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Palo Alto City Council committee backs safe parking program for vehicle dwellers

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The Palo Alto City Council Policy and Services Committee unanimously agreed on Tuesday night to back a program that would provide overnight parking and amenities for vehicle dwellers in partnership with local nonprofits and religious institutions. The program is modeled on those of neighboring towns and includes the connection of vehicle dwellers with case management services to help homeless citizens find housing.

The committee noted that nearby cities like East Palo Alto and Mountain View have recently implemented similar measures. This wave of legislation comes largely in response to the rising number of recreational vehicles parked on neighborhood streets in the Bay Area, vehicles that many people are using as homes in the face of rising housing costs. 

The program has been in the making since June, when City Council members Tom DuBois and Lydia Kou publicized a memo recommending an expansion of “vehicle dwelling management and transition services” and an exploration of “bathroom construction and/or portable bathroom/shower services.” For possible sites of implementation, the memo suggested large commercial lots on Bayshore and in the Research Park, or city-owned land at the former Los Altos Water Treatment Plant. 

In its most recent meeting, the council also suggested that local religious institutions might step forward to volunteer land for the program. Aiming for a smooth rollout, the council stressed caution in implementation and outreach to residents.

In 2012, Palo Alto proposed a church-based program to offer a similar solution, but only one church offered its parking lot, and significant pushback from residents led to the program’s cancellation. This time, representatives from two local religious institutions attended the Tuesday meeting to voice their support and volunteer their parking lots for the program.

Palo Alto is now deep in the housing crisis that has embroiled much of the Bay Area since the rise of Silicon Valley. Up against the rising housing prices brought by nearby technological innovation, many residents have found themselves unable to afford rent and have taken to the streets. 

“This isn’t just a place to park,” local pastor David Haley told Palo Alto Weekly after volunteering his church to participate in the program. “This is an access point to resources. What I love is that this is something that brings congregations together, instead of each of us just doing our own thing.”

Contact Jonathan Ko at jonathanko ‘at’ stanford.edu.