Nearly 50 recreational vehicles lining El Camino Real in Palo Alto along the Stanford University border will soon be told to move along if they've been parked there for more than 72 hours, city officials said.
In recent months, residents of nearby neighborhoods and others passing along the thoroughfare have noted an increase in the number of the large vehicles along the west side of the street between Medical Foundation Drive and Serra Street.
El Camino Real is a state-owned highway. It's not uncommon for a few motor homes to take up residence along its curbs, but now there are at least 48, not including the SUVs and vans, occupying the roughly one-mile stretch. Some motor-home owners said they also own cars used for daily transportation, which are also parked on the street.
Palo Alto's municipal code section 10.36.030, which complies with state law, prohibits leaving a vehicle parked on a city street, alley or public lot for 72 consecutive hours or more. A vehicle is considered parked or standing if it has remained inoperable or has not been moved at least a half-mile. In the next few weeks, the Palo Alto Police Department will place flyers on the vehicles as a warning, and vehicles that don't move will be given a tow warning, said Claudia Keith, City of Palo Alto spokeswoman.
RV owners interviewed by the Weekly on Wednesday said enforcement has been lax until now because there aren't many businesses on that side of the street whose owners would complain. Stanford University open space and fields are adjacent. The vehicle dwellers said they have not heard of the planned enforcement.
(Read more about the RV dwellers who are calling for more affordable housing and fewer regulations here.)
Some said they would take it in stride and simply move the required distances; others said they thought that many RV owners would move on because they don't want to be hassled.
The ticketing is part of a larger plan that city staff are working on: The city's Community Services Department requested Santa Clara County social service caseworkers to do outreach to the vehicle dwellers to assess their status and direct them to resources or remind them about the 72-hour ordinance, Keith said. Caseworkers have already reached about one-third of the vehicle dwellers, she said.
The city's Transportation Division also plans to install signs regarding the 72-hour ordinance, she added.
Social services outreach workers recently contacted Bob Lochridge, a 72-year-old retired tech worker who has lived in his RV for 10 years and moved to El Camino in January. He said he owned a self-hypnosis studio on California Avenue in 1969 and has lived in Palo Alto since 1967. Palo Alto is his home, and he doesn't want to move far away from the place where he is moored, he said.
Lochridge lived on a boat in prior years, including in Alviso and Redwood City, and at the now-closed Palo Alto Yacht Harbor. Since returning to land living, he has spent time in his RV and also with female friends in homes mostly in San Jose.
Lochridge said he would comply with the law.
"It is what it is. It won't impact me. This thing starts right up, and I can just move to another part of El Camino Real. But I can't speak for all of my neighbors. I think most people won't feel as casual as I do about it," he said.
The vehicle dwellers said they don't know why there seem to be more RVs. Lochridge speculated it might be that some people want to be near the Opportunity Center at 33 Encina Ave., which provides services to homeless persons. He personally does not use the Opportunity Center, he said.
Another RV resident said that parking enforcement isn't going to solve the problem. A contractor, he moved to Palo Alto a few months ago after parking in San Jose.
"I ran up $1,000 in tickets. Even when you move every 72 hours they still ticket you," he said.
He was pragmatic about any impending enforcement by Palo Alto police.
"How am I going to feel? It's their land and they can tell you what to do," he said.
Eric John Diesel, a real estate investor, mathematician and neuroethicist who lives in his SUV, suggested the city should ask Stanford University graduate students to conduct a study of where the vehicle dwellers lived a year ago and two years ago to try to understand if the numbers have really increased and perhaps why, he said.
Diesel has owned multiple properties in the area and said he was the victim of alleged financial fraud. He now eschews living in one place.
He is against forcing the RVs to move. Many of the vehicle dwellers are already in desperate circumstances and have medical or other issues, he told the Weekly.
"If the city makes it even harder to live than it already is, it's just being cruel," he said.
"The slightest harassment, such as having their vehicle-home ... impounded ... or even getting a costly ticket, can completely destroy the life of a vehicle dweller, who is already living at the edge of existence, homelessness, and despair," he said in a follow-up email.
Instead, to solve the issue of concentrations of vehicles, local cities should take a regional approach and work together, he said. By providing parking zones up and down the Peninsula, they would spread out the RV population, making it less visible.
People who live in vehicles tend to congregate near food and basic amenities, such as showers, so opening up parking areas with access to amenities would help keep the RVs and other vehicles out of residential neighborhoods, he said.
Keith said that Palo Alto is looking into a broader solution: City Manager Jim Keene has been in touch with other city managers to discuss the problem.
"This is clearly not just an issue in Palo Alto," Keith said.
In addition to the city's planned outreach and parking enforcement, Keith said the city responds to specific complaints about abandoned vehicles through a phone hotline: 650-329-2258 or by email at cityofpaloalto.org, which accepts messages 24 hours a day. Callers concerned about a vehicle should provide a description of the vehicle, location, license plate number and how long it has been parked, according to the city's website.