Palo Alto's controversial proposal to ban vehicle dwellers continues to evolve and may ultimately include designated lots at which people can legally sleep in their cars, according to a new city report.
City staff had proposed an ordinance earlier this year that would make vehicle habitation illegal and subject repeated offenders to a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail. The council decided in July to delay the ordinance passage after hearing complaints from dozens of homeless residents and advocates.
Since then, city officials have held two community meetings and are planning to hold a third before presenting a new proposal to the City Council either in December or in January, according to a report from Planning Director Curtis Williams.
One idea on the table, according to the report, is an ordinance that would allow businesses, churches and government facilities to "designate parking to accommodate either three medium vehicles or one large vehicle on the property." Providers of these spaces, Williams wrote, would issue approval letters with corresponding dates and required provisions.
The city's Community Service Officer would "serve as a facilitator for those living in their vehicles by providing a list of approved parking lots and social service programs."
The proposal for "approved parking lots," which was recommended by the Community Cooperation Team (a coalition of advocates for the homeless) is one of several options the council will consider when it discusses the topic a month or two from now. Another option, according to Williams' report, is "something similar to the original draft ordinance," which was modeled on ordinances at other cities in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.
The city currently doesn't have any laws barring vehicle habitation, though it does have a law prohibiting parking in the same space for 72 hours. Over the past few years, business owners and residents from several neighborhoods, particularly College Terrace, complained to the city about vehicle dwellers, according to Williams' report
"Specific incidents have sometimes been troublesome for residents and businesses, in some cases including public urination, trespassing, belligerent behavior, or other actions that are perceived as threats to public safety," Williams wrote.
Police estimate that there are about 20 vehicle dwellers scattered throughout the city, though homeless advocates have pegged the number at close to 100.
City staff plans to hold a third meeting with a working group composed of homeless advocates, social-service providers, neighborhood residents, business owners and church leaders on Nov. 15 before presenting several options to the council.
The council's Policy and Services Committee is scheduled to discuss the topic at its Nov. 15 meeting.