Three Fight-Back’s Against the Proposed Palo Alto Ban on Vehicle Homes

NOTE FROM NORSE:   While activists and social service providers (even the poverty pimps) gather to oppose the latest NIMBY attack on homeless-in-vehicles in Palo Alto, in Santa Cruz the corrupt and abusive law enforcement/towing company Combine continues to methodically destroy homeless living space, seize homeless property and medicine, and humiliate and degrade homeless people as more and more homeless vehicles are stolen from the poor under color of law.
The latest victim who’s reported the seizure of his vehicular home under color law is Robert Brunett, previously dispossessed of his home, and now his vehicle–a 60-year old fighter long engaged in legal battles against the City.  To hear more about his situation, check out the interview on my radio show at  (2 hours and 7 minutes into the audio file).These stories are from .

Vehicle Habitation plan, flawed from the beginning?

by  • June 26, 2013

Cracked eggAfter many years of kicking around this issue, the current city council may decide the fate of hundreds, while the few bad apples will never be affected, honest working class people will be affected, and not for the better. The problems being brought up by those demanding an ordinance will not disappear, because the problems were never caused by car dwellers, but by other categories of people.

The issue at hand is the Vehicle Habitation Ordinance.  This issue has not been resolved although it has come up many times in the past in  city counsel meetings.  Interest groups, faith based churches, and a working group composed of concerned clergy, city staff and CCT members had over 10 months to work on a plan, yet when it reached the policy and services committee it quickly fizzed out.

The two sides of this issue are:
1. Human rights Advocates who do not want more government interference in our lives and more power given to the police in this society where freedom reigns.

2. People of means who do not want their peace and well being infringed upon by those of lesser means.  The demeanor of this group seems to be: “Not in my neighborhood” they pay high taxes to live in Palo Alto and they don’t want to even see one homeless person or car dweller loitering around and feel that this permissive agenda by Palo Alto is just not acceptable.

The city wants to solve the problem by pushing the car dwellers onto the Service Providers. Shelter Network is not equipped to handle yet another 55 to 100 who have needs far different than street people who have lost all their self esteem, and therefore can be treated in any fashion the service provider deems necessary.  Car dwellers are accustomed  to making their own decisions, they are more independent than street people, some of them hold down a low wage job.

The service  provider has a set of standards that most car dwellers do not fit into, and they will not amend these set of standards to qualify for their services.

Service providers exist to get funding and getting results is not imperative to them so they do the least  possible because obtaining funding is their primary goal, not finding shelter for the homeless, regardless of their claims. Their results are largely undocumented because failure to achieve is not a good thing to bring about.

Failure of the city government to grasp a clean understanding of the issue is apparent, so the issue remains an issue because nobody has actually determined the root cause of car dwelling and suggested that the root cause be treated instead the symptoms are being experimented with, leading to quick fix solutions.

It has become evident to us that Palo Alto City Council will not spend one dime on “homeless tramps” while supporting Downtown Streets team who are running a economic slavery scheme paying their recruits less than minimum wage and saving the city millions, so the city is happy to get “free labor”.

The Caste System being created by the current attitudes of “Palo Alto affluent” will enable the affluent to keep up their lifestyle at the expense of the impoverished, while supporting a Feudal type concept.

The Barons kept the peasants in line while the Kings lived a life of plenty.  It is not imaginary because that is what we are headed for if this ordinance is passed in Palo alto.  It is time we take heed to the philosophy of Martin Luther King “Free at last, Free at last, Free at last” instead of “oppress me more, oppress me more, oppress me more”.

Does Palo Alto have an obligation to those of no financial means? No city has an obligation to any certain group of people, whether wealthy or not, instead the city may want to be a role model to other municipalities simply because it’s the right thing to do. When there are billionaire developers wanting special favors from local politicians, the pressures to abide by the wants of the affluent may carry more clout than some group of human rights advocates.

We, however hold onto a glimmer of hope that those decision  makers on the city council will see the opportunity to do something positive which will appease both sides and create a real solution. Stanford university social services professor should be consulted, and this resource may come up with a real solution.

Giving the police to power to decide the fate of a category of people is surely NOT THE ANSWER.

Poverty shall not be a crime in the United States of America.

Casting democracy to the wind on the homeless in Palo Alto

by  • June 26, 2013


Democracy was cast to the wind this evening leaving its citizens voices dead on arrival.  The Policy and Service Committee clearly became a Politburo rather then a democratically elected body in its decision to not listen to the citizens it serves.  The last time I looked the citizens of Palo Alto were clearly in charge.  Not anymore!

Despite an overwhelming community disapproval displayed during oral communications, the council took upon itself and decided to move forward with the proposed ban making it a misdemeanor for those found inhabiting or living in their vehicle a six month jail sentence if found guilty as noted by former Santa Clara County Public Defender Aram James.

Just the first round

Attorney Aram JamesAttorney Aram James 

For many in attendance it was what appeared to be a crushing defeat for homeless rights.  Not so this is just the first round says Aram James a long time Palo Alto resident and attorney. He relates;

“Folks don’t hold your heads down! Tonight was just the 1st round, the opening arguments.  The politicians just played their best hand in full public view like discovery in a criminal trial we (the public) now know their best arguments–very weak at best.

Nearly thirty members of the public spoke all but two oppose this ugly draconian ordinance. Now’s the time to redouble our efforts–the full jury has not yet spoken!! Now we organize remember our weapons, jury nullification, and the defense of necessity, discriminatory enforcement and defenses to this ordinance only limited by our imagination!!!

No jury of 12 citizens will ever convict for violation of this immoral proposed ordinance!! The community united will never be defeated by self-serving politicians. It’s time to fight back elect members of the un-housed community–including vehicle dweller–to our city council”.

One thing is for sure the homeless advocates were out in force from PhD’s, lawyers, physiologists to the homeless vehicle dwellers just as predicted in the Daily Post. They really put on a “show”.

Mr. Price in his editorial seamed to vilify the homeless but if it were his newspaper racks on the line I’m sure he would be whistling a different tune. After all it’s the First Amendment he’s so proud about first and not the horrible state of homelessness on a national level.

Hopefully in round two community voices will rise to the occasion once again when full council is set to bless the ordinance so as to defeat this draconian ordinance and attack on the homeless once and for all.

Suggested legal defense strategies:

Tobe v. City of Santa Ana (1995)
In re Eichorn (1998) 69 Cal. App. 4th 382 [81 Cal. Rptr. 2d 535]
Implementation of the necessity defense in case of criminalization of homelessness
Necessary Defense from ending the threat of nuclear war
Why a fundamental understanding of jury nullification is so critical to taking back our criminal justice system
Gideon v. Wainwright – 372 U.S. 335 (1963)

Chuck Jagoda  June 26, 2013 at 10:44 am
Thank you Mark and Aram for this fine report of a dismal event. I am glad so many spoke up for the humane point of view.As Aram James says, it is not the time to hold our heads down. The arguments for the ordinance are paper thin covers for a basic fear. People hope to ward off homelessness, to keep it out of sight, to make it “go away” with this misguided ordinance.

There are NOT more disturbances at Cubberley. There are NOT “a few bad apples” for whom the under armed, inadequately equipped need “another tool” to deal with. These are either piece of misinformation or conscious lies.

The truth is that the police have a history of harassing homeless people. In other California communities, there have been most unfortunate cases where the police have attacked, beaten, and killed unarmed, homeless people. They have come to Cubberley on more than one occasion for no apparent reason and rousted and threatened people who were peacefully sleeping in their homes, such as they are. This is in direct opposition to the Fourth Amendment right to be secure and safe in one’s home–even if that home is a blanket on the ground or the backseat of a car.

If those Palo Altans who believe in the “don’t put milk out for stray cats” philosophy that underlies The Dreaded Ordinance (TDO) visited San Francisco, San Jose, or Santa Cruz and viewed the homeless situation in those urban areas– they’d be thankful for the homeless community in Palo Alto.

The homeless community in Palo Alto save the community a fortune in street cleaning. The Downtown Streets Team clean the streets far more cheaply than union wage street cleaners in San Francisco.

Individual members of the Palo Alto community clean up the grounds at Cubberley and other places around town. They clean up after themselves and they clean up the trash that is left behind by others.
One night a couple of summers ago a homeless man called in an alarm that saved the library about $40,000 in books from being burned.

As Aram James says, we have not yet begun to campaign against TDO. There are many people of good will, human feelings, and charitable heart in the Palo Alto community. We will do all we can to rally their support and make our case very clear to the community at large.

There is a good Palo Alto and a more fear-movitvated Palo Alto. We will be appealing to and organizing the good citizens of Palo Alto to follow their better angels and come to the defense of the least of their brethren.

If necessary we will bring suit in court to secure the rights that housed people have and that are denied to those of us without fixed homes. That will be expensive, time consuming, and embarrassing. We do not chose such a path, but if those who insist on solving a social problem with criminal means make it necessary, we will defend our homes and our rights.

aram james June 26, 2013 at 10:50 pm 6/26/2013

Hi Molly and J.J.,
(Molly O’Neal Santa Clara County Public Defender & J.J. Knapp, Assistant Public Defender)

I hope that both of you are doing extremely well and that everything at the office is going as well as expected in this era of limited resources for the entire criminal justice system, but particularly where the limited resources of public defender offices state and nationwide is at a crisis point.

I want to thank both of you for all of your assistance thus far in our community struggle to hold back the City of Palo Alto in its attempt to further criminalize the homeless and more specifically vehicle dwellers.

Last night at the Policy and Services Committee 25 members of the public spoke re the proposed ordinance, 23 in opposition and 2 in support. Ultimately, in a 3-0 vote the committee voted to approve the ordinance and to pass it on to the full city council (9 members) as soon as August, for a final vote on this ugly ordinance.

We will now be redoubling our efforts to fight back against this draconian proposal. I hope to speak to both of you soon. It is my wish that the office take a more visible stand against this proposed ordinance that if passed will surely negatively impact your/our office that is already laboring under immense pressures.

I am sending along a link to a piece written by the editor of the Palo Alto Free Press, Mark Petersen-Perez, describing last night’s meeting and including some of my post meeting comments:

At the bottom of the article, under the caption Suggested Legal Defense Strategies–you will see links to several important cases and articles related to our current battle.

I invite both of you to read the right on point dissent/analysis of Justice Stanley Mosk in another homeless struggle,

Please pay particular attention to Mosk’s discussion of the impact of sending such innocuous cases into an already overwhelmed criminal justice system.

Okay, y old warrior public defender self is with both of you –and the entire office–every day.

Best regards,  Aram James

Time is running out for those who call the streets of Palo Alto their home

by  • June 25, 2013

Living in you carIn one of the most dramatic and important decisions facing homeless people in Palo Alto is the outright ban of those without traditional housing a unique group of homeless people known as “Vehicle Dwellers”.

On June 25th at 6:00 PM sharp a special meeting has been called by the Services and Policy Committee comprising of city council members Liz Kniss, Larry Klein, Gail Price and Karen Holmam who will consider what has been touted as:

The last stand

The last “Consideration of Ordnance Prohibiting Habitation of Vehicles”. We believe it’s a ruse and a biased forgone conclusion of the city’s ultimate intention to rid the homeless off the streets of Palo Alto. “Consideration” is just a formality in our opinion. The decision has already been decided.

At the last Policy and Services Committee meeting Police Chief Dennis Burns with all his legal weight and credibility, presented data on the number of problem calls concerning vehicle dwellers at the Cubberely Community Center a “Hot” spot of problems to bolster his claim for the need of an outright ban on homeless individuals and families from living in their vehicles.

Flawed data presented

The problem we see with his analysis is that Chief Burns presented no comparable data on other disturbance calls. Especially within the downtown area where numerous nightlife bars are located.
Of course and without question, the data presented by Chief Burns was soaked up by the committee like a basket of sponges. Besides, who are you going believe the Police Chief or the average citizen when critical police data is presented to a jury or quasi judicial body such as the Policy and Services Committee?

The city of Palo Alto as it stands is the last remaining sanctuary where those who find themselves homeless for what even the reason can live in their vehicles protected from the element and with a real sense of protection from harm.

The last time I checked the unemployment numbers for the State of California, that number has increased to over 1 million. Although our economy has improved we still have a long difficult road to full recovery.

The meeting will take place in city council chambers they do that when they expect large crowds of spectator or what Dave Price of the Daily Post described as homeless advocates putting on a “show”.

Wealth vs. Disenfranchised

In reality, there is no reason to feel optimistic about the ultimate outcome of this planned ordinance to ban the homeless off the streets of Palo Alto.

Its the disenfranchised vs wealth.  Those who have been fed with a silver spoon, living a life of privilege and distinction, gone are any traits of compassion or tolerance…..the prevailing attitude rules…”not in our neighborhood” reminiscent of past minorities forced to move elsewhere. Call the ban what you like. In our opinion it’s wrong!

Claims were made by the former Director of Planning and Community Environment Services Curtis Williams, at the last policy meeting that no other solutions were presented on how to deal with the alleged chronic vehicle dwellers plaguing our streets who have consistently violated exciting nuisance laws.

Creative ideas ignored

That’s simply not the case. To address those issues, vehicle dweller and advocate Tony Ciampi put together a series of citation warnings specifically designed to address nuisance complaints and issues. Those ideas were completely ignored.

We put forth the idea of exploring opening up Foothills Park almost two years ago to vehicle dwellers where there’s ample parking, campgrounds and where restroom facilities are located. And we sent email with a large distribution to all major stake holders including city council, Mr. Williams and the head of Palo Alto city park services.

We received no response.  Talk about being irresponsible and the audacity to say that no other ideas were suggested or presented. That’s simply not true and misleading all soaked up by the Policy and Services Committee. The cards were clearly stacked against the homeless by the collective powers at be.

Open Government and Transparency Questioned

It’s been a lopsided debate from the very beginning.  With the city attorney’s office ordering that the media remain uninvited while the Community Cooperative Team or group tasked with brainstorming for solutions met behind closed doors without public input. Which we believe was a well orchestrated planned event and a complete travesty to democracy, open government and transparency.

This should speak volumes as to the type of attorney Molly Stump is and who runs our local city government on less then equal protection of the homeless and who is unwilling to democratically debate these issue on any level. This planned city ordinance reeks of special wealthy influence.

June 25th marks the culmination of public testimony before the Policy and Services Committee passes on to city council its final version of the vehicle habitation ordinance to be rubber stamped into law. And time is running out for those who call the streets of Palo Alto their home. The clock is ticking…..

Staff Report Policy and Services Committee 6.25.13


  1 comment for “Time is running out for those who call the streets of Palo Alto their home”

Chuck JagodaJune 20, 2013 at 8:21 pm

Thank you, Mark, for your support. There are a number of points where I could take issue with you, but the most important thing is that you are right–there IS a strong campaign–apparently stronger than when Policy and Services decided, wisely, to do nothing the last time they took up the issue of an ordinance. It seems this time, instead of the City Council just listening to the opinions of citizens and then making up their minds, a dedicated cabal is purposefully working towards successfully adopting an anti-vehicular habitation ordinance.

You are also right about “problems” at Cubberley. There is very good order at Cubberley. I know of no complaints at Cubberley–except the one where the unsheltered there living in vehicles and camping on the ground were rousted by some rogue police a few times last spring. No one in the Cubberley administrator’s office knew who called the police. No one ever owned up to making such a call.

Chief Burns was very decent–he sat down with some of the Cubberley campers, lawyer-advocate Aram James, and a Cubberley administrator. He listened to the campers side of things and said he would look into who the police were and find out why they came, woke people up, and threatened them if they didn’t move out in a few days. He assured the group that none of us would be evicted by any police from then on without his permission. He seemed most understanding.

The Cubberley campers take their civic responsibilities seriously. We clean up more than our own messes–including the diapers and food wrappers and other garbage left behind by members of the community who come there for ball games, making out, training, and meetings.

One time I asked the president of the Green Meadow Community Association (GMCA) which surrounds Cubberley what the big problem was. He asked his members and the answer came back: “cars parked in the lot looking shabby, defecation, and urination.”

Cubberley campers got together and spoke with the shabby car owners and after a while the cars were cleaned up or gone. The only one left was owned by a homeowner in the community who kept it parked there.

I did a little investigating and found out that the bathrooms of Foothill Community College were open all the time except at night—for no apparent reason other than to deny usage to unsheltered people.

And even at that they were supposed to be open on weekend nights. But one weekend custodian wouldn’t leave the doors unlocked as per the sign on the door. The other custodian lived in his vehicle there and was more sympathetic.

I asked the president of the GMCA if those who were worried would work together with us on getting the bathrooms open EVERY night of the week and then the “problem” would be solved. He wrote back that no one would meet or even talk with us about it.

So I think you have hit the nail on the head when you say there is a plan to bring the ordinance into full blown existence and onto the law books. However, people of good will can still oppose it at this meeting on June 25. And if the P&S Subcommittee do vote to send the ordinance on to the full City Council, people of good will can and will fight it there.

And, God forbid, if some ordinance criminalizing our temporary mobile shelter should be voted in, we will plead our case in civil court and argue there for our right to be secure in our homes from government intrusion as described in the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights.