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Palo Alto unanimously adopts new safe overnight parking program

Council member calls on Stanford to follow suit

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On Monday night, the Palo Alto City Council unanimously adopted a new safe overnight parking program, allowing participating religious institutions to open up their parking lots to people living in their vehicles. 

After seven months of debate and a lengthy public hearing, the city council finally approved council members Tom DuBois and Lydia Kou’s plan to reduce the number of vehicle dwellers on Palo Alto streets. The program follows the mold of similar programs adopted by Mountain View and Redwood City. However, it imposes more restrictions on participants, requiring a permit to allow up to four parked vehicles from the hours of 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. The plan also includes provisions that give people without homes easier access to city programs providing education, medical care and job training.

Councilmember Kou suggested the possibility of Stanford’s participation in future programs, opening up some of its vacant lots for overnight safe parking. 

“It would be lovely, if it is about Stanford students, that Stanford does provide space for parking and have it enrolled with our case managers here,” she said. 

According to the Mercury News, Kou is not the first council member to signal out Stanford as a possible site for safe parking programs. A city policy committee in September also discussed Stanford University research parking lots as potential locations for vehicle dwellers. However, there are no current plans or proposals utilizing any University parking lots for overnight safe parking programs. 

University spokesperson E.J. Miranda told The Daily that “the RVs parked on the streets of Palo Alto and neighboring communities reflects the very challenging economic circumstances faced by many people in this region and [the University is] aware of the city’s efforts to address the RV parking issue.”

“This is a complex matter, and we will continue to engage with local jurisdictions, stakeholder groups, and other employers in the area on solutions to the regional housing challenges confronting us,” he added. 

Vice Mayor DuBois told The Daily he introduced the program because “we have tons of people living in cars.” Homelessness is currently at a record high in Santa Clara County, with the 2019 Santa Clara County Homeless Census and Survey finding the total number of people experiencing homelessness had increased 31% from 2017. Overall, 18% of survey participants lived in their vehicles. 

The program is currently restricted to the parking lots of religious institutions, but plans to expand in the future to include private and public parking lots. It not only aims to reduce the number of RVs and vehicles parked on Palo Alto streets, but will also give people easy access to city resources.  

Kou said the program will help vehicle dwellers register with caseworkers so that “we can kind of know whether they have children, if they need medical care, and then also have a program where they can get job training and hopefully find a job, and then also get stable housing.” 

Despite the progress made on Monday, many council members and residents expressed frustrations with the many restrictions and limited impact of the safe overnight parking program. 

During the public hearing, Palo Alto resident Stephen Braz urged the council to move quickly to adopt programs “which would accommodate more people on private and city owned land.” 

“This safe parking proposal will aid only a small number of people,” he said.  

DuBois echoed the residents’ dissatisfaction. 

“What we’re doing tonight is a really small step and I’m actually pretty disappointed we haven’t gone further,” he said. 

The adopted program will last 18 months, and will be reviewed by the council in March 2020. 

Contact Emma Talley at emmat332 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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