2 Palo Alto council members want to set up a parking lot for RV campers

A couple of RVs on a Mountain View street. File photo.

This story was originally printed June 1 in the Daily Post.

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.


  1. If you set up a park for them, you’ll just attract more of them., And theses RV parks will never be temporary because if you try to close one, there will be protests and sob stories, and the council will not want to risk looking in humane. So once an RV lot opens, it will never close.

  2. I’m against this lot and I would encourage the City Council to ban overnight parking in Palo Alto, as Menlo Park has done for many years. Nobody has the right to “camp” on a public street. Police need the authorization and support of City Council to eliminate these illegal “car campers”.

  3. Why stop at an RV park? How about a tent city at City Hall? The patio on Hamilton ave would be perfect for camping. I don’t see why the RV people should be isolated in a parking lot in the far eastern edge of the city, when there are perfectly good city-owned parking lots downtown or near homes in other neighborhoods. Kou and DuBois have a terrific idea, but it needs to be rolled out into the entire community.

  4. Putting a tent city at City Hall would be a great way to get some use out of that hugely expensive multi-million-dollar “Wayfinding System” installed to guide people around the first floor of City Hall.

  5. People in these comments have a disappointing lack of empathy. It reflects poorly on Palo Alto and doesn’t help the perception of Palo Altans as NIMBY boomers who got theirs, so the hell with everyone else.

    “If you build it, you’ll encourage more” is a dumb argument. The fact is that there is a significant population living in RVs already. If they had a central, safe place to go, they would consolidate in that area. Stop being so shortsighted and heartless. Criminalizing doesn’t make a certain behavior go away, it just forces fines and fewer options on people who already can’t absorb fines and who already have fewer options.

    As a resident they don’t bother me one bit, personally. Remember when Palo Alto used to have some diversity?

    Look, you can fight tooth and nail against development of low-income or high-density housing in your neighborhood if you want, but then don’t complain when the population living in RVs increases. You don’t get to have it both ways.

  6. I support dedicated parking lots for campers with permanent bathrooms and laundry facilities. Nobody wants to live out of a car or RV on El Camino Real unless they have to. That usually means they have jobs that do not pay enough for them to rent in thus uber-expensive area. Given that Palo Alto does not seem able to build ANY affordable housing, this is the least we can do.
    The level of NIMBYsm in this town is baffling. An extreme example of this is the residents around Eleanor Pardee park fighting tooth and nail to not allow a fenced, off-leash dog area, lights or bathrooms in the park with the result that our taxes are used to support a park largely enjoyed by non-resident soccer-players with the occasional kids ball game in between. The number of local people using that park is so low that Center Dr is now a hub for drug transactions after dusk. One can reliably find idling cars with guys inside where a second car pulls up ahead or behind, people go from one car to another, do stuff, come back to their car and drive off.
    Anyway, NIMBYs should remember we live in a society; we are supposed to help and look out for one another, not stop the littlest thing that might be a big benefit to others while requiring a teeny-tiny bit of sacrifice from us.

  7. Adrian Fine’s statements about Lydia Kou and Tom Dubois are so intentionally misleading that he should be charged with slander. I was at the city council meeting when that housing proposal was discussed and Lydia and Tom specifically opposed it because it would NOT help the homeless. Lydia suggested they actually make the whole thing BMR instead of the paltry 10 units that were proposed, and then she might see a positive trade-off for displacing Studio Kicks. That housing proposal is going to provide housing for Google employees, not car campers and homeless people.

    Shame on you, Adrian Fine.

  8. Google and Facebook should open a parking lot(s) for RV campers overnight and provide security/bathrooms/showers/etc for their own employees, several of whom live in their cars and RVs to save money.

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