Palo Alto Weekly
News - June 29, 2012
Only one Palo Alto church offers parking to car campers
City, businesses don't want to provide space to people who live in their cars, either
by Sue Dremann
Out of 42 Palo Alto churches, only one congregation is offering its parking lot so that people who live in their cars can get off the streets.
City officials are likewise not offering public land as a place for vehicle dwellers to park overnight, Curtis Williams, director of planning and community environment, told about 40 people at a community meeting Tuesday night, June 26.
He said the city had hoped to start a pilot program with at least three churches, but out of seven that responded, only one offered. About three cars would be allowed to stay in a church or business parking lot, but restroom facilities would also be needed, he said.
First Presbyterian Church on Cowper Street was the only church that agreed to host the campers. But Rus Kosits, a pastoral resident, said the number and tenor of negative emails he received took him aback.
"I was shocked at the level of vitriol and trumped-up concerns," he said. He was concerned that other churches might not want to participate out of fear of similar reactions.
Eileen Altman, pastor at the First Congregational Church of Palo Alto on Louis Road, said her church said "no" to the pilot but would be interested in participating in a permanent program. Providing a portable toilet for the pilot program could be a problem.
Kosits chided the churches for their poor or tentative responses.
"We are waiting with our 'Yes, what's next?' rather than a 'No, I'm not sure,'" he said.
The parking-lot plan would allow persons to sleep overnight in cars, campers or trailers in a church parking lot with the following provisions:
* Written permission of the owner.
* No more than three vehicles at any one time.
* Each vehicle would be parked no closer than 20 feet from residential property.
* The vehicles must have valid licenses and registration.
* The property owner has sole control over the parking and must furnish vehicle owners with guidelines.
* Bathrooms must be made available.
* Parking must be free.
* The Downtown Streets Team would provide limited security.
Williams said the city also reached out to businesses through the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Business Improvement District but received no responses.
The City Council's Policy and Services Committee also did not want city properties involved. There could be costs associated with the plan, and the committee did not want to add new expenses with current budget constraints, he said.
City staff plan to make a recommendation to the Policy and Services Committee regarding the issue July 10, he said.
In addition to the parking-lot concept, Williams presented three other options: restrictions on overnight parking, such as a ban from 2 to 5 a.m.; a previously proposed ordinance prohibiting vehicle habitation on public streets or at public sites; or no change in regulations but adding social-services outreach.
The issue of people living in their cars came to a head after one man parked several vans in the College Terrace neighborhood long term. Irritation over that situation led others to voice complaints of public urination and other problems caused by people living in their cars. But many car campers said the problems are created by only a handful of troublemakers.
In response, the city last year proposed a ban on living in vehicles. Palo Alto is the only local city without such an ordinance, Assistant City Attorney Donald Larkin has said. People who live in their cars and advocates for the homeless quickly criticized the proposed ordinance and have sought alternate measures, including the parking-lot plan and working with police to identify troublemakers.
The Downtown Streets Team, a Palo Alto nonprofit organization that employs formerly homeless people, has offered to supply the outreach for either the parking-lot program or as part of the social-services alternative.
Chris Richardson of the Downtown Streets Team said parking-lot programs in Eugene, Ore., and Ventura, Calif., have been effective. Forty-two percent of people who lived in their cars entered transitional or permanent housing in Ventura.
Former deputy public defender Aram James said an ordinance that would fine car campers would cause greater costs than just to the homeless. Enforcement is costly to the district attorney's office and the Department of Corrections.
Attorney Joy Ogawa recommended Palo Alto adopt a no-overnight-parking ordinance similar to Menlo Park's. She herself had a run-in with a homeless man, resulting in a rock crashing through her window, and voiced dismay over the lack of a resolution of the car-camping problem.
In 2008, city officials said an ordinance would be brought to the council by that December.
"I just think the city has to take responsibility and do something," she said.
Palo Alto attorney Owen Byrd said the poor showing of the 42 churches can't be blamed on city efforts. To get people engaged takes multiple attempts, and a city staff with limited resources can't be expected to do all of the work, he said. He encouraged people to become engaged.
Williams agreed it would take public effort to make the parking-lot program happen.
"If something stimulates that extra effort, we'd love to see it work. If there isn't enough interest in it, we don't have the resources to do it on our own," he said after the meeting.
Williams said he would probably give churches and businesses more time to volunteer for the parking-lot pilot program before shelving the idea.
"I can't see it being longer than six months. At some point in time you have to make the call," he said.
Absent support for the parking-lot option, city staff would probably favor the social-services option, he said.
Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Phil,
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 29, 2012 at 10:42 pm
Tony, there is absolutely no denial on my part. Just accepting my responsibility and expect others to do the same. My parents were European immigrants who moved to San Francisco. They did not speak English, but they did teach me to value education, have a strong work ethic, and to respect other people and their property. Many would say that our life was at the poverty level by even today's standard, but they accepted humble employment and saw it as an opportunity. We never accepted public assistance. If there were more needs, the solution was to work harder. Anything less would be compromising one's self-respect and honor. We also did our best to make positive, productive choices in life that would prevent us from achieving our goals.
I took advantage of the public education that was offered and worked hard even though I was never the best student. I worked multiple jobs through high school in order to pay for college, and with that I received a graduate degree. As a young engineer I worked tirelessly to gain experience and credibility. I was able to invest in a small property in Palo Alto, and later moved to a larger home as our family grew. I started with nothing, zero. The odds were stacked against us as poor immigrants, but we persisted and succeeded the old fashioned way, we earned it.
Palo Alto has become a highly desirable place to live due its location, proximity to Stanford and other resources, nationally recognized school system, beautiful neighborhoods, and the many advantages that it has to offer. The housing and rental markets reflect that as well. It costs more to live in Palo Alto because of what it has to offer. The people who live and own homes here pay for that privilege with a high real estate market and property tax rates. I believe that I am like most Palo Altans, and resent being characterized as someone who was born into money or just had everything handed over to me. Nothing could be further from the truth. Again Tony, the only thing that society owes you is an opportunity to succeed. How someone takes advantage of that opportunity lies solely in their hands. Ultimately the decisions you make will dictate the life that you lead.
So for all these reasons, no, not everyone can afford to live in Palo Alto, just like I can't afford to live in Atherton. It's something called reality. You have to earn your lot in life. No one is entitled to live wherever they want to just because it's something they desire. Again, it has to be earned. No one owes you anything and there are other more affordable communities where people can begin their life. Remember, like many others, we started living in poverty. We got out by working hard and not expecting others to bail us out. We were not special, exceptionally talented, or blessed with advantages, so excuse me if I'm not too sympathetic. I'm just expecting more people to try and do the same.
To answer your questions specifically, let me state emphatically that I never once called for homeless people to be banished from Palo Alto or anywhere else. That is a lie plain and simple. I am very proud of our cities track record, as well as my personal efforts to volunteer at outreach programs, make charitable donations, as well as provide job training skills for those in need. I know and respect the human experience that many of these people are enduring. With that assistance, I also expect an equal balance of expectation and higher personal standards. True change will only occur when people begin to take on that responsibility.
On your other question, yes, absolutely many of the good folks working at Whole Foods and many other establishments here in Palo Alto are hard working people. With that said, no, nobody has the "right" to live in Palo Alto. Living in Palo Alto, or wherever you choose to live, has to be something that you can afford and have the ability to achieve. It's not a right or an entitlement. It's something that has to be earned. Something that people made many sacrifices in order to achieve, so if you're expecting society just to hand over a house or an apartment to you then you're not only unrealistic but delusional as well.
Again, I've never called for the homeless to be banished from our midst. I work with and currently employ many people who once lived on the street. I've always felt that many deserve a hand, just not a handout. I accept the existence of the Opportunity Center and the many other homeless outreach programs that our city plays host to and funds with tax payer contributions. I also acknowledge and honor the many private donations that are made by Palo Alto citizens to these organizations.
All I'm asking for Tony is that other cities in our region share some of the burden, because quite frankly, to take on anything more like a mobile shelter would be just unfair. People are willing to help, but as a community we do have to deal with considerable problems with the homeless being involved in activity that compromises and effects our overall quality of life. I'm not saying all, but certainly a disproportionate number, and it's getting old.
Posted by Tony,
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 30, 2012 at 1:11 am
Why kind abode did you live in growing up?
What did your parents do for work and how much of their income went to housing?
Phil you state, "No one is entitled to live wherever they want to just because it's something they desire. Again, it has to be earned."
Then you contradict yourself by stating, "let me state emphatically that I never once called for homeless people to be banished from Palo Alto or anywhere else."
"Again, I've never called for the homeless to be banished from our midst."
Actually Phil when you state that no one is entitled to live wherever the want, you are stating that they are not allowed to continue to live in America unless they earn it and since they are not earning according to you, they should be removed because they can't earn the privilege to live here.
Then to the question regarding whether or not "Whole Foods" workers should be allowed to live where they work. Phil you state: "With that said, no, nobody has the "right" to live in Palo Alto. Living in Palo Alto, or wherever you choose to live, has to be something that you can afford and have the ability to achieve. It's not a right or an entitlement."
You love that word "entitlement" don't you Phil?
THERE YOU HAVE IT EVERYBODY, BLATANT DISCRIMINATION, PHIL BELIEVES THAT HE'S ENTITLED, THAT HE SHOULD NOT HAVE TO LIVE NEXT DOOR TO PEOPLE WHO CUT HIS FISH, CLEAN HIS PRODUCE, CHOP HIS BEEF, BAKE HIS PIES AND BREW HIS COFFEE BECAUSE HE'S SUPERIOR TO AND BETTER THEN THEM AND BECAUSE HE'S AN ENGINEER WITH A COLLEGE EDUCATION WHICH MAKES HIM A GOOD PERSON UNLIKE THE LOW WAGE COOKS AND SUCH.
Where should the employees from Whole Foods and other retailers live Phil?
What would happen to Palo Alto if all of the low wage employees of all of the local businesses moved to Nevada and no new employees came to replace them?
I bet you dollars to donuts that the landowners and business owners and the developers and city leaders would come together on how to figure out how to provide a living wage for those who provide numerous essential services.
Phil then you state, "so if you're expecting society just to hand over a house or an apartment to you then you're not only unrealistic but delusional as well."
Did anybody ask for a house or apartment, Phil, I don't think so?
The homeless are not asking for anything from you Phil, just their right to exist in America.
Obviously you don't believe they have a right to exist in America because they don't have a college education.
That's where you are in some kind of delusion Phil. Suppose everyone was as brilliant as you and everyone became an engineer or a doctor or an astronaut. Who would take out the garbage?
Tell me Phil, if push came to shove, what percentage of Americans could build themselves a viable and decent home in the mold of Lincoln's Log Cabin?
Don't give me so long winded b.s. about obtaining and using modern materials and building techniques compliant with current safely codes which have been around for less then 0.0000001 percent of human existence.
We know the answer don't we Phil, even if you don't want to admit it. The majority of American's could build themselves a decent structure for their families to live in, in less then six months.
Once built, their time is freed up, (Liberty), to pursue all the other things of life.
You stated, "the only thing that society owes you is an opportunity to succeed," you are mistaken Phil, society nor the U.S. Constitution owes us that. The Constitution owes us our Constitutional Rights something that you want to take away from the homeless.
Based upon your statements Phil, you believe that only Engineers, Doctors, Lawyers, Professors and the like should be allowed to own homes and live in close proximately to where they work and that all other Americans should shove it.
I believe that everyone should bear the fruit of their labor without being forced to perpetually hand over 70, 80 and 90 percent of their incomes to someone else just to live I a box.
Some estimates place the full-time working homeless as high as 40% of the homeless population. One of those individuals is living in white mini-van next to your house right now and you don't even know it.
You keep blaming the victims for the economic cause to homelessness, the "out-of-whack" shortage in supply of housing related to demand.
I do agree with you in one respect, despite appearances of successes, funding should be pulled from the majority of homeless and other services that provide subsidized housing and shelter for that only perpetuates the problem by not allowing the market to correct itself by building a surplus of housing everywhere there are jobs.
But you and your neighbors don't like that and will not want that because your property values will go down.
And now we are at the root of the problem Phil. GREED.
Currently on Craigslist there are about 55 to 60 units of housing available in Palo Alto. If there were consistently 500 to a 1,000 units of housing: studios, 1 bedrooms, 2 bedrooms, small homes and condos available most of the homeless including the drunks would disappear into the woodwork availability.
But you and your like minded neighbors will not allow that to happen because you are putting your greed of a few thousand dollars in property value above the necessity of others, as a result they and the community as a whole suffers.
Instead of bringing people together as a community it tears them apart.