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Suit threatened over city's car-camping ban

Original post made on Nov 18, 2013

A group of Palo Alto attorneys is threatening to sue the city over a recently adopted ban on vehicle habitation, a law that they claim effectively criminalizes homelessness and that is far more draconian than car-dwelling restrictions in other jurisdiction.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, November 18, 2013, 4:39 PM

Comments (49)

Posted by Phil, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 18, 2013 at 5:10 pm

No worries. Law suit away if you'd like. San Francisco, Berkeley, and Santa Cruz are three of the most open and liberal cities in the country. They have all have overnight camping/parking bans which have all been tested and successfully defended in a civil court. Like I said, no worries. It also leaves me to think how quick one of these attorneys crying foul would be the first to call the police if someone was sleeping in a car in front of their house every night. A perfect example of compassionate and open when convenient. If they're that concerned, then these attorneys and advocates should open up their personal driveways and homes to give these folks somewhere to sleep.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 18, 2013 at 5:25 pm

Craig Laughton is a registered user.

"A group of Palo Alto attorneys is threatening to sue the city over a recently adopted ban on vehicle habitation..."

Go ahead and let them threaten. Then PA can counter sue them (the lawyers) for bringing a frivolous lawsuit. Palo Alto must make a stand, and not back off. It is a simple issue.


Posted by Perry mason, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 18, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Seems that Craig is against our democratic process. He does not like the fact that a lawsuit is being considered by opponents of the law. They have the right to bring a lawsuit. Seems that Craig is the one that is threatening-- threatening a counter suit. The issue is not a " frivolous" one,nor us it a " simple" one. Our democracy allows the use of the courts to address these matters. Let the judges decide if the suit gas merit, not a disgruntled resident who benefits from welfare.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 18, 2013 at 5:46 pm

Craig Laughton is a registered user.

>He does not like the fact that a lawsuit is being considered by opponents of the law. They have the right to bring a lawsuit.

Actually, I think it was to be expected. I just want PA to able to bring a counter suit against the attorneys that bring it (pro bono or not), because it is a frivolous suit. Those attorneys should be expected to pay all the court costs (and then some), if they lose.


Posted by Phil, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 18, 2013 at 5:47 pm

Like I said, let them file a suit. Based on how similar suits have fared in cities far more liberal than Palo Alto it is doomed to fail. I believe in the democratic process and will not discourage anyone from pursuing their interest. I'm also confident that this same process coupled with common sense and logic will prevail. That ordinance isn't going anywhere, but go ahead and do what you have to do.


Posted by Perry mason, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 18, 2013 at 5:54 pm

Craig-- it is not your call whether it is a frivolous suit or not. You are not a lawyer and not a judge. Do you think that you will intimidate the lawyers with threats of a counter suit? The decision of who pays what will be up to the courts [portion removed.]


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 18, 2013 at 6:07 pm

Craig Laughton is a registered user.

>Craig-- it is not your call whether it is a frivolous suit or not. You are not a lawyer and not a judge.

I would hope that you realize what you just said. I am a citizen, and I can call it what I want...I don't need to be a lawyer or judge. I can promote my city to counter sue against frivolous laws suits. The last time I looked, it was called the First Amendment.


Posted by Perry mason, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 18, 2013 at 6:15 pm

Very funny, Craig. Do,you realize what you are saying? The determination of whether the lawsuit is frivolous is not your call-- it is the call of the courts. You can have your opinion, but you will have no say on the lawsuit. [Portion removed.]


Posted by Wondering?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2013 at 6:25 pm

Given that the voters recently overturned a zoning ordinance of the City Council(Measure D), wonder why these lawyers are not willing to put the matter to the voters? Remember, it's the voters who have to put up with these people living in front of their homes, and our parks.

Wonder why these lawyers are not willing to let the people decide--rather than a court proceeding that ignores the will of the people?


Posted by Perry mason, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 18, 2013 at 6:28 pm

Wondering-- why don't you collect signatures to put it on the ballot. How do you know what the courts decision will be and that it will be against the will of the people? Also remember that even if a California initiative passes, it does not mean it is constitutional.


Posted by Wondering?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2013 at 6:33 pm

> why don't you collect signatures to put it on the ballot.

Why should I? The law is appropriate. I don't want it changed. It's the lawyers who want it changed. They want to avoid letting the homeowners, and property owners, have a say in setting the standards for the safety of our streets, and neighborhoods.

Got to wonder if these people who are being championed by these lawyers were to start camping out on Stanford streets, and parking lots, if they would be run off, or arrested, by the Stanford authorities? If so--got to wonder just how hard these lawyers would work to sue Stanford to allow these people to trespass without Stanford's approval?


Posted by Perry mason, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 18, 2013 at 6:36 pm

Wondering-- Stanford is private property-- different from the public Palo Alto streets. If the lawyers think that the law is not constitutional , then Why bring it to a vote? They would still bring a suit based on the constitutional issues, so a vote would not decide anything.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 18, 2013 at 6:50 pm

Totally appropriate that the loser pays for all of the court costs and/or costs for bringing/defending the suit. A little skin in the game will either enhance the legal process, create a modification or will force one party to withdraw.

Put your money where your legal brain is.


Posted by litigious, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 18, 2013 at 7:00 pm

"Other attorneys involved in challenging the ban are William Abrams and Paul Johnson, both of the firm King & Spalding, Stanford University professors Juliet Brodie and Michele Dauber, Menlo Park-based attorney Jeff Koppelmaa, criminal attorney William Safford and Nick Selby. The group contends that the city's new ban is far too broad and that staff has misrepresented other cities' ordinances to the City Council before the vote."

Is this the same group filing claims against the Palo Alto School District? Web Link-


Posted by Wondering?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2013 at 7:02 pm

> Stanford is private property-- different from the public Palo Alto streets.

True, but Stanford has a lot of empty land--and it could help out these homeless, but letting them camp somewhere on the Campus. It would show a lot of compassion--and if they had them arrested, it would show just how good a neighbor Stanford is. But more to the point, these Stanford law types could spend some time on their home turf, not trying to interfere here in Palo Alto.


> If the lawyers think that the law is not constitutional ,
> then Why bring it to a vote?

Voting is the basis of democracy, isn't it?

> They would still bring a suit based on the constitutional issues,
> so a vote would not decide anything

They could, but if the people of Palo Alto were to overturn the Council's decision a second time--just think of the message that would send. But if the voters endorsed the law--think of the message that that would send to these so-called lawyers.

As to the law being unconstitutional--where in the Constitution does it say that people can live in the streets, and not be subject to the laws/ordinances of the municipal jurisdictions that they have chosen to set up camp?


Posted by litigious, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 18, 2013 at 7:03 pm

correct link: Web Link-


Posted by Perry mason, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 18, 2013 at 7:20 pm


"Voting is the basis of democracy, isn't it?"
It is, but as has been shown in the past, a vote by the majority does not mean that it is constitutional. As been shown for many of our states initiatives. But what is your point, then?

"They could, but if the people of Palo Alto were to overturn the Council's decision a second time--just think of the message that send. But if the voters endorsed the law--think of the message that that would send to these so-called lawyers."
Then start collecting signatures for a ballot measure. But once again just because the voters on something does not mean the courts will find it constitutional.
Do you have evidence to suggest that these lawyers are not properly licensed by the state bar? If so, then let's see it. Otherwise they are not "so-called" lawyers

"As to the law being unconstitutional--where in the Constitution does it say that people can live in the streets, and not be subject to the laws/ordinances of the municipal jurisdictions that they have chosen to set up camp?"
That is for the courts to decide.


Posted by real help, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2013 at 7:27 pm

It seems to me if these lawyers spent the same amount of time helping paying customers and gave the money to the displaced people, they could afford to find a more permanent place to stay. The time they are spending suing is just continuing the right to make it other people's problem. Why not just help people directly? Some of those people are temporarily homeless and may end up chronically homeless if they don't get help. Some of those people are chronically homeless because they can't get overcome the barriers to rise above. Some have circumstances that will never allow them to be independent, such as a disability (physical and/or mental). Seems to me, the lawyers would help them more by getting them through the system for assistance, medical and financial, to help them get medical care (physical and/or mental) and shelter. Helping people to NOT have to camp in their cars is harder than suing so they can.

I'm curious as to why, if one car camper needs to be near family, they don't sleep there at night? The house my father grew up in had over 20 people of different generations in 2 small, small rooms. They slept on mats on the floor, including the grandparents. It's not optimal, but it's better than a car in the cold. I can't imagine why family would let family live like that. It just seems like there must be other things going on - things the lawyers could help with.


Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 18, 2013 at 8:27 pm

The articles says the basis for the attorney's suit is "a law that they claim effectively criminalizes homelessness and that is far more draconian than car-dwelling restrictions in other jurisdiction."

Notice that they don't cite any constitutional basis for a lawsuit. Not one citation as to which article of the state or federal constitution, not one citation as to which amendment to the constitution.

Their argument is that the Palo Alto ordinance is different than the ordinance in another city. So what.

I also find it ironic, that they are citing a statement by Council Member Klein, who is also an attorney, as the basis for the lawsuit.


Posted by AB-5 Homelessness, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 18, 2013 at 9:31 pm

Homeless is now a protected class in California: Web Link=

"The bill would provide that every homeless person has the right, among others, to access public property, possess personal property, access public restrooms, clean water, educational supplies move freely, rest*, eat, share, accept, or give food or water"

"*Rest" means the state of not moving, holding certain postures that include, but are not limited to, sitting, standing, leaning, kneeling, squatting, sleeping, or lying."


Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 18, 2013 at 10:24 pm

Homeless is not yet a protected class; AB-5 has passed out committee but has not been scheduled for a vote (status is Adjournment sin die).

If AB-5 does pass, then many of the ordinances of the surrounding cities may be challenged as well.

If this ordinance is struck down, I also suspect some bright entrepreneur will make a business of getting a bunch of RVs, parking them on the street, and renting them out to the all the young tech professionals for half the price that an apartment costs to rent in our city.


Posted by kb, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 18, 2013 at 10:46 pm

Clearly the homeless should go park their vehicles in front of these attorneys' homes, as I'm sure they'd be welcomed with open arms, and perhaps even welcomed inside.


Posted by wondering, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 19, 2013 at 12:20 am

El Camino Real (Stanford side) has at least 10 campers parked day and night. It certainly doesn't seem to me that the overnight camping ban is being enforced.


Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 19, 2013 at 1:25 am

@wondering, looks like ban goes into effect Monday January 6. We'll see what happens.


Posted by Hulkamania, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 19, 2013 at 6:04 am

Is it really pro bono? Aren't they just betting on the come? If the lawyers win against the city they'll get a fat paycheck from the taxpayers.


Posted by boscoli, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 19, 2013 at 6:45 am

They way I see it, as long as financial institutions are still allowed to sell and trade junk mortgages, as long as not one Wall Street conman has gone to prison, car-camping should not be criminalized. Once the big criminals are punished, I'd be willing to deal with car-camping. Speaking of double standards, how interesting that the already existing leaf-blower ban ordinance isn't enforced, unrelated of course to the pressure by the manufacturers and landscape contractors, who promised demonstrations and hunger strikes in front of city hall if the ordinance is enforced.


Posted by Very Simple, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 19, 2013 at 7:23 am

If all of these attorneys and others are so concerned, they can open up their own personal property and have the homeless live there. We don't have that many homeless in Palo Alto that they couldn't all be accommodated in this easily by a small subset of ban opponents. That's what real generosity is-- giving of yourself to the less fortunate. Not morally preening and harassing the overwhelming majority of residents who don't want our city turned into an open-air homeless encampment, don't want the "San Franciscoization" of Palo Alto and are concerned about the safety of say, their kids (as mine do) going to preschool right next to a site of a homeless encampment.


Posted by Retired Teacher, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 19, 2013 at 9:29 am

I applaud Carrie Leroy and her coalition for challenging this ordinance. This incredibly well-off community with its sky-high home prices and outrageous rents should find ways to help people on the margins, not threaten them with fines and jail. Many of the so-called affordable housing projects are well out of the reach of the homeless--we need more places like 801 Alma. Meanwhile, we should find more humane ways to manage the problems that do often accompany homelessness.

The suggestion that anyone who is concerned about the homeless should take them into their own homes or let them camp out in front of their homes is clearly an attempt to confuse the issue. Taking care of the less fortunate is not just the job for a few concerned people. It's the responsibility of our entire society, and right now, we're doing a lousy job of it.


Posted by Enough!, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 19, 2013 at 10:21 am

I've had people living in front of my house. It was especially unsettling when my daughter was 2 years old and I couldn't let her play outside and had to keep the drapes closed because the guy would watch us. More unsettling when we would jugs of undefined liquid on the ground, some knocked over, between his vehicle and the curb. Totally unsettling when we came home once to find the guy having a seizure on our front door steps, with paramedics attending. Disgusting when I had to go out and clean up after both the medics and the homeless person, gloves, needles and booze bottles.

I wouldn't object if an area with a sort of rest stop with shower and toilets and cameras were to be established.

Meanwhile, the attorney's who brought the suit are welcome to offer their driveways to anybody they please!


Posted by Concerned Retiree, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 19, 2013 at 11:01 am

Homeless means that these people do not have a home, place to live. Therefore, they are NOT "residents" of Palo Alto and are not entitled to the same rights residents are. They are also not entitled to be a nuisance or a danger to said residents. If these lawyers bringing the suit feel so strongly about the plight of the homeless, they should work with non-profits -- the churches for example -- which pay no taxes because of their supposed public benefits and services and get them to cooperate in finding a solution.

I do not want a homeless family or persons living on my street and I am glad that the City Council has finally done something to see that this does not happen.


Posted by KP, a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 19, 2013 at 11:02 am

Let those attorneys open up their homes and driveways for the homeless!
Sorry, but I don't want the cars outside my home.


Posted by Elizabeth, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 19, 2013 at 11:03 am

Palo Alto is generally a well-educated community, however there seems to be a significant lack of compassion in evidence.

Perhaps it's time to offer some free classes (open to all ages) on the subject.

All of those who think this ban is fair and wise really need to open their hearts. Sending a check off to some distant place to help others doesn't buy you freedom from concern for those closer to home.

Get a heart!


Posted by Crescent Park Mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 19, 2013 at 11:10 am

It is annoying to me that these lawyers would waste city time and money with this. You should all be ashamed of yourselves. You don't have my support. The decision by the city was made. Its was a tough decision but the right one for our community.


Posted by Cur Mudgeon, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 19, 2013 at 11:14 am

Our neighborhood has a safer and cleaner ambience since the overnight parking ban at Cubberley has taken effect.

I say, keep the ban. A neighbor of ours had his vehicle ticketed for tow-away a few years ago, just because it was parked on the side of his home and he had not moved it for a few days. (corner location) If this can happen to a legitimate homeowner's vehicle, which was not an eyesore or harming anyone, why allow overnight camping, with all of its issues, on public streets?

A "Katrina village" is in order for those who need such facilities.


Posted by danos, a resident of another community
on Nov 19, 2013 at 11:36 am

Homeowners who actually have campers right outside their front doors no doubt find the situation completely unacceptable and intolerable. Those who feel otherwise should, as several have said, invite a homeless person to camp out in their driveways.

Unless you are directly impacted by this issue, you really have NO business expressing an opinion on it. Your opinion is irrelevant, because it doesn't affect you or yours.


Posted by Engineer, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 19, 2013 at 11:44 am

When Law schools graduate more "liars" that can be usefully employed, this is the results. They willing to do "Pro Bono " services for tax deduction and/or advertisement
They should pay an Up front fee and invite Folks in cars to their driveways and/or home


Posted by JoAnn, a resident of Ventura
on Nov 19, 2013 at 11:53 am

Another basic human need is elimation. If porta potties were installed in a few commercial (non-residential) areas, the cars would go there. I agree it doesn't solve the drug/alcohol problems though.

A lot of these people were Palo Alto residents until skunked out of their homes by the banksters or just going broke due to divorce, layoffs, etc. They shouldn't have to skulk away from their home town, too.

What I hear about shelters is they are dangerous and people get robbed there. Would all night security help? It might be cheaper to fund. Of course, those with cars would still need a place to park them.

I don't see that the RV's parked along Park Blvd. hurt anyone. I've ridden my scooter there many times and never seen an actual person, nor jugs of urine left at the curb.


Posted by Sensible, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 19, 2013 at 11:57 am

A real issue is simply taking a persons shelter, in this case a car, and depriving them of no other option for freedom from harm. If a city blankets a wholesale requirement then it should be at the forefront to provide an equal and opposite opportunity to balance the deprivation of a constitutional right. Even in a government shutdown when employees are deprived of their right to work and pay, they are latter paid what they are entitled to. Now I know that is a horrible example of entitlement for many who don't like that sort of thing, but this is one of the reasons people all over the world come to enjoy the rights Americans still have...


Posted by George "Kingfish" Stevens, a resident of another community
on Nov 19, 2013 at 12:02 pm

You have to get to end of the article to read that the pro bono attorneys "may be open at a future date to discuss alternative ordinances" while "noting that this might be the subject of settlement discussions".

Notice that the upaid attorneys who voluteered themselves are not saying whether their clients want to discuss alternative ordinances or engage settlement discussions. It's hard enought sometimes to get attorneys to represent what even paying clients want them to do.

Algonquin J. Calhoun: "Your honor, you have heard the prosecution tell you that my client is dishonest. Your honor, it's easy for him to say that because my client is a crook."


Posted by bobgnote, a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 19, 2013 at 12:17 pm

bobgnote is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 19, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Craig Laughton is a registered user.

>In their letter, the attorneys request a meeting with Stump by Dec. 5.

Stump should not take this meeting. She should prepare to enforce the law, as well as a counter suit against the frivolous suit, and attorneys that bring it.


Posted by Also Wondering..., a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 19, 2013 at 1:14 pm

Why haven't more churches stepped to the plate, to help out? Is it because most are in residential areas that would object to vans in their parking lots, or is it that the vehicle dwellers do cause severe problems, and as a result, the doors remain closed? Last I remembered, there was only one church that offered to help, prior to the council approving the ban.


Posted by Atheist, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2013 at 2:08 pm

@Also Wondering: Because they are hypocrites.

I think the sympathetic ones on this thread are the minority. Most people don't want homeless living in front of their houses.


Posted by resident, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 19, 2013 at 2:37 pm

The lawyers from Stanford should be working with the SU to allocate some area for the homeless. They can't sit as representatives for Stanford and sue a city if they are not impacted by the problem, or are not offering up a solution from the organization they represent. I think that is called a NIMBY - hah, hah - I hate that word but appropriate here.
As to Cubberley there were many complaints of behavior. We cannot have people who are dealing drugs and drunk in an area where children are - that is a bottom line for the city. We all are going to that library. There is a school there.

Perry Mason is from College Terrace - they were the biggest complainers on this problem - we enacted a law in part to help them out. For the homeless people who are citing that they want to be near their children why aren't the children helping their relatives? So many different spins on this topic for different individual problems but a lot of time and energy has been spent on this already and the decisions made.
We even approved some program a while back to help on this topic -- what ever happened to that - we provided a partial solution already. The lawyers have to figure out how to take advantage the program that we funded.


Posted by fed up, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 19, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Just another reason why we do NOT want Dauber on the School Board


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 19, 2013 at 3:01 pm

[Post removed.]


Posted by Edgarpoet, a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 19, 2013 at 11:03 pm

Edgarpoet is a registered user.

Being that I was on the working group that attempted to get the city
to adopt a positive alternative to Car dwelling, I can tell that it
was the city of Palo Alto that conspired NOT TO do anything positive.
In fact they jeapordized the program by requiring Churches to provide security, place portable toilets in parking lots and apply for a use permit
which is a costly, time consuming process, All to help only 3 car dwellers.
So , calling these Christians hypocrites is in fact just your ignorance
Sir Atheist! You should be aware of how your City Government operates
and why nothing gets accomplished in any reasonable time frame in Palo Alto.
Please stop bashing the Churches for impossible regulations that the city bureaucrats want to impose. The whole blame game that most of you
writers seem to be stuck on does NOT solve the problem of homelessness.
The issue here is HUMAN RIGHTS, and just because you may own property does NOT give you constitutional rights that poor folks are not entitled to.
You well to do people are blaming the victims for being victims!
Time to take a long look at yourselves in your mirror!


Posted by iSez, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 20, 2013 at 1:09 am

iSez is a registered user.

I wonder where Edgarpoet gets the idea that we have only 3 homeless people in Palo Alto. Plus, churches preach to help other people, and the hoops the City wants them to jump through are low to the ground (provide security, place portable toilets in parking lots and apply for a use permit). Three phone calls and it would be a done deal. The churches don't want the homeless on their grounds or they would have invited them.


Posted by Retired Teacher, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 20, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Retired Teacher is a registered user.

It's important to note that many churches do work with the homeless--rotating as shelters for homeless people at night, working as volunteers at food banks such as the one at All Saints in Palo Alto or Second Harvest, and being part of other efforts to help. It's also important to realize that when attorneys donate time in an effort like this, that time is valuable; their contributions are significant.

The issues this group is raising are important--not trivial, not frivolous. An ordinance that criminalizes what should be seen as an unfortunate situation that many people could fall into easily is not a good ordinance, in terms of compassion and in terms of likely effects. The City Council and Staff should look very carefully into the ordinances and experiences of surrounding communities and then revisit this ordinance.

Finally, it's a shame that many people commenting on this issue are so ready to dismiss the homeless as if they had no rights, as if they were all like the few who do cause problems, as if they were homeless because they did something wrong, were lazy, or were somehow inferior to others who are better off. What has happened to this city? Along with getting richer, we've gotten more intolerant and much less compassionate.

Thanks to this group for bringing these issues back for another look. This time, let's hope our city and its resident respond more thoughtfully and compassionately!


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