A proposal by Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto to host a "safe parking" program for unhoused vehicle dwellers received a boost on Wednesday, when Stevenson House dropped its appeal of the church's application.
The program, which the city had already approved, allows the congregation to host up to four vehicles at its parking lot at 505 Charleston Road. Like other safe parking programs in the city, it is administered by the nonprofit Move Mountain View, which identifies program participants and provides case management and other services.
While the city gave the church its stamp of approval, implementation was delayed after Stevenson House, a residential community for low-income seniors, filed an appeal in June. Residents and board members at Stevenson House, which is located near the church, called for the program to include background checks — a measure that the church and Move Mountain View said is inconsistent with Santa Clara County's "housing first" philosophy.
Christopher Kan, who is leading the church's effort to set up the safe parking program, argued that requiring the background checks could deter some potential participants, including victims of domestic violence and undocumented immigrants.
"Our program will actually improve safety for everyone by helping the needy into a professionally monitored path to permanent housing," Kan told the City Council at its Aug. 9 meeting.
Numerous Stevenson House residents, however, argued at the meeting that background checks should be required to ensure safety. Grace Mah, president of the Stevenson House board of directors, said the facility is trying to make sure that violent felons and sexual offenders are excluded from the program.
"Our cautious position is in alignment with safety considerations for our residents and children in the neighborhood," Mah told the council on Aug. 9, just before members voted to remove the approval of the program from its consent calendar and to schedule a formal hearing on the appeal for a future date.
While some council members, including Lydia Kou and Greg Tanaka, favored requiring background checks, others, including Mayor Tom DuBois and Alison Cormack said they were disappointed to see the implementation of the safe program delayed. The decision by Stevenson House to appeal the safe parking program faced pushback from church members and local housing advocates, who criticized the appellants for linking poverty with crime.
The impasse came to an apparent end on Tuesday, when the Stevenson House board of directors voted to withdraw its appeal, according to an email Mah submitted to the city Wednesday. The email did not explain the board's reason for withdrawing the appeal (Mah could not be immediately reached for comment).
Once the program is established, Unitarian Universalist Church will become the second congregation in the city to host a safe parking program. The city had previously approved a similar application from Highway Community at 3373 Middlefield Road.