After more than a year of planning, a new city-approved $300,000 RV Safe Parking program launched in East Palo Alto, which offers designated space for up to 20 local RV dwellers to park overnight.
The one-year pilot program, which also offers access to portable showers, restrooms and laundry services, is run and partially funded by Project WeHope, a nonprofit that provides shelter and other services to East Palo Alto's homeless. About two-thirds of the funding is coming from the city's general fund and from the voter-approved business-license tax on residential rentals, Measure O.
The City Council unanimously approved the initiative last July in response to the shelter crisis in East Palo Alto, which under state Government Code 8698 allows cities to declare a local crisis if a significant threat to health and safety is present.
Randolph Parker was one of the first program participants on Wednesday night to arrive at the lot located at 1798 Bay Road.
"I'm happy as a little boy in a candy store," he said, standing in front of his mid-sized camper van filled with all of his worldly possessions, including a twin-size bed and a microwave. He said he's glad to finally have an area where he can park at night and be "quietly left alone."
Parker said he first learned of the program about a month and a half ago when he stopped by Project WeHope's headquarters on a day they were handing out food.
"They took care of my registration and they helped me get my driver's license straight," he said.
"And, to be here and not to be harassed is a blessing in itself, and I'm liking every bit of it," he added.
Parker said being able to park in the designated lot is a relief -- "like when you're drowning and all of a sudden somebody grabs you."
He believes his RV will be better protected from careless drivers inside the lot, noting that one of his rearview mirrors had previously been knocked off in a hit-and-run incident while he was parked on the street.
Between the hours of 7:30 p.m. and 7 a.m. RV residents can park in the safe lot, which is monitored by security guards throughout the night. The time limit is set in accordance with zoning laws that prohibit the space from being used as a permanent parking facility.
During the planning stages, city officials aimed to identify a location that could be used for 24-hour RV parking but were unsuccessful, according to Project WeHope Associate Director Alicia Garcia. However, throughout the day the RV owners can drive their vehicles to their workplaces or park on the street, as the city ordinance only bans overnight street parking.
The program was designed as a solution to the city's ban on oversized vehicles parking overnight on the streets, Garcia said.
"For about the last 15 to 18 months, we have been working with the city to develop a safe parking program specifically for RVs," she said, adding that the program's priority is to serve East Palo Altans facing economic hardship including families with children, seniors, people with disabilities and veterans.
Prior to the program's launch, Project WeHope staff interviewed potential candidates to ensure that the program reached the targeted demographics. Selected participants were asked to sign a waiver that outlines the rules of the program. The requirements include observing a 10 p.m. "quiet hour" by which time everyone is expected to be inside their RVs for the remainder of the night, unless they need to use the restroom facilities, and agreeing to work with a case manager to find transitional housing.
"We believe that love is not love unless discipline is in it, so there are guidelines and requirements to participate in the program because we want to change the trajectory of where they are to a more positive state where they are self-sufficient," said Project WeHope co-founder and president Pastor Paul Bains.
East Palo Alto has blazed the trail with this initiative; its RV Safe Parking program is the first of its kind in the region.
"This is something that is replicable in other cities and we're helping other cities work on their safe parking for cars such as Oakland, San Jose and Oroville," Bains said.
Mountain View may soon be following East Palo Alto's lead as the city declared a shelter crisis back in March and has since began taking steps toward securing space for a safe parking lot. The current safe parking initiative is in the hands of two churches that can only provide space for eight small vehicles. On Tuesday, the Mountain View City Council is set to vote on a proposal to lease a 2.091-acre lot, owned by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, located at the southwest corner of East Evelyn Avenue and Pioneer Way.