Palo Alto considers overnight parking program for vehicle dwellers

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- The growing number of vehicle dwellers living along one of Palo Alto's busiest roads is forcing officials to take a hard look at potential solutions.

City officials are now looking at converting two publicly-owned lots into spaces for safe overnight parking.

One is the old Los Altos Treatment Plant on San Antonio Road and the other is a plot on Geng Road, adjacent to the Baylands Athletic Fields.

The pilot would likely mirror other programs that typically provide residents with access to restrooms, as well as caseworkers to help them secure more stable housing. Details are still being worked out, but city officials anticipate a spirited debate over how to move forward.

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"We will look around and see what other ideas... what's been done some place else... that maybe we could copy here, or at least make a try at doing that," said Palo Alto city councilmember Liz Kniss, who chairs the city's policy and service committee.

Another key component involves zoning changes to allow churches to allow overnight stays in their parking lots. A similar program in Mountain View is operated by the non-profit, Move Mountain View, which currently works with two churches in the area.

"It's a very efficient way to use the resources and the parking lots that we already have to give people a place to sleep, and to give people a place to enter into case management to pursue a more stable situation," said Dave Arnone, Move Mountain View co-founder.

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A recent survey conducted by the Palo Alto Police Department counted more than 120 motorhomes, vans or RVs parked on city streets, but did not include residents who are currently living in passenger vehicles.

"Having them moved elsewhere protects their safety, and helps the safety of drivers who aren't paying attention like they should be," said Palo Alto resident Tim Diebert.

The committee will revisit the issue sometime in the next month or so before it goes to the full council for consideration later this year or early next year.

"I wouldn't be in this office if I didn't hold out hope that something like this could be worked out," said Kniss. "I think we need a lot more information than we have now... we really need to know who for example would be eligible to park there."
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