Palo Alto Alert: Vote on Anti-Homeless Law Monday

NOTE BY NORSE:   Palo Alto City Council votes on this matter Monday August 5–during their evening session.  It begins at 7 PM.  There is an initial Oral Communications period 7:15 – 7:30 PM during which general remarks can be made supporting justice for the homeless.   The Homeless Habitation Ban is Item #17–with a long agenda packet at .  It is slated for discussion, according to the on-line agenda 8:40 – 10:45 PM.

I’m likely to be driving up there and may have room in my car for a few activists–if anyone wants to caravan call me at 831-423-4833.

For those who can’t go (and for those who can, but want to put a little advance pressure on the vehicle-ban-boosters or  to encourage sense and conscience on those who might resist this latest NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) law, Aram Janes suggests e-mailing the five Councilmembers most likely to vote no:
(1) Karen Holman:
(2) Gail Price:
(3) Pat Burt:
(4) Marc Berman:
(5) Greg Schmid:

The four hopelessly-homeless-hostile Council members:

Here are the four council members who are near hopeless–big time for the ban
(9)    Greg Scharff is also the Palo Alto Mayor.

The entire City Council can be e-mailed at

The hostile City Manager (probably the power in the City) is James Keene and can be reached at… –

The police chief, Dennis Burns, who has recently shmoozed with opponents of the Ban, and invited input is at

Letters to the local paper(s) can be sent to.  Aram James, former Public Defender, who wrote the piece below, suggests writers can mention his name or use his article.  or    Jason Green of the Palo Alto Daily and San Jose Mercury News     Sue Dremann (a muzzled opponent of the Ban)  from the PA Weekly,  the “rich folks paper”
Rich Folks paper: Gennady Shenyer is another writer at the P.A. Weekly covering the City Council.

Daily Post to the editor: Dave Price:  or  or

Palo Alto Free Press to: (Mark-Petersen Perez is the editor):

All these writers can be urged to write in opposition to the Ban, and/or to forward your own letters to the editor.

Though the first vote on this issue is Monday at City Council, I believe there will be a second reading at the next meeting, so publicity can be important.  At the City Council committee meeting that forwarded this Ban, the overwhelming majority of speakers opposed it (though the committee voted 3-0 to move it forward).


Aram James: Car dwelling ban would demonize the homeless

On Monday, the Palo Alto City Council will consider passing an ordinance that would criminalize living in one’s vehicle in the city. If passed, the ordinance would carry upon conviction up to six months in the county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

After it appeared that the council had abandoned such an ordinance following a 1½-year battle between homeless activists and city government, a reconfigured council — with newly elected member Liz Kniss leading the charge — earlier this year began anew an attempt to foist this draconian, hate-filled legislation down the throats of the good people of this community.

Prosecutions under this ban would have extremely adverse consequences on an already overburdened criminal justice system in Santa Clara County.

Given the innocuous nature of the conduct that can trigger charges under this new law, judges, juries and public defenders likely would become extraordinarily displeased to see these cases substantially increase their caseload, flood their courtrooms and drain limited judicial resources that are needed to defend and prosecute serious cases.

Outside of Palo Alto City Hall is King Plaza, so named in January 2008 in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King.

On a plaque in their honor are two quotes that are extraordinarily relevant to the campaign to convince at least five council members to oppose the proposed ordinance:

• “Somewhere we must come to see that social progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless effort and persistent work of dedicated individuals; and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation and irrational emotionalism. We must realize that the time is always ripe to do right.” — A speech by Martin Luther King at Stanford University in 1967

• “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members … a heart of grace and a soul generated by love.” — A speech at Georgia State University in 2000 by Coretta Scott King

In April, the city council gave City Manager James Keene the discretion to raise the banner for gay pride and passed a resolution recognizing that 76 percent of voters in the city rejected Proposition 8. In The April 13 Daily News story on this action, Mayor Greg Scharff was quoted saying: “This is the civil rights issue of our time. I see no possible argument why people should not be allowed to marry whoever they wish.”

I believe the same arguments and logic can be applied to the struggle to end homelessness here in Palo Alto and across this country. It is incontrovertible that the fight to end homelessness is equally the civil rights issue of our time. To state otherwise requires a total denial of the facts surrounding the current crisis regarding homelessness in this country.

I can think of no greater irony and hypocrisy than for Palo Alto’s leaders, who pride themselves for honoring the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and the more recent civil rights struggle for gay rights, to now pass an ordinance that is contrary to every notion of civil rights and equal protection of the law. The proposed ban would demonize, marginalize and criminalize the most vulnerable among us — the unhoused and vehicle dwellers.

In the end, the only right, moral and constitutionally appropriate action to take is to table this misguided and mean-spirited proposed vehicle habitation ordinance forever.

Anyone who opposes this ordinance should attend the city council meeting Monday to speak out against this unconscionable hate law.

Aram James is a retired Santa Clara County public defender.