News

Palo Alto green lights 'safe parking' program for people living in cars

City Council approves use of Baylands site to provide parking, social services to residents without homes

The City Council approved on Sept. 14 a proposal to use a parking lot at 2000 Geng Road for a "safe parking" program for vehicle dwellers. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

A parking lot near the Palo Alto Baylands will be transformed into a shelter for people living in cars, equipped with a shower, a lot attendant and case managers charged with helping residents find stable homes.

The City Council unanimously approved on Monday a proposal to lease the lot at 2000 Geng Road to Santa Clara County for three years. The county would then partner with the nonprofit Move Mountain View, which operates the safe lot program in Mountain View, to run the Baylands location.

The site, which is located near the Baylands Athletic Field and the Baylands Golf Links course, also includes buildings that were briefly used by the Palo Alto Fire Department as a temporary fire station. With Monday's vote, the 24,000-square-foot lot is set to be Palo Alto's first safe parking location, though numerous council members suggested that it probably won't be the last.

"The longest journeys start with that first step," said Vice Mayor Tom DuBois, who last year co-authored a memo with Councilwoman Lydia Kou advocating for safe parking programs.

The parking lot will be able to house about 12 vehicles, said Amber Stime, executive director of Move Mountain View, which has recently expanded its Mountain View operations to include five lots. Stime told the council that in addition to providing a 24/7 place for residents to park, the safe parking programs in Mountain View offer other services that have proven to be critical during the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes monthly COVID-19 testing, a food pantry and case management.

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"It's not just a parking lot to park your vehicle, it's more of a wrap-around service that we've been able to provide," Stime said.

According to the organization, an average stay by a vehicle dweller in a safe-parking program has been 120 days. Because of the turnover, and the fact that many vehicles include more than one resident, the site will have a "multiplier effect," said Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, who worked with cities to identify sites and led the county's effort to allocate funding for safe parking.

"The goal is to move people through the program, out of the program, into a better place. Frankly, to some level of service and housing that's really lasting and long term," Simitian told the council Monday.

If the Geng Road site can accommodate 30 to 40 people at a time (given that some vehicles have multiple residents), and it turns over four to five times a year, that means about 200 people benefit from its services annually, Simitian said.

"And that's no small accomplishment for a single site," Simitian said. "After this site has proved itself to be a success that I feel sure it would be, you can be sure I will be back, chatting with you about other sites in the future."

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While everyone on the council supported the program, not everyone was thrilled about doing so. Mayor Adrian Fine said he had some reservations about the remoteness of the Geng Road location and suggested that the conversation would have been different if the proposed site for safe parking was near California Avenue or at Cubberley Community Center, an area that served as an impromptu shelter for vehicle dwellers before the council, spurred by neighborhood complaints, moved in 2013 to ban them from Cubberley and to keep the facility closed at night.

"What does it mean about us as a community that we're enthusiastic to support vehicle dwellers in a parking lot in the Baylands where it's out of sight and out of mind? And what does that say about us?" Fine said.

'It's not just a parking lot to park your vehicle, it's more of a wrap-around service that we've been able to provide.'

-Amber Stime, executive director, Move Mountain View

Councilman Greg Tanaka wondered whether there might be more lucrative uses for the lot. Under the terms approved Monday, the city will lease the land to the county for $1 for three years. The county will bear all the costs of making the needed site improvements, partnering with the nonprofit group and providing case management services, which all council members agreed are crucial to the program's success.

Tanaka suggested that it might make more sense to lease the land and invest money directly in homeless services (the city already leases a portion of the site to car dealership Anderson Honda). He also suggested that the proposed lease with the county be amended so that the city would have the flexibility to opt out or modify the agreement after a year.

"Three years is a long time and I want to make sure we have some control over it," Tanaka said. "Not just that we can negotiate again, but that we have direct control over how this program is conducted."

DuBois, a strong supporter of the program, pushed back against the idea that the city should look for ways to make money off this site rather than dedicate it to safe parking.

"Sure, we can lease this to a startup, a car dealership, a coal factory," DuBois said. "But I think we have a responsibility to the residents, and that includes those living in vehicles. … I reject the idea that our city's filter would be maximizing money without taking care of people."

Most council members were happy to approve the proposal, which represents a change in Palo Alto's approach to safe parking. In January, the council agreed to limit the program to local congregations that would provide overnight parking to up to four vehicles. While several congregations expressed interest in the program, they halted their efforts once the COVID-19 pandemic hit and shelter-in-place orders took effect.

The city still plans to move ahead with the church program (which the council calls "Tier One") and with a proposal to partner with corporations to use their lots for safe parking ("Tier Two"). But the council was pleased on Monday to be able to skip straight to "tier three" — the use of a city-owned site for a larger program.

Up to 12 cars can be accommodated at a Palo Alto Baylands lot at 2000 Geng Road as part of a safe parking program approved Sept. 14. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Councilwoman Alison Cormack lauded the fact that the Geng Road would offer 24/7 parking, rather than being limited to overnight use. Councilman Eric Filseth said the site is "reasonable," while Kou called the new staff proposal "truly awesome."

"We are moving faster than we thought we would," Kou said. "I know that there were a few obstacles, but this is 24/7 and it's a huge step forward."

Meanwhile, several local congregations are preparing to resume their suspended plans. Rob Schulze, pastor at Peninsula Bible Church, told this news organization that his church has formed a committee dedicated to exploring a safe parking program.

Eileen Altman, associate pastor at First Congregational Church of Palo Alto, informed the council Monday that her church has also been considering adopting such a program. A major challenge, she told the council, has been including case-management services in the program. She suggested that Palo Alto's decision to invite Moving Mountain View could address that problem.

"My hope is that this effort might then allow faith communities to partner with this effort so we can expand their program with our faith communities in Palo Alto," Altman said.

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Palo Alto green lights 'safe parking' program for people living in cars

City Council approves use of Baylands site to provide parking, social services to residents without homes

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Sep 15, 2020, 12:43 am

A parking lot near the Palo Alto Baylands will be transformed into a shelter for people living in cars, equipped with a shower, a lot attendant and case managers charged with helping residents find stable homes.

The City Council unanimously approved on Monday a proposal to lease the lot at 2000 Geng Road to Santa Clara County for three years. The county would then partner with the nonprofit Move Mountain View, which operates the safe lot program in Mountain View, to run the Baylands location.

The site, which is located near the Baylands Athletic Field and the Baylands Golf Links course, also includes buildings that were briefly used by the Palo Alto Fire Department as a temporary fire station. With Monday's vote, the 24,000-square-foot lot is set to be Palo Alto's first safe parking location, though numerous council members suggested that it probably won't be the last.

"The longest journeys start with that first step," said Vice Mayor Tom DuBois, who last year co-authored a memo with Councilwoman Lydia Kou advocating for safe parking programs.

The parking lot will be able to house about 12 vehicles, said Amber Stime, executive director of Move Mountain View, which has recently expanded its Mountain View operations to include five lots. Stime told the council that in addition to providing a 24/7 place for residents to park, the safe parking programs in Mountain View offer other services that have proven to be critical during the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes monthly COVID-19 testing, a food pantry and case management.

"It's not just a parking lot to park your vehicle, it's more of a wrap-around service that we've been able to provide," Stime said.

According to the organization, an average stay by a vehicle dweller in a safe-parking program has been 120 days. Because of the turnover, and the fact that many vehicles include more than one resident, the site will have a "multiplier effect," said Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, who worked with cities to identify sites and led the county's effort to allocate funding for safe parking.

"The goal is to move people through the program, out of the program, into a better place. Frankly, to some level of service and housing that's really lasting and long term," Simitian told the council Monday.

If the Geng Road site can accommodate 30 to 40 people at a time (given that some vehicles have multiple residents), and it turns over four to five times a year, that means about 200 people benefit from its services annually, Simitian said.

"And that's no small accomplishment for a single site," Simitian said. "After this site has proved itself to be a success that I feel sure it would be, you can be sure I will be back, chatting with you about other sites in the future."

While everyone on the council supported the program, not everyone was thrilled about doing so. Mayor Adrian Fine said he had some reservations about the remoteness of the Geng Road location and suggested that the conversation would have been different if the proposed site for safe parking was near California Avenue or at Cubberley Community Center, an area that served as an impromptu shelter for vehicle dwellers before the council, spurred by neighborhood complaints, moved in 2013 to ban them from Cubberley and to keep the facility closed at night.

"What does it mean about us as a community that we're enthusiastic to support vehicle dwellers in a parking lot in the Baylands where it's out of sight and out of mind? And what does that say about us?" Fine said.

Councilman Greg Tanaka wondered whether there might be more lucrative uses for the lot. Under the terms approved Monday, the city will lease the land to the county for $1 for three years. The county will bear all the costs of making the needed site improvements, partnering with the nonprofit group and providing case management services, which all council members agreed are crucial to the program's success.

Tanaka suggested that it might make more sense to lease the land and invest money directly in homeless services (the city already leases a portion of the site to car dealership Anderson Honda). He also suggested that the proposed lease with the county be amended so that the city would have the flexibility to opt out or modify the agreement after a year.

"Three years is a long time and I want to make sure we have some control over it," Tanaka said. "Not just that we can negotiate again, but that we have direct control over how this program is conducted."

DuBois, a strong supporter of the program, pushed back against the idea that the city should look for ways to make money off this site rather than dedicate it to safe parking.

"Sure, we can lease this to a startup, a car dealership, a coal factory," DuBois said. "But I think we have a responsibility to the residents, and that includes those living in vehicles. … I reject the idea that our city's filter would be maximizing money without taking care of people."

Most council members were happy to approve the proposal, which represents a change in Palo Alto's approach to safe parking. In January, the council agreed to limit the program to local congregations that would provide overnight parking to up to four vehicles. While several congregations expressed interest in the program, they halted their efforts once the COVID-19 pandemic hit and shelter-in-place orders took effect.

The city still plans to move ahead with the church program (which the council calls "Tier One") and with a proposal to partner with corporations to use their lots for safe parking ("Tier Two"). But the council was pleased on Monday to be able to skip straight to "tier three" — the use of a city-owned site for a larger program.

Councilwoman Alison Cormack lauded the fact that the Geng Road would offer 24/7 parking, rather than being limited to overnight use. Councilman Eric Filseth said the site is "reasonable," while Kou called the new staff proposal "truly awesome."

"We are moving faster than we thought we would," Kou said. "I know that there were a few obstacles, but this is 24/7 and it's a huge step forward."

Meanwhile, several local congregations are preparing to resume their suspended plans. Rob Schulze, pastor at Peninsula Bible Church, told this news organization that his church has formed a committee dedicated to exploring a safe parking program.

Eileen Altman, associate pastor at First Congregational Church of Palo Alto, informed the council Monday that her church has also been considering adopting such a program. A major challenge, she told the council, has been including case-management services in the program. She suggested that Palo Alto's decision to invite Moving Mountain View could address that problem.

"My hope is that this effort might then allow faith communities to partner with this effort so we can expand their program with our faith communities in Palo Alto," Altman said.

Comments

Contrast
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 15, 2020 at 7:17 am
Contrast, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2020 at 7:17 am
26 people like this

This was a good decision - thank you Supervisor Joe Simitian and Councilmembers Lydia Kou and Tom DuBois for bringing RV safe parking to the Council. Without Lydia and Tom we would have no RV safe parking program.

The only clinker last night was Councilmember Tanaka who fumbled around trying to figure out how to make a nonexistent buck for the city rather than safely house the homeless.

As to location - this location has amenities that likely would never be found on a random parking lot elsewhere. Be happy, don’t worry.


Henry22
Registered user
East Palo Alto
on Sep 15, 2020 at 12:14 pm
Henry22, East Palo Alto
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2020 at 12:14 pm
15 people like this

Another virtue signaling nothing burger from Tom Dubois and Lydia Kou.


Novelera
Registered user
Midtown
on Sep 15, 2020 at 12:36 pm
Novelera, Midtown
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2020 at 12:36 pm
6 people like this

This article warmed my heart. It also gave me some nostalgia seeing that photo of the proposed site with the gorgeous clear blue sky.


Shwonder Sharikov
Registered user
Barron Park
on Sep 15, 2020 at 1:09 pm
Shwonder Sharikov, Barron Park
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2020 at 1:09 pm
19 people like this

What a tragic waste of hard earned tax payers money in these complex times. What does it even mean to be a resident without property/home/lease? Am I a resident as soon as I cross the border of the city?

If they really wanted to help that should've focused on integration - provide jobs, make it easier to find a job, teach people to fish instead of giving it to them - it's much harder to do then lease a parking lot in a bushes and then spend money on clean-up, making sure it won't burn down or "residents" of these bushes won't steal from people who pay for their place.

Waste.


Citizen
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 15, 2020 at 1:12 pm
Citizen, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2020 at 1:12 pm
16 people like this

Residents have a permanent address and pay utilities and get mail delivered to that address. Otherwise you are a temporary resident.

If they are just temporarily working here, and have no permanent address, and are living in a vehicle, how are they residents?


Spectator at Large
Registered user
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 15, 2020 at 1:22 pm
Spectator at Large, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2020 at 1:22 pm
7 people like this

Shameful Tanaka. You’ll never get my vote!

Thanks To the council members who support this proposal and particularly Lydia!


Native to the BAY
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Sep 15, 2020 at 4:38 pm
Native to the BAY, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2020 at 4:38 pm
4 people like this

Wow. 13 spaces for temporary overnight parking! How generous. What about using the New fancy parking structure off California ave for safe parking for our service workers who can’t get the dire housing at a living wage rent cost. Of course the city can’t move on real tangible affordable housing decisions and take action. 13 automobile spaces on the end of town? How nice, comforting to know our civic leaders have our most vulnerable in their hearts. Lauding themselves as good decision makes. Now only thousands more to go. And those who don’t have a working car to call home? What of them? 13 such an unlucky number for a few fortunate humans living under disastrous past and present conditions conditions, and for years. Double speak loud and clear. Shame.


Jonathan Brown
Registered user
Ventura
on Sep 16, 2020 at 10:44 pm
Jonathan Brown, Ventura
Registered user
on Sep 16, 2020 at 10:44 pm
5 people like this

We need enough safe parking areas with service offerings like this to ban vehicle dwelling elsewhere. Adrian Fine, you already have allowed vehicles with permanent dwellers in them to be parked all around California Ave. and elsewhere in the City for a decade or more. So what does it say about you as a mayor that you did not seem to notice this need and never got around to offering services or help to these people until now? If you'd like to live next to vehicle dwellers, you can invite them to park outside of your home or move near the Geng site. Personally, I like the idea of having an isolated site that's properly considered, spaced, and serviced rather than having vehicle dwellers densely packed in residential neighborhoods that were never planned for such use.


iSez
Registered user
Palo Alto High School
on Sep 17, 2020 at 1:18 pm
iSez, Palo Alto High School
Registered user
on Sep 17, 2020 at 1:18 pm
6 people like this

What happens when the nearby neighborhoods start getting burglarized? How about The Market at Edgewood? Will the clientele change? Will these homeless people be selected as ones that have a chance at returning to the workforce?

Churches in the middle of residential areas plan to bring the same program to their parking lots? No, please no.


Anonymous
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 17, 2020 at 3:06 pm
Anonymous, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Sep 17, 2020 at 3:06 pm
6 people like this

Terrible plan. Illogical. Who gets in? What happens as word spreads?
I call this an attractive nuisance. Likely to lead to trash, fights, conflicts, drug use, possible fire spreading to PA residential areas right across the freeway, much less near businesses and The Baylands. Crime rise from petty to serious: remember how the experiment at Cubberley Community Center proved UNWORKABLE.
Shame on our County Supervisor, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, and weak Palo Alto City officials who do not support their residents! I will no longer be safe to walk the loop around the Baylands, coming out there after circling the little airport.
Our police resources will have to commute over there to try to supervise and manage this. Oh, and this is OUR tax dollars.
Truly ridiculous politicians.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 17, 2020 at 7:16 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Sep 17, 2020 at 7:16 pm
3 people like this

I suspect that once that lot if filled up then the residential streets will then become the opportunity for overnight parking. My street is already the opportunity location for the employees of JCC so that their visitors can park in the garages. What we end up is litter on the street, packages from the fast food chains, and general trash.

Due to COVID we have not had the onslaught as in previous years and so great that the street cleaner actually can clean the street. I asked one lady why she was sitting in her parked car and she said her child was busy playing soccer. A soccer mom who is parked on a residential street that is not near any soccer field. And she left trash on the street.

We need to shift these people elsewhere - Cubbereley parking lot? Shopping center parking lot? At least near bathrooms, coffee, and trash cans.


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