This story was originally printed June 1 in the Daily Post.
BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer
Palo Alto council members Tom DuBois and Lydia Kou are proposing to follow the lead of Mountain View and East Palo Alto and set up a parking lot in town where people who sleep in their vehicles can park overnight.
In a colleagues’ memo set to be discussed at the June 10 council meeting, DuBois and Kou suggest the Los Altos Water Treatment Plant at 1275 San Antonio Road as one possibility.
But DuBois said the memo wasn’t meant to be prescriptive of a particular location.
The two council members want to identify large commercial parking lots that could be used, such as on Bayshore Road or in the Stanford Research Park, and contact those property owners.
The water treatment plant could “seed” the program, which could involve permanent bathrooms being built or portable bathroom and shower services being provided.
DuBois and Kou also want to seek funding from Santa Clara County and to collaborate with local nonprofits such as Project WeHOPE, Samaritan House, Life Moves or Abode Services to run the program.
The memo proposes to have county programs help residents find jobs and permanent housing.
It will be up to the city to determine how many vehicle-dwellers are underemployed, however. Former Mountain View Mayor Lenny Siegel has said that many people who live in vehicles on the mid-Peninsula have jobs, but simply aren’t able to afford housing.
“We need to kind of discover what it is that the RV dwellers are needing and who are they,” Kou said. “That’s what we need to find out, and that’s what we need the county and the Assembly members and the state to help us with.”
Kou and DuBois both said the goal wasn’t to ban RV parking on city streets like the ordinance that’s currently in the works in Mountain View.
“The goal’s really to help people,” DuBois said.
Vice Mayor Adrian Fine said it was “completely incoherent” for DuBois and Kou to propose an RV parking lot “when they consistently oppose housing” being built.
“Two weeks ago they were railing against a housing developing against San Antonio (Road). On Monday I expect them to be railing against housing at Cubberley (Community Center),” Fine said, referring to a condominium project proposed at 788 San Antonio Road. “While I think it’s absolutely important to address housing needs across the spectrum, Lydia and Tom sure ain’t doing it.”
DuBois said that the city really needs to focus on affordable housing, stating that vehicle-dwellers can’t afford to live in the new market-rate apartments that he and Kou have frequently opposed.
The city of East Palo Alto’s car camping program launched last month and offers bathrooms, showers and laundry services to campers.
That city’s lot is at 1798 Bay Road and accommodates 16 RVs overnight. The RVs would be asked to vacate during the day, which is also what Kou and DuBois are proposing in Palo Alto.
Participants in East Palo Alto are required to engage with social workers sent by Project WeHOPE to help them find housing.
Fifty people applied to park in the East Palo Alto lot, according to a report from that city. Fifteen are currently parked on the lot, while 30 RVs remain on East Palo Alto city streets waiting to use the lot.
Four of the 50 have already found housing with help from Project WeHOPE.
East Palo Alto is also working to try to keep other RVs from parking in city limits. Concrete barriers have been placed in spaces where RVs that are now parking on the lot, used to. This helps keep fires from spreading between vehicles and prevents new RVs from parking in the newly vacant spots.
Most of the RVs in East Palo Alto have moved out of the areas where there are parking restrictions, but about 10 have remained and may be towed.