Salvation Army, Goodwill, Catholic Charities? Activity must be required.

If they cannot afford a house or apartment currently in this local area, what is the point of demanding this here? There are cheap apartments in Newark, San Jose, not to mention Stockton, etc.

Or are we supposed to provide free housing to anyone showing up randomly in this city or county.
This area is built up, mostly contains a highly educated, professional workforce. The likelihood of landing a tech job may not be feasible.

How are they spending their time? Our police and county services are necessarily going to have to oversee such parking lots. In past, trash, misbehavior and public threats to children occurred at Cubberley Community Center when a similar practice was allowed.

We currently have a huge risk of wildfire if anyone tosses their cigarette.

I’d love to live in Pacific Palisades but can’t as I’m not an overpaid entertainment industry person or NBA player.
Nothing wrong with aspiring to live somewhere, to work somewhere, but it helps to be realistic.

Posted by Affordable housing is not affordable
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 11, 2020 at 9:05 pm

Affordable housing is not affordable is a registered user.

@Mariluz it is upsetting. It's awful to live in a place with so little socioeconomic diversity and it's awful that people resort to living in their cars. But it's a hard problem to solve because subsidized housing is very expensive. It cost the city around $40 million for 117 affordable units at Buena Vista and $20 million for 59 units at Wilton Court, about $340,000 per unit. Based on that, how many units should we build and where should we get the money? A business tax can help but we also have a very expensive (hundreds of millions of dollars) train project being forced on us. What can we do? FWIW, I think the best way to drive down prices is to make this place less desirable. It's too bad for the current residents, but no one likes Palo Altans anyway so it's a workable strategy. The astronomical housing prices help. The fires help. The retail-free "downtown" helps. Telecommuting helps (people don't need to live near work). And the school degradation helps. With all that, housing should get more affordable but not quickly enough. So then what? At this point you might say "Well what about Larry and Sergey and Zuck and whoever?". Should a billionaire donate money so that more people can afford to live in Palo Alto? Or should they use that same amount of money to help 100x more people who are in much graver situations? I just don't know how to build affordable housing here anywhere close to the scale that we should have. I'm not sure anyone does.

Posted by Shwonder Sharikov
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 11, 2020 at 9:14 pm

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There is a reason I don't live in Malibu - I can't afford it. Should I pack my stuff into my car go there and expect a camping place?

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 13, 2020 at 10:27 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Please make sure that the areas that are designated as parking areas are free from overgrowth of vegetation and dead vegetation. We are now at the time when plants are dying and need to be removed. The whole shoreline area has a lot of overgrowth now for the bird population along the waterways but if you have people in the area then clear the area before you let in people. We do not need a fire that starts in the 101 east area that will jump 101 to the residential area. Start at the local level - that is where the fires in Oregon are starting.

Posted by CR
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 13, 2020 at 9:22 pm

CR is a registered user.

I am glad the council is addressing this issue. Clearly, letting our neighborhoods turn into de facto RV parks is misguided.

My wife and our dog were recently attacked by an off-leash pit bull owned by a man who has been living in his minivan in the heart of downtown Palo Alto for two years. Police were aware of the man's living in his van and, despite his having a violent criminal history, being arrested in downtown before, being notorious for having his pit bull off-leash and intimidating residents, having expired registration on his vehicle and leaving his vehicle in a permit parking zone for two years, they were powerless to move him on, as his vehicle was deemed a residence. My wife and dog's serious injuries (which landed them both in emergency hospitals) were a foreseeable result of this man's living in his van but, extraordinarily, even after the attack, the police could still do nothing to move the man along.

For me, this experiences crystalized the absurdity of the current policy of letting people camp indefinitely in their cars in Palo Alto.

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 13, 2020 at 10:30 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

That comment above is shocking. That means that the tax paying residents of the city are at the lowest rung of consideration for what any one would consider as common sense rules. I am tired of what ever group of people have created this type of atmosphere. I am tired of the police being hamstrung when trying to protect the residents from people who have a record. We need to flesh out the people who are running for the PACC open seats and get a clear reading on how they are approaching this type of activity. Also if a "Commission" is hampering how we run business in this city.

Posted by Lauren Williams
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 14, 2020 at 6:40 am

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I know one of the families who are presently living in RVs along ECR. The family includes 4 school aged children. The family selected the location because one parent lost a job when Stanford shut down and is hopeful the position will be reinstated and the family's income will bounce back. Providing this family with a place to safe park, with access to facilities and support would possibly allow them to transition back to stable housing. Isn't this the hope we all should have for all families experiencing financial devastation due to job loss? I fully support this initiative by the city.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 14, 2020 at 8:37 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Lauren above bring up an excellent point about Stanford University -- its responsibility for the RV's. In the past, we had their construction workers parking up and down El Camino because the local motels were too expensive and Stanford evidently wasn't doing anything to accommodate those workers except to move them on the days of the big games.

This is a serious question: you've got the Stanford's whose incredible growth and construction brings these RV's in good times and bad, you've got the "gig economy" companies like DoorDash, Uber, Lyft etc. whose workers get no benefits, no unemployment and have no security.

You've also got the city governments doing nothing to stop the destruction of rent-controlled apartments and places like The President Hotel in their rush to replace them with high-priced rentals, corporate "villages" and luxury hotels.

When are those big institutions going to start doing THEIR share instead of pushing all the burdens of their policies onto the taxpayers?

Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 14, 2020 at 10:40 am

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Lauren Williams, Why do you think this family will leave ECR? Do you think they want to stay in a gigantic parking lot instead of looking out at green soccer fields? And, if they move, some other RV will fill that space. It would be better to work with a non-profit that can bring in mini houses. Maybe there could be a communal kitchen and bathroom. This can be temporary until these people, especially with children, can get back on their feet. I don't think having a trailer park up and down ECR is a healthy situation for these RV dwellers and clumping them all together in a parking lot is even worse. Until the city has a no overnight parking ordnance, we will just be adding more RV's to the hundreds we already have in the city. What are we trying to accomplish with the creation of this "safe parking" program?

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 14, 2020 at 12:01 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

No other city has RV's on El Camino. How did we end up in that situation? It is unbelievably unhealthy. We have a high school across the street, and many groups rent the fields for their club matches. That is a high traffic area for people and yet there they are - RV's sitting there in various stages of repair. What is worse there is no place I can see where the sanitation is addressed - where do they empty the toilet container. If SU is allowing the parking for temporary workers on their projects then those RV's need to be on their property in the back side where the construction equipment is parked. They can have a bathroom, showers, and toilet refuse area for those workers. What they are doing now is offloading those people and their RV's onto the general public. They are making their capital construction activities and cost a city expense. From where I am sitting that is illegal and needs to stop. Why do we keep doing this?

Posted by Mama
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 14, 2020 at 2:39 pm

Mama is a registered user.

If you offer it, they will come. And more will come...take a look at the homeless problem in S.F. In the olden days, families and churches stepped up to help in these situations. Now the local and state governments have decided to solve the problem. Doesn’t anyone notice that services and concessions like this are an attractant?

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