But the issue of people sleeping in — actually living in — vehicles parked on Palo Alto streets has again surfaced as a community concern, this time raised initially by residents and businesses in the College Terrace area.
Yet it is a problem that extends to other areas of town as well, as has been well pointed out in the Town Square forum of www.PaloAltoOnline.com.
It is not a new issue, but it is entirely distinct from two related issues: (1) overnight parking on streets generally by residents' vehicles, and (2) storing of vehicles on streets by moving them just ahead of the 72-hour limit.
There's also a question of city credibility. In late 2008 city officials said some kind of action was going to be proposed by the end of that year to address sleeping/living in vehicles. It's fair today to ask what crack that slipped into, and what it will take to pry it out for priority action.
There's a context behind the slippage. That matter was allowed to slip in the face of community outrage over perceived "racial profiling" by police, which forced former Police Chief Lynne Johnson into retirement and led to the appointment of Dennis Burns as interim chief and later chief.
There was a staff feeling that there needed to be cooling off time before tackling another hot topic. There also was an emerging sense that vehicle dwelling should not be a Police Department initiative but addressed as a "health and safety" matter rather than parking-enforcement.
And there was a feeling the push should come primarily from residents and neighborhood leaders. Sadly this was not communicated back to residents, who awaited some kind of action as promised from city leaders.
The wait is now over, and residents are roused, and impatient. They want to know why Palo Alto is the only city in the area that allows overnight sleeping, camping or living on city streets while other cities don't.
As outlined in a Nov. 14, 2008, story in the Weekly, other cities handle the matter in different ways, with some exceptions for guests parked in driveways of residents they are visiting.
Menlo Park bans vehicle dwelling under its nuisance law and health-and-safety provisions.
We think health-and-safety is the correct avenue for Palo Alto.
Addressing the vehicle-dwelling matter should NOT be confused with overnight parking on city streets. That issue has a long, complicated history, and prior to 1982 Palo Alto had such a ban but it was repealed for what were felt to be good reasons.
And vehicle-dwelling by itself is complex enough. There is the issue of "the homeless," a broad catch-all term that encompasses both those who find themselves in temporary hardship and unable to afford Palo Alto's housing at one extreme and those who choose a no-home lifestyle.
We are not advocating a policy of driving out homeless persons. Palo Alto as a city and community has spent millions on programs and services to assist homeless persons — through the Opportunity Center and nonprofit, often church-based meals, services and counseling programs.
Yet as a community Palo Alto has a right, and responsibility, to protect the quality of life in its neighborhoods. That responsibility ultimately falls on the City Council and city administration, and it is long past time for our city officials to shoulder that duty and devise effective responses to an identified problem.
There was a significant push made to address the issue of sleeping/living in vehicles as far back as 1999 when then-Mayor Gary Fazzino raised the issue: "Streets are to be used for transportation. I don't think people should be housed in the streets," he said at a council committee meeting.
Now, more than a decade later — and two years after it was explicitly promised — it is time to bring the subject back to the fore and deal with it.
This story contains 696 words.
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