After lingering in legal limbo for nearly a year, Palo Alto's controversial ban on car camping is now heading toward repeal.
The law, which the council adopted in August 2013 after a heated community debate, has been on shaky legal footing since June, when the U.S. Court of Appeals struck down a similar law in Los Angeles. While enforcement of the Palo Alto ordinance was initially slated to begin in February 2014, the council agreed in December to suspend it for a year while the city waits for the Los Angeles case to be resolved.
Now, with the case's resolution at hand and the Los Angeles law deemed illegal, City Attorney Molly Stump is recommending repealing the law. The City Council is set to vote on this recommendation Monday night.
Under the recommendation, the city will continue to monitor the problems that have prompted the adoption in the first place. The ban was adopted after years of complaints from residents about disturbance from people living in cars outside their homes. In addition to banning car camping, the council also agreed last year to keep Cubberley Community Center closed at night after the center transformed into what City Manager James Keene called an "ad hoc homeless shelter."
Both restrictions, particularly the car-camping ban, met with heavy resistance from many residents, homeless vehicle dwellers and advocates for the homeless. In addition to banning car camping, the council allocated $250,000 for housing subsidies for the homeless.
The city has also recently awarded a contract to he Peninsula Healthcare Connections for an intensive case manager, who has been conducting outreach to the homeless and working toward housing solutions, according to a report from Stump.
Stump recommends in repealing the car-camping ban and "continuing to monitor conditions and impacts to residents." In light of the Los Angeles decision, Stump wrote in the report, "many cities' vehicle habitation ordinances are now subject to legal challenges on similar grounds to that of Los Angeles.
"While Palo Alto's ordinance is different from the Los Angeles ordinance and is consistent, in our view, with constitutional requirements, a decision to retain and enforce the ordinance will likely result in litigation that will be both resource intensive and expensive," Stump wrote. "Accordingly, staff recommends that the City direct its resources toward proactive solutions such as social services and outreach rather than litigation costs."