The blocks in front of Stanford Stadium, normally lined with 30 to 50 cars, were nearly empty Tuesday, thanks to a new state law giving local police the authority to ticket or tow vehicles parked for sale along a California state route.
Enterprising would-be car sellers — who for decades have used the stretch of El Camino Real from Stanford Avenue to Embarcadero Road as their personal car lot — now have to take their business elsewhere.
John Roberts had parked his 2003 Honda Element on El Camino since mid-December but had not yet heard of the restriction as of last week.
He took the news in stride.
"The law's the law, so I guess I'll have to move it. I own a business in Palo Alto, so I'll just have to park it there," Roberts said.
Pio Vartdi, who was trying to sell his 1994 Isuzu Sport last week, was disappointed to hear about the news but said he, too, would comply.
"I didn't know about the law. I saw a flier on my windshield, but I figured it was just another advertisement. I'm going to move it tomorrow," he said.
The flier that Vartdi and many others saw was placed by Palo Alto police Sgt. Steve Herrera, as a warning and an explanation of the ordinance.
"We started with the fliers on the first of December in order to give people fair warning," Herrera said last week, adding that the department planned to start towing cars "straight away" on Jan. 1.
Herrera also posted a press release on the Police Department's Web site last month, as well as a warning on Craigslist, advising all those with cars for sale in Palo Alto that El Camino would be off limits.
Not everyone was reacting calmly to the news of a possible citation or tow, however. Some expressed concern that parking elsewhere will make it difficult for them to sell their cars, as they will lose the visibility that a busy road such as El Camino provides.
The owner of a 1995 Toyota Corolla, who declined to give his name, said he was angry about having to move his car off of El Camino.
"They're public roads paid for by tax dollars. People park their cars up and down El Camino every day. I can't see what a big difference there is if you have a 'for sale' sign in the window," he said.
According to Herrera, it is not so much the vehicles themselves but the people who stop to look them over who create the hazard.
"People walk around the cars, read the price tags, examine the tires. Often they're distracted, and they're not paying attention to where they are. El Camino Real during rush hour is not the place to be distracted and wandering around," Herrera said.
The idea of banning car sales along El Camino is not new. Section 713 of the California Streets and Highways Code already made it a misdemeanor to park a vehicle or any other structure for sale along a California state route and has been in effect since 1992.
But enforcement of section 713 had previously fallen under the jurisdiction of the California Highway Patrol alone, even though state police do not patrol all stretches of El Camino and other state routes. The new law — Senate Bill 279 (SB 279), authored by Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) — simply extends that authority to local police.
California's state routes are part of the state highway system operated and maintained by the Department of Transportation, or CALTRANS. State routes can be identified by the green State Highway Route shield, which is in the shape of a spade in honor of the California Gold Rush, and bears the route's number.