Two years ago Palo Alto city officials said they planned to craft a new ordinance to prohibit sleeping in cars overnight.
But a cat-and-mouse game of vehicle shifting on city streets continues to frustrate residents and businesses.
And some College Terrace residents are tired of waiting. The residents are circulating a petition to demand that city officials enact and enforce such an ordinance.
College Terrace residents and business owners, who must look at dozens of stored and aging cars and vans in front of their homes and shops -- some with people living in them -- say they are frustrated that the problem still exists.
Palo Alto is the only city in the area without a no-dwelling code in its vehicle ordinance, according to Assistant City Attorney Donald Larkin. Mountain View, Redwood City, Sunnyvale and Menlo Park have ordinances that forbid living in vehicles on city streets.
Palo Alto does have an ordinance that limits parking in one spot to 72 hours. But that does not deter vehicle dwellers and persons who use city streets to store vehicles, according to police Community Services Officer Stacy Henderson.
At least two vehicle collectors, who do not live in the neighborhoods, have as many as 10 or more vans and autos that they shift from one parking spot location to another, she said.
In November 2008 Larkin told the Weekly he expected the City Council would decide by the end of that year if it wanted to go forward with an ordinance.
But Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie said last week the topic has not been discussed for some time.
Larkin said there is still interest by staff in creating the law but it is still in the discussion stages.
The problem is not restricted to College Terrace, Henderson said.
"It's near Greer Park, downtown, behind the California Avenue Caltrain station you name it, it's all over," she said of the overnight parking situation.
Henderson said she marks and checks between 25 to 50 vehicles per week. People who leave the cars are not from the area and are looking for a place to put the vehicles, she said.
"It's the same cars over and over, all the time. It's crazy."
Doria Summa of the College Terrace Residents Association is helping circulate the petition.
She said she sympathizes with the vehicle dwellers, but the collection of cars and vans has at times attracted transients who drink and get into loud arguments. Without basic amenities such as toilets and showers, people dwelling in vehicles can pose a health issue. she said.
Some neighborhood residents, especially those with small children, don't feel safe, she said.
Summa pointed to two mini-vans that have been parked in the same place for three weeks.
"One man has so many vehicles that early in the morning I've seen him out there with a notepad. He will wear a light on his head and mark down (the time and day and where he has parked the vehicles)," she said.
Things have improved since the College Terrace residential permit-parking program began in November 2009, she said. The program allows only two-hour parking on neighborhood streets unless one has a permit on streets that have opted in.
Sunil Kulkarni and Sujath Patel agreed the permit program has improved their neighborhood's quality of life. For 1.5 years, people regularly lived in campers on Yale and adjacent streets until permit parking was in place.
But that hasn't eliminated the issue for everyone, they said.
"The problem is fixed here but it's shoved down to other areas," Patel said, pointing north toward Oxford Avenue and Staunton Court. "It's an abuse of the parking. It shouldn't be there," she said.
The vehicles also impact small businesses, according to Dennis Garcia, co-owner of JJ&F Food Store at 520 College Ave.
The family-run grocery is situated between Staunton Court and El Camino Real. The vehicles are an ongoing concern and take up street parking that serves customers, he said.
"It would be beneficial if they put a time restraint on parking in the vicinity of the store," Garcia said.
Liz Anderson, senior account manager at World Centric on Staunton Court, said the company has not been affected. "There have been no issues. The people have been very nice and helpful and clean around the area. There are no issues of disorderly conduct," she said.
Vinh Luu, manager of The Futon Shop at El Camino and Oxford Avenue, said he feels sorry for people who are less fortunate and he has been tolerant. But he is beginning to worry about the presence of shopping carts filled with belongings at a property adjacent to his store.
This summer many more homeless persons are in the area, he said.
"I don't want them here forever. People are going to say they don't want to come here because there are bums," he said.
Another local shop manager voiced similar concerns.
"I've had people come into the store and they won't use the side entrance because of the vans," the manager said on condition of anonymity.
"There's a perceived safety concern. It's not good for the city either. If customers drive down to Los Altos or up to Menlo Park, the sales tax goes to those cities and leaves Palo Alto," he said.