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RV dwellers: Add affordable housing, not regulations

El Camino denizens include workers, retirees, people with mental illness

Palo Alto's own miniature Hooverville on wheels is situated within sight of the tower on the Stanford University campus bearing the name of the president associated with the early period of the Great Depression.

Down-on-their luck workers and the unemployed line the west side of El Camino Real in RVs. The economy might be booming around them, but they can no longer afford a home.

The smattering of aged rigs has grown in the past months to at least 48 RVs, which form a line from Stanford Avenue to Medical Foundation Drive.

In response to public concerns, Palo Alto police have begun enforcing the city's 72-hour parking ordinance, which prohibits re-parking within a half-mile.

Stanford University, which borders the street, does not have jurisdiction over the car campers, but Jean McCown, associate vice president of government and community relations, called the situation "a reflection of the very challenging economic circumstances faced by many people in this region. We understand that similar situations of extensive RV parking exist in neighboring municipalities as well."

Brian Greenberg, vice president of programs and services at LifeMoves, which provides homeless services in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, said that most people living in RVs are single adults or couples and a few have minor children.

"Our experience is also that about half are employed, although not all in full-time positions, and that they are not earning enough to sustain housing in the local rental market," he said.

Some RV dwellers interviewed by the Weekly are new arrivals from other cities, where police have more aggressively given out tickets; others are deeply rooted to Palo Alto, having grown up, lived or worked nearby for most of their lives. Still others work as contractors or employees of Stanford University or Stanford Hospital.

They say they aren't looking for handouts, but they do wish for a place where they can stay.

Among the people living in RVs is Frank Aldama, 56, who said he came to El Camino Real a few months ago after being ticketed multiple times in San Jose for parking too long. He said he has run up $2,000 in tickets he can't pay.

On a recent morning, the wake of passing cars buffeted his RV, rocking it back and forth. So far, it's been the most RV-friendly place he's been, he said.

A U.S. Marines veteran, Aldama owned a trucking transport business; then his wife of 29 years decided to leave him. Aldama said his life fell apart.

"I fell into a downward spiral. I lost control over my life, and I started using drugs," he said.

A lengthy incarceration enabled him to finally kick his habit, and he has remained clean for four years, he said. After he got out, his brother and mother purchased the RV so that he wouldn't live on the street. He lives on food stamps and money his mother gives him for toiletries. He hasn't tried to get veterans' assistance and he was not aware of services at the Opportunity Center, just blocks away from his RV.

He said he would like to get a job, perhaps do some truck driving again, but his parking-ticket problem prevents that. If he had a job, he could pay off the tickets and get his life together again, he said.

"I would really like an opportunity to give back. If I had a decent job and a way to provide for myself I would rent a room. I wouldn't live in this RV," he said.

Mike Becker, 52, worked in a shop in San Francisco building doors and frames until two months ago. He has been living in an RV for two years, and before that he lived on a boat in Brisbane. He said he also has mental health issues: At times he is cheerful and chatty; at other times he doesn't want to talk to anyone.

"Behind this door I can feel safe where it's locked," he said.

Becker said he has no problem working.

"I'm not lazy. I don't want handouts or anything," he said.

If he could find an RV park with power and sewer, he would be happy to pay $600 to $800 a month, he said.

It's not just transient people who have relocated to El Camino.

Joel Betts, 61, lives in a rented SUV parked across the street from Palo Alto High School, which he attended. He works as a driver for a San Jose catering company.

He lost his apartment in 1993 when rents started going crazy, he said. He has car camped for 20 years in the Bay Area, Antioch and the San Joaquin Delta. He came to this spot about two months ago after "Mountain View started getting all tow happy," he said.

Some of the RV dwellers have jobs at Stanford.

Karen, who declined to give her last name, 67, a Stanford Hospital lab worker, mother and grandmother, said she is a third-generation Palo Altan who lost her home after a divorce and returned to the Bay Area to care for her ailing father.

She used to live in an apartment with her son and paid $895 a month rent, which rose to $1,695. She lost child-support payments when her son graduated high school and worked two jobs to make the monthly payment.

Karen has lived in an RV for about three-and-a-half years, initially in a cramped, duct-tape-sealed vehicle she dubbed "Butterfly Cottage" for the decorations she hung outside. She parked in a lot near work. Her RV neighbor was a Stanford physician who lived in Carmel on the weekends and in his RV during the week because he didn't want to commute, she said. But when the doctor left, the parking lot attendant said she couldn't live there anymore.

Recently she bought a much nicer, roomier RV. She makes a distinction between the working RV dwellers and retirees and others who can move somewhere else.

"There are some of us that need to be here," she noted.

Jeanne Nicholas, 49, works at Stanford University in a financial services call center. For five years she lived in a $2,800-a-month Mountain View apartment with her mother and aunt, both of whom she supports. When her rent was raised, she moved her mother and aunt into a home she owns in Fresno, regrettably having to evict her tenant.

A few weeks ago, she bought the 1998 RV to live in during the week. She commutes to Fresno on the weekend in her smart car, she said.

"It would be nice if Stanford provided accommodations for housing for workers. There are mobile home parks that accept RVs, but the rent is $2,000 a month just to park and they aren't convenient to where I work," she said.

Stanford's McCown said the university provides housing with priority for faculty and staff at the 624-unit Stanford West apartments, including below-market-rate units. A one-bedroom below-market-rate unit is under $1,000 a month.

Stanford recently purchased 167 apartments at Colonnade in Los Altos and has applied to build 215 apartments in Menlo Park, also with priority for faculty and staff under the same conditions as at Stanford West.

The university's new 70 below-market-rate units at Mayfield Place on El Camino are open to the public, including Stanford employees who meet the income qualifications. There was a lottery for those units and residents have moved in, she said.

Samantha Dorman, spokeswoman for Stanford Health Care and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford, said the hospitals hope to gain an understanding of any relationships the RV dwellers have to Stanford as the city conducts its outreach through county case workers, which is part of the overall strategy.

City Manager James Keene has taken up the matter with officials in surrounding cities to try to find a regional solution, he said. Some cities, like Santa Barbara, run programs for people who live in RVs: The coastal town has a 13-year-old program that provides places for RV dwellers to park overnight, but there is a waiting list of 80 vehicles, according to the Santa Barbara Independent and other local papers.

Related content:

Behind the Headlines: cracking down on RVs

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Comments

27 people like this
Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 30, 2017 at 9:19 am

The Palo Alto community already carries a majority of the financial and services burden on the Peninsula in terms of homeless outreach. Our local taxes at the tune of a six-figure expenditure helps fund numerous support service organizations, as well as playing home to the Opportunity Center who draws clientele from throughout the Bay Area. For the positive impact that makes there is still a severe downside. Enough is enough. It's for the surrounding municipalities in our region to step to the plate.


37 people like this
Posted by RV Park on Stanford land
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 30, 2017 at 9:23 am

If Stanford can host tailgating parties on its land, why not provide space for RV's that are owned by Stanford employees and the contractors working on the new hospital?


19 people like this
Posted by Mayfield Place
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 30, 2017 at 10:54 am

Stanford just opened Mayfield Place, with 72 units of affordable housing.


9 people like this
Posted by Mary Atwater
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 30, 2017 at 10:58 am

I don't know why any camper would worry about having to move their campers.....There has been a camper parked on the right side of Ash Street going south between Stanford & Leland for at least the last 5 years without moving....... what a joke.......


14 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 30, 2017 at 11:15 am

john_alderman is a registered user.

Why not both? Palo Alto can do a little more to help with housing, but also enforce the law, and regulate overnight parking.

@Mary Atwater - You can see the camper in the google street view in 2009, so at least 8 years. But it does appear to move some years.


27 people like this
Posted by judith
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 30, 2017 at 11:36 am

I am not sure what the problem is. RV's have sanitary facilities and kitchens, so these people are not using the streets for toilets. They are not parked in front of anyone's house or store. If it's the only place they can live, live and let live, I say.


12 people like this
Posted by Fred Smith
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 30, 2017 at 11:51 am

Fred Smith is a registered user.

I have lived in an RV for years. I'm a 73 old software engineer out of work. I regularly send out resumes looking for work but age discrimination is alive and well. I'd rather not live in my RV but as of now I don't have much choice. I've lived in Palo Alto over 40 years. I'd like to stay in the area as I'm regularly seeing a cancer doctor for my incurable leukemia.

As for those who talk of support services here in Palo Alto you don't know what you're talking about. What low income housing there is (and there's not much) the waiting lists are years long.

As for the person who said Palo Alto carries the majority burden that simply isn't true. For instance drive over to Rengstorff park in Mt View along the tracks.


12 people like this
Posted by Palo Altan
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 30, 2017 at 11:51 am

It was nice to read about these people, as I want them cleared-out. My heart goes out to the marine, who served our country. I hope he seeks some help from the government, but I'm unsure if there is any, as the government seems to cast them aside. I hope Trump comes through, because Obama promised but did nothing for the veterans. I even called to volunteer at the VA Hospital but they said there was nothing available. . . rrright! Perhaps the Opportunity Center can help him

It seems they all need some social worker to help them. There is no reason they need to be in the RV; they are perfectly capable of more. There are plenty of people (everyone else) who work hard and live in apartments outside of Palo Alto.

However, I know how hard it is to motivate people. I have a friend from high school who lives in low-income housing, for which there are long waiting lists. He would be homeless if it weren't for his family sending him money. I tried for a year to help him, and others have also tried and failed. I would set up interviews, but he would find excuses not to go (dirty pants, etc.). I finally gave up. This was 5 years ago and he is in the same unemployed situation, just wasting his potential. He is intelligent and capable, with no addictions but laziness. What can be done about the mentally ill if they don't want to help themselves and their family enables them? Can any social worker answer this? Throwing money at them is their candy. They need to work like the rest of society.


24 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 30, 2017 at 11:55 am

john_alderman is a registered user.

@ judith- We should help these people, not by ignoring the law, but by working on real long term solutions.

"They are not parked in front of anyone's house or store." False. Most are along El Camino, but many are overflowing into neighborhoods, and some are parked in front of businesses.

"RV's have sanitary facilities " And what happens when tanks fill up? They have to be dumped.


29 people like this
Posted by Robert Smith
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 30, 2017 at 12:04 pm

One wants to be careful before providing "places" for RV's. You run the risk of coming under the state law and city ordinance governing trailer parks.

In the recent Buena Vista case, the city essentially demonstrated the near impossibility of evicting people from a trailer park, raising questions about the need to provide schools of similar quality to PAUSD schools and other amenities. The Jisser family was roundly criticized and even vilified by the City Council.

If either Stanford or the city tries to provide space for RV's, it risks creating such rights. One might go so far as to suggest even allowing the RV's to be parked in their current places would create such a right.

uw7QC


24 people like this
Posted by Robert Smith
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 30, 2017 at 12:10 pm

Judith,


A real trailer park must supply electricity, water, sewage, and provide a safe location. Good ones have playgrounds, meeting rooms, etc.

The location along ECR--a state highway--has none of these things.

Further, if trailers can park there, why can't they park anywhere in the city?

This is not a scalable solution.


25 people like this
Posted by Marissa
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 30, 2017 at 12:31 pm

"There but for the grace of God, go I"


13 people like this
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 30, 2017 at 1:23 pm

One thing that would GREATLY improve things for everyone, I suspect, would be a sprinkling of dump stations these people could use to empty their holding tanks in a safe and sanitary way. There are, as I recall, few RV dump stations in the bay area, and what is the alternative to using one? Dump at night where you ar not supposed to? While we squabble about what to do with all these RVs, we should at least find a way to relieve this problem. You can't blame these people for dumping illegally when you provide no other way to dump. Last I saw, the few remaining dump stations were closing down, years ago. This is not "enabling", this is just dealing with an issue.


34 people like this
Posted by Fed up!
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 30, 2017 at 1:39 pm

"...who said he came to El Camino Real a few months ago after being ticketed multiple times in San Jose for parking too long."

"He came to this spot about two months ago after "Mountain View started getting all tow happy," he said."


I am so tired of Palo Alto becoming a dumping ground/magnet for these types of issues. I feel for the people in these RVs but they need to move to somewhere it is appropriate to park an RV (RV park).


14 people like this
Posted by mj
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 30, 2017 at 2:04 pm

And Stanford's new hospital with all it's the low wage employees has not yet opened. Stanford needs to own it's expanding employee base. With all their expansion plans, doubt they are going to build housing or rooms to rent for their low-income earners, but they should. Especially those that have homes to far away to commute on a daily basis. And El Camino should not be a de-facto trailer park without hygiene facilities for their construction workers. If Stanford wants construction, then space should be set aside for temporary rv parking.

A few years ago there was much discussion of whether the city should provide for rv's and car campers overnight at Cubberley, but unfortunately there are too many problems for the city to accept responsibility for providing facilities. The people living on El Camino have no where to dump their waste except pump it into the storm drains at night.


7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 30, 2017 at 2:04 pm

For myself, I can see both sides of the issue.

I would say though that there is much more than can be done, by both parties.

I have no idea of what a dump station would constitute, but could we provide somewhere near the utilities place on Bayshore or at the end of San Antonio where the owners of RVs could dump their waste?

Could we tell them that they can park overnight on ECR at this location but they have to be gone for at least 8 hours in ever 72 hours (or similar).

Could we police the area better for littering trash and fine anyone that has littered?

I am not sure how this might alter the problems or if it would make them worse, but just ignoring it or ticketing them may not alter the situation at all.


8 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 30, 2017 at 2:43 pm

Stanford is the largest land owner in the county, and yet the vast majority of low income housing they brag about seems to be in Palo Alto or neighboring towns. Why don't they build on their land? Why don't they provide an employee and student-eligible RV park? They provide space for patient's families.


32 people like this
Posted by Scotty the Boot
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 30, 2017 at 3:37 pm

You can't help/change people if they don't want to change. And Palo Alto will NEVER have enough housing for everyone that wants to live here let alone affordable housing.

Santa Cruz is car camper friendly.






19 people like this
Posted by Oakland cautionary story
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 30, 2017 at 5:42 pm

You don't want this to turn into Oakland. Read the story on sfgate (S F Chronicle website) about the appalling trash dumping, rats, and multitude of people sleeping rough, hanging out in homeless "encampments," etc. This is with attention from the city: roving medical care, daily food deliveries and fliers offering social and housing assistance services. Oakland is trying to help, setting up porta-potties, but the problem increases. This is NOT the way to live one's life, nor is it safe or sanitary for the public and public health.


28 people like this
Posted by article
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 30, 2017 at 8:48 pm

It's interesting that all RV dwellers interviewed by the Weekly were Caucasian and formerly middle class. I don't believe this is representative of the ECR RV dwellers. Most of those I've encountered seem to be Hispanic. It's possible that the Weekly deliberately selected RV dwellers they felt would appear more appealing to readers. It's also possible that some of the dwellers (i.e. those with criminal histories or lacking proper documentation) declined to be interviewed.


9 people like this
Posted by AlexDeLarge
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 1, 2017 at 1:01 am


@article

Shhhh...


3 people like this
Posted by I diot
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 1, 2017 at 1:10 am

I do believe that the interviewees were representative of the RV dwellers on El Camino in my experience (nice people who greet others cheerfully and don't bother anybody) . I don't see otherwise what is the relevance of a possible ethnicity as Article claims without any foundation whatsoever (ah, Article can identify Hispanic how?, and what is an Hispanic anyhow?). In any case if they were what does that matter? Does it offend Article's well displayed race sensibilities that some possible Hispanic amongst RV dwellers are being passed for interviews?
Article's comments taken to their rational conclusion provide an interesting legal argument. Let us hope it's used.


22 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 1, 2017 at 6:21 pm

"Add affordable housing, not regulations"

Nice sentiment, but who pays?


"And Stanford's new hospital with all it's the low wage employees has not yet opened. Stanford needs to own it's expanding employee base."

Stanford gave Palo Alto's housing fund million$ in mitigation funds in order to buy its building permit. Palo Alto initially chose to spend that windfall on seniir housing at Maybelle. I'm not clear how housing seniors at the end of town opposite the hospital was supposed to provide a place for Stanford's new employees to live, nor do I know what city hall has done with that money after the referendum mooted that notion.


34 people like this
Posted by Call Me A Snob, if you wish
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 2, 2017 at 1:37 am

There is no need to build more affordable housing. There are plenty of other places with affordable housing. No one needs to live in Palo Alto, one if the most expensive cities in the country. Go live where you can afford.


6 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Jul 2, 2017 at 10:34 am

If the mere presence of RVs is this hard on many of these posters imagine having to actually live in one. However the suggestion that they be "moved" seems like they want some other city to deal with the consequences of Palo Alto's failed housing policies.


8 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 2, 2017 at 1:38 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@ Robert - According to the article, other communities aren't doing their part and are pushing the campers to move to Palo Alto through increased enforcement.


8 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Jul 2, 2017 at 4:22 pm

@john_alderman

Clearly the rapidly growing homeless population is a result of not enough parking enforcement...


6 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 2, 2017 at 10:49 pm

"... they want some other city to deal with the consequences of Palo Alto's failed housing policies."

Clearly you are worried the campers might move to your city.

So help us out. Describe your fair city's exemplary housing policies, and how they've been realized.


9 people like this
Posted by Fred P.
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 2, 2017 at 10:55 pm

It's not unreasonable that the city ask that RVs move every few days. Not sure why the city should allow non-operational vehicles to fall apart on it's streets. Is that inhospitable? Perhaps, but not unreasonable. Park somewhere else for a night, then come back. What's the problem with that?


Like this comment
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 2, 2017 at 11:58 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@ Robert - or too much, depends which side you are on.


Like this comment
Posted by R. Winslow
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 3, 2017 at 12:19 pm

What's the big deal? As long as they aren't parked on your street (or in your neighborhood) who cares?


4 people like this
Posted by Robert Smith
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 3, 2017 at 1:14 pm

@R. Winslow,

For one thing, it is a matter of rights and policy.

If people have the right to park and live anyplace, what happens when they decide to park on your street? Do you have the right not to have them occupy your street?


6 people like this
Posted by R. Winslow
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 3, 2017 at 6:23 pm

> If people have the right to park and live anyplace, what happens when they decide to park on your street? Do you have the right not to have them occupy your street?

City streets are public entities and as long as the RVs (and their tenants) aren't posing any health/safety issues, I don't have a problem with it as this 'problem' stems more from a visual perception. My neighbors might tend to disagree with my perspective but most of them are upscale-absorbed/motivated residents seeking to protect their precious RE investments.

Having lived in PA most of my life, I don't have a problem with a diversity of socio-economic existences. Palo Alto was once a model city for that.


4 people like this
Posted by Anke
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 3, 2017 at 6:52 pm

> Palo Alto was once a model city for that.

Indeed it was. How long ago that seems...


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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