Around Town: 'Safe parking' program ready to launch; DeLorean drifts for science | News | Palo Alto Online |


Around Town: 'Safe parking' program ready to launch; DeLorean drifts for science

Also, city taking ideas on how to improve Boulware Park

In the latest Around Town column, news about the Palo Alto City Council considering a program for RV dwellers; the development of MARTY, an autonomous vehicle learning how to drift; and the city gathering community input on the future of Boulware Park.

REST STOPS ... Alarmed by the growing number of people sleeping in cars and vans on local streets, Palo Alto will consider on Monday a new program that will allow religious institutions to use their lots for "safe parking." If approved, the program would allow a church to have up to four vehicles parked at its lot between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m. Program participants would have to be provided with a toilet and a sink (shower access is recommended but not required). Churches also would need to connect program participants with case management services that would help them transition into permanent housing. The program is modeled in many respects on similar initiatives that have recently been adopted in East Palo Alto and Mountain View. Councilman Tom DuBois (who was elected vice mayor this week) and Councilwoman Lydia Kou, who proposed the program last June, cited a recent census that showed a 31% growth in Santa Clara County's homeless population and argued that the city needs to tackle the issue "from a health and safety standpoint." While the memo suggested a number of "safe parking" options, including making city-owned sites and commercial lots available to car campers, the current proposal doesn't go that far. It would be limited to religious institutions and it would only offer permits for up to 90 days, with a provision for an automatic nine-month renewal if the program is found to be operating according to established standards. The program also would be abolished after two years, unless renewed by the council.

Update: By a unanimous vote on Jan. 13, the City Council approved the "safe parking" program. Read the full story here.

DRIFTING INTO THE FUTURE ... If "Back to the Future'' merged with "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift," Marty would be the impressive results of the mashup. Short for Multiple Actuator Research Test bed for Yaw control, Marty is a 1981 DeLorean that Stanford University's Dynamic Design Lab repurposed into an all-electric, autonomous vehicle that can drift, according to a Dec. 20 article by Stanford News. Drifting is a deliberate movement where the vehicle intentionally oversteers, with a loss of traction, while maintaining control through the entirety of a corner. (The technique essentially forces car to slide sideways through a turn.) Engineers at the lab gutted the original car and replaced the insides with a slew of upgrades, including an electric motor, a stiffer suspension that can handle controlled oversteering and a computer-controlled steering system to safely and successfully drift the vehicle through complicated maneuvers. The car was recently put to the test on a kilometer-long obstacle course at the Thunderhill Raceway Park in Willows, a city 35 miles southwest of Chico, with on-board computers recording the results. Expertly drifting through sharp turns and zigzags, Marty completed the track without knocking over a single cone on its first try, according to the article. It's a novel feat by today's standards, but engineers at Dynamic Design Lab hope to use the results of the tests to develop self-driving cars in the near future that can better handle emergency maneuvers, especially during hazardous road conditions like rain or snow. Most autonomous cars today are designed to handle simple conditions such as staying within a lane and maintaining a safe distance from other cars, but it's all too common to hear of a Tesla on Autopilot driving into a concrete barrier as a result of limited system programming. The project team will continue to experiment with incorporating front and rear brakes to open up the car's capabilities for autonomous driving, which will allow Marty to make sharper turns in quicker succession and teach the vehicle to handle extreme circumstances for an overall safer driving experience.

HAVE YOUR SAY ... Do you think Palo Alto's Boulware Park is in need of a dog park, more play structures or pickleball courts? Those ideas and more could be considered by the city's Public Works Department, which is gathering the community's input on the future of the Ventura neighborhood's only open space, which is set for renovation. The 1.5-acre triangular site will expand by 0.64 acres through the city's $2.75 million purchase last year of a neighboring, vacant parcel from the Pacific Bell Telephone Company, which considered putting the property on the market. From now through Friday, Jan. 24, the public can fill out an online survey here.


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1 person likes this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 11, 2020 at 3:46 pm

I am generally sympathy to and in favor or reasonable out of the way car camping as long as people are not being a nuisance or a mess. The van pictured in the photo for this article and others in this state of disrepair should not be allowed on the streets of Palo Alto, or anywhere else.

I drive all around the area and most of the campers, RVs and vans I see are in good repair, and to use this "vehicle" as the example for "RV dwellers" promotes negative bias that is already very strong.

7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 11, 2020 at 6:16 pm

There is an implied inference here that it can only be overnight parking, 6.00 pm to 8.00 am. This follows that the vehicles should all be roadworthy and able to be driven in and out of the parking lot. Presumably they should all be registered, taxed and insured.

Will it be the church or the City that oversees these types of checks?

15 people like this
Posted by Allison
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 12, 2020 at 6:33 pm


Bag of trash and crushed card board boxes left in front of trailer on wood blocks parked on El Camino near Maybell Ave for 1.5 weeks, CA license No 1KP5337. Palo Alto already has a rat problem...

Another very large/long camper parked in the same area, is park on the sidewalk, CA license No. 2YQR052. Other campers parked in the same location: CA license No.: 5MES671; 8MWY400; 8EEHE522.

Kids on bikes, VTA and Stanford buses need to drive/bike in two lanes around the campers. El Camino is congested as it is and a huge traffic hazard with campers/trailers parked for weeks.

13 people like this
Posted by Greer
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 12, 2020 at 10:02 pm

There are about 5-8 RV park on the both side of the Greer Park on Colorado Ave every day and every night. It was one or two untill 2017, but gradually, the numbers are growing. The same RVs park there all the time, but none of them have been towed away. Because of the RVs, I don't want to go to the Greer Park anymore. There is no street parking available anyway because of all the RVs.

Like this comment
Posted by TheyArePeople
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 13, 2020 at 1:21 pm

This is not to disrespect @Greer, but it is certainly a sad state of affairs that the existence of parked RVs makes one not want to go to a city park. What is our expectation of the people who own/reside in those vehicles? Why do many of us assume that they are a danger to our person? or mentally ill? or just otherwise disgusting/undesirable to be around?

I know that when I encounter someone 'like that' - someone standing on the crossing island at an intersection with a sign saying "Please Help", or pushing a shopping cart piled high with 'stuff', or walking down the street with duct tape holding the soles of their shoes on their feet - I, too, avoid them, mostly because I am embarrassed and uncomfortable. I don't know what to do, or what I can do about it. And regardless of what amount of money that I give to any charity to provide help, the problem still exists and is still visible to my eye. Would I rather it be out of site? Absolutely! Then I would not be reminded of "There but for the grace of God go I ..."

5 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 13, 2020 at 2:35 pm

@TheyArePeople, nice post. Remember that many of the RVs are rentals that reportedly go for about $1,000 monthly, much less than market rate rentals of $3,000+ while many start-ups benefit from the "gig economy" that turns workers into under-paid contractors, offer no benefits and only enrich the execs and the investors (if they're lucky).

Yet housing bills like SB59 only call for 20% "affordable" housing and NO BMR (below market rate) housing while their supporters stridently and incessantly demonize opponents as "rich NIMBYs" who point out inconvenient facts like that.

That's certainly a sad and infuriating state of affairs when our "leaders" push up housing prices and create more homeless while enriching the really really rich.

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