The scores of RVs and other vehicles in which people are living along El Camino Real in Palo Alto haven't dwindled much since late June, when the community starting noticing their perpetual presence and police began enforcing the city's parking ordinance.
Now, residents living closest to the vans are saying it is time for the city to come up with a compassionate plan for all concerned.
Police in July and August placed flyers on the vehicles as a warning about the ordinance, which allows vehicles to park for no more than 72 consecutive hours without moving. Vehicles must move a half-mile before re-parking. Following citations, police cite the vehicle owners and, as a last resort, tow the vehicles.
Police have so far cited four vehicles for violating the ordinance, city spokeswoman Claudia Keith wrote in an email. The citations were for vehicles — not necessarily RVs. Two vehicles were cited on Aug. 22, and two on Aug. 23.
"We did a few waves of informational flyer postings, then for vehicles that had repeatedly received informational flyers but had not apparently moved, we placed formal 72-hour tow warnings. For the four vehicles that remained after those, we cited them. We are continuing to monitor the vehicles that are out there, but we are not subscribing to any formal set schedule or phase," Keith wrote.
No vehicles have been towed.
"Our hope remains the same as it has been all along: that once vehicle owners are aware of the law and the possibility that they can be cited and/or towed if they do not routinely move their vehicles, that they will voluntarily comply with the law without us having to get further involved. Vehicle owners now appear to be complying with state law in that the vehicles are not abandoned and are drivable: they move at least once every 72 hours," Keith said.
But the enforcement — and the law — appear to have done little to reduce the game of musical chairs, which vehicle owners would prefer not to have to play, they told the Weekly in June. On Wednesday at around 12:30 p.m., there were 33 RVs along the one-mile stretch of road between Medical Foundation Drive and Serra Street. Nearly 50 recreational vehicles lined the street in June. At least one was an RV trailer with no front cab for driving it away.
Some of the vehicle dwellers said in June they understand the concerns about their presence, but they don't have anywhere else to go. Instead of more enforcement, they are asking that the city and other surrounding cities to come up with a regional plan that would give them a safe place to stay. The area's high cost of housing is the chief reason many said they are living in vehicles, and it is a hard existence, they added.
Residents attending the College Terrace Residents Association meeting on Wednesday said they hope the city will take the lead to find a solution for the vehicle dwellers.
"It is an eyesore, but I do feel some compassion," said Ann Balin, who supports leaving the RV dwellers alone.
The residents noted that El Camino has become a long-term parking destination for not only RVs but business trucks and other vehicles.
Resident Richard Stolee suggested that the city make all of El Camino two- to three-hour parking.
"We should provide a place for them, but El Camino should not be a campground," he said regarding the RVs.
The issue, everyone agreed, is so much bigger than El Camino Real, particularly in a city where the threshold for below-market-rate housing is 120 percent of the median in Santa Clara County, they noted.
"It seems like the solution is to address it (as) a regional problem. The question is how do you get that problem addressed regionally?" Stolee said.
City Manager James Keene has taken up the matter with officials in surrounding cities to try to find a regional solution, but none has yet to be identified. They have looked at programs such as one run in Santa Barbara that provides designated spaces in a parking lot at night, but the city would want to work with other surrounding municipalities to develop any program.
In terms of enforcement, "initial efforts took out some of the mass and scale of the issue. There seemed to be a little more room between vehicles. We will continue to assess and monitor the situation," Keith said.