Activists & Attorneys Force Rights Restoration in Palo Alto; Santa Cruz Pushes Stay-Away Orders and RV Exclusion

NOTE BY NORSE:    Palo Alto moves to restore rights (partially) to houseless people (or more accurately, those whose vehicles are their housing).  It still has taken no action to restore Cubberly Community Center or other public areas for ground sleepers (the majority of homeless people).  This latest step forward was prompted by persistent strong persistent activism from attorneys, service-providers, church folk, and the unhoused community–virtually all of this absent in Santa Cruz.
Here we have Bigotry Gone Bananas as the Transportation and Public Works Commission votes unanimously to forward a virtual ban on RV parking in Santa Cruz (permits available only for residents and only for vehicles on their block) with instructions to eliminate oversized parking spaces by banning (and paying for) more than one space.  “It will give us more tools,” smiled Deputy Chief Martinez.   The Quick-to-Cringe Commission also moved to remove the free parking around The Garfield Park Circles Church.  This was part of a malicious and successful campaign to shut down church services for the homeless.  Front and center was the persistent Public Menace fiction being spread by Take Back Santa Cruz and its reps and sympathizers on the Commission (Brook Crumpton and Councilmember-elect Richelle Noroyan).   The usual undocumented horror stories of feces, theft, “menace to children”, and “felt insecurity” were the extending forbidden zones at night for those who had been waiting to get in to the 4 AM to 9:30 AM Sunrise Hangout Warming Center program.
That issue was largely academic at the Commission because Pastor Steve ended the program some weeks ago (and announced he was leaving town).  But letting this kind of dangerous Big Lie spread (that the presence of homeless people means the presence of crime) is irresponsible behavior–particularly when done by those claiming to be Christian leaders.
Meanwhile at the Tuesday Santa Cruz City Council meeting, all but one Council member voted to give powerful Stay-Away powers to any cop or ranger who issues an infraction without a trial or any requirement to justify why he’s doing so.  The majority of infractions in the last year (half of them with one-day Stay Aways) have been to homeless people for such “crimes” as sleeping, smoking, and being in a park after closing.  All of this under cover of the “Public Safety” label.  The issue returns to City Council November 25th for a final vote.
HUFF has called for RV-dwellers to form an association, establish contacts with each other, document harassment from community NIMBY’s, cops, and other nightcrawlers.  We’ll be taking reports at the Food Not Bombs meal Saturday 4-5 PM at Pacific and Front Streets near the main post office.  Also bring any homeless-related citations so we can consider helping you file claims against the City and then take them to Small Claims Court.   More info: 423-4833.

Palo Alto strikes down car-camping ban

Prompted by Los Angeles court case, City Council votes to repeal 2013 ordinance

by Gennady Sheyner / Palo Alto Weekly


Cars, campers and RV’s parked at Cubberley Community Center after the City Council voted to ban overnight parking at the center in August 2013. Photo by Veronica Weber.


Acknowledging a shift in the legal landscape, Palo Alto officials agreed on Monday night to repeal the city’s controversial ban on car camping.



By an 7-1 vote, with Councilman Larry Klein dissenting and Councilwoman Karen Holman absent, the City Council voted to repeal the ban on vehicle habitation that it adopted in August 2013 in response to complaints from residents about people sleeping in cars and occasionally causing disturbances in front of their homes.



The council adopted in the face of vehement criticism from homeless advocates, vehicle dwellers and attorneys who argued that the ban is unconstitutional. In June, the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Ninth Circuit struck down a similar law in Los Angeles, placing Palo Alto’s newly adopted ban on a shakier legal footing.



Before striking down the ban, the council heard from several residents who live in vehicles. Each asked the council to eliminate the law, which would leave them subject to fines. Oliver Terry, who currently lives in a van with his mother and who is studying to be a dental hygienist at Foothill College, said he is doing everything he can to get out of his current situation, furthering his education and working with the Downtown Streets Team.



“I just don’t want this whole vehicle-dwelling thing to put a mark on my legal record and offset my entire life,” Terry said.



Diane Elizabeth Jones said both she and her son have been vehicle dwellers, a fact that did not stop her son from going to college.



“This winter we have no winter shelter,” Jones said. “We will freeze in our vehicle. But we would die without a vehicle. And without a vehicle we lose our place to sleep safely.”



City Attorney Molly Stump characterized the council’s decision as one that requires the council “to weigh policy issues with strongly held views on both sides.”



Yet only one side showed up Monday night. Every member of the public who spoke on the subject urged the council to repeal the ban. Wayne Douglass, who ran for the City Council this year with the sole focus of fighting the car-camping ban and bringing attention to the homeless community, didn’t mince words in articulating his feelings about the car-camping ban.



“If you need help in killing this ordinance, I’d cheerfully drive a stake through its heart when you’re done,” Douglass said.



As it turned out, the council didn’t need much help. With the exception of Klein, members had few reservations about striking down the ban, which has been suspended pending the Desertrain vs. Los Angeles case and has never been enforced. City Manager James Keene joined Stump in recommending the repeal.



Councilwoman Gail Price, one of the council’s leading proponent of providing more social services to the homeless, called the process “extremely challenging” because of the large number of different stakeholders and interests. But she was quick to support Councilman Marc Berman’s motion to repeal the ban.



“I feel it’s an honor to second this motion,” Price said. “This is the right thing to do and this is the compassionate thing to do.”



Berman said that “regardless of whether or not you disagree with merits of the ordinance,” it’s important to recognize that “the legal landscape has changed dramatically and enforcing the ordinance would lead to a large waste of money by the city.” The end result, he said, should be the repeal.



He also pointed to the “one good thing” that has come out of the ordinance: the discussion that the city had about homeless issues. In adopting the ban, the council allocated $250,000 for housing and case management for homeless residents.



On Monday night, the council supported a request by Price to schedule a discussion at a future meeting in which the council would direct staff to explore other partnerships and programs to support the homeless.



Klein wasn’t convinced that the ordinance should be scrapped entirely. It’s not rare for the city to be threatened with lawsuits, he said, and the city’s record in defending its laws is pretty good. Though he said he supports “to some degree” having additional programs for people who need housing, this is not the city’s responsibility but Santa Clara County’s.



“The social welfare agency in our area is the county, not the city,” Klein said. “That’s not where our money should be going. To think we can solve the homeless problem just doesn’t make sense. I don’t think we should take the lead in abolishing this ordinance.”



His colleagues, however, voted for appeal, even as some acknowledged the reports they have long been receiving from residents about vehicle dwellers occasionally causing disturbances. Vice Mayor Liz Kniss found it puzzling that none of the people who pushed for the car-camping ban showed up at the meeting.



“We really want to be humanitarian. We really want to support those who are homeless,” Kniss said. “At the same time, some people feel very uncomfortable with the entire issue.”

Palo Alto: Council votes to repeal vehicle habitation ordinance

By Jason Green

Daily News Staff Writer

Posted:   11/18/2014 06:06:02 AM PST

A controversial law preventing people from using their vehicles as dwellings has been scrubbed from the books in Palo Alto.

On Monday night, the City Council voted 7-1, with Councilman Larry Klein opposed, to repeal the so-called “vehicle habitation ordinance.” Councilwoman Karen Holman was absent.

“This is the right thing to do and this is the compassionate thing to do,” said Councilwoman Gail Price.

The law — which took effect on Sept. 19, 2013, but was never enforced — was a response to complaints from residents about the behavior of some individuals. The council at the time concluded it was the only option after an effort to find a place for vehicle dwellers to park at night failed.

The recommendation to repeal the ordinance came from City Attorney Molly Stump and City Manager James Keene. They said the city could face a costly legal challenge in light of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal’s recent ruling that a similar law in Los Angeles was unconstitutional.

“We do think that one is very likely if Palo Alto retains this ordinance and begins to enforce it,” said Stump.

The city initially delayed enforcement of the law for six months to provide time for education and outreach. It was then put on hold indefinitely while the Ninth Circuit considered the Los Angeles case.

Councilman Marc Berman said he believed many of the concerns about problematic vehicle dwellers had been addressed by a second ordinance prohibiting overnight parking at Cubberley Community Center, as well as a $250,000 plan to help the chronically homeless. Both were approved around the same time the vehicle habitation law was adopted.

“I think given the current legal climate and given the fact that this ordinance hasn’t even been enforced yet, and I think a lot of the concerns from our residents have been allayed by other things that have happened, I think it makes sense to repeal the ordinance,” said Berman.

However, Vice Mayor Liz Kniss said she received 50 emails from residents urging her to keep the ordinance. Her support for repealing the law was contingent on Price’s request to schedule a discussion on ways to address the needs of vehicle dwellers, including access to toilets and showers.

“We’ve had lots of email on this,” said Kniss, who oversaw the development of the ordinance as the chairwoman of the Policy and Services Committee. “We had lots of email last year. No one turned up tonight who said, ‘Actually, we’d like you to keep the ban in place.'”

Klein, for his part, said he was in favor of refining and retaining the ordinance. He voiced concerns that dropping the law from the books would turn Palo Alto into a mecca for vehicle dwellers.

“I don’t think we should take the lead in abolishing this ordinance,” Klein said. “I think we’re going to be sending a message to people who want to sleep in their cars or RVs or whatever that Palo Alto is OK with that. And I think that we’re going to find that we’ve created a problem.”

He was also unconvinced that the Ninth Circuit’s ruling should serve as the final word on the matter.

“There’s no final determination as to whether this is an unconstitutional ordinance and there wouldn’t be for many years,” he said.

Stump said the Los Angeles law was 30 years old and included “archaic language” that wasn’t present in the Palo Alto ordinance.

Before voting to repeal the ordinance, the council heard from several members of the public, all of whom were in favor of repealing the law. Diane Jones was among them. She lives in a van with her son, who is attending Foothill College to become a dental hygienist.

“If you keep the ban and we get caught in our vehicle sleeping, it will ruin his record permanently,” Jones said about a provision of the ordinance that allowed a violation to be charged as a misdemeanor.

“He will lose his ability to go to most colleges with a record. And I will lose my disability income because you’re not allowed to have a crime committed. … That’s just a horrible option for both of us.”

Email Jason Green at jgreen; follow him at

Palo Alto Throws Out Ban On Car Camping

November 18, 2014 11:45 AM

PALO ALTO (CBS SF) — The Palo Alto City Council voted to repeal a controversial year-old ban on car camping Monday night.

By a 7-1 vote, the City Council voted to reverse an ordinance that made sleeping in one’s private camper, RV or car a crime punishable by a $1,000 fine or up to six months in jail, according to Palo Alto Online. 

The ban was adopted in 2013 after residents complained about people sleeping in cars and occasionally causing disturbances in their neighborhoods.

Since then, the city has faced heavy resistance from homeless advocates who argued that the ban is unconstitutional, particularly after the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Ninth Circuit struck down a similar law in Los Angeles last June.

At Monday’s meeting, councilmembers heard from several people who live in cars, like Oliver Terry, who said he currently lives in a van with his mother while he studies dental hygiene at Foothill College. He said he is doing everything he can to get out of his current situation by going back to school and working with the Downtown Streets team, a nonprofit that

helps homeless men and women find employment and housing.


“I just don’t want this whole vehicle-dwelling thing to put a mark on my legal record and offset my entire life,” Terry said.

Terry’s mother said despite living in tough conditions, it didn’t stop her son from furthering his education.


“This winter we have no winter shelter,” she said. “We will freeze in our vehicle. But we would die without a vehicle. And without a vehicle we lose our place to sleep safely.”