Located at 2000 Geng Road, near the Baylands Athletic Center, the lot can accommodate 12 vehicles and includes a building with a shower. The property was recently used by the Palo Alto Fire Department while the city's Rinconada Park fire station was under reconstruction.
In launching the program, Palo Alto follows in the footsteps of East Palo Alto and Mountain View, both of which host parking lots for people who live in their cars.
The nonprofit Move Mountain View, which oversees five "safe parking" sites in Mountain View, will operate the Palo Alto lot, with Santa Clara County providing the funding. The Palo Alto City Council approved the partnership in September, when it unanimously agreed to lease the 25,000-square-foot lot to the county.
In addition to providing a secure, 24-hour place to park, the program will offer case management and other social services. At its Mountain View lots, Move Mountain View has offered residents regular COVID-19 testing and a food pantry.
The program was first proposed in 2019 by council member Lydia Kou and Mayor Tom DuBois, who submitted a memo urging their colleagues to identify city sites that could be repurposed for safe parking. While the memo focused on city-owned land at 1275 San Antonio Road, it also identified the Baylands property on Geng Road as an option.
The two council members cited in the memo the substantial increase in residents who live in vehicles, which can be seen parked on main thoroughfares such as El Camino Real and on quieter streets.
"The city of Palo Alto must address this matter from a health and safety standpoint," the memo stated. "The effort must be made to find immediate short and long term solutions. The ultimate goal is to provide assistance to people to get them back on the path to stable housing."
It was not the city's first attempt to address the car camping situation. In 2012, the city tried to solicit the aid of local churches with the idea of housing people in their parking lots. That effort failed due to lack of cooperation from the congregations.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, who worked with cities and nonprofit groups to establish the new parking programs, said on Feb. 19 that while the lots are not a long-term solution, safe parking "allows residents to have stability in where they sleep each night while they seek permanent housing.
"The goal is to move people through the program, out of the program, into a better place."
Simitian cited the county's most recent homeless census, which showed 18% of the county's unhoused residents live in vehicles. That's up from 8% in 2015 and 2017, according to the announcement.
DuBois said on Feb. 19 that the city needs to do more to "help the most vulnerable among us, like those living in vehicles, have a safe base to get back on their feet."
"This is fantastic progress with hopefully more to come," DuBois said in a statement.