As more people continue to live inside their vehicles around the Bay Area, Palo Alto is turning to its churches for help — hoping they can offer a safe haven away from city streets.
Under a proposed safe parking pilot program approved on Tuesday by a city policy committee, zoning regulations would be modified to allow churches to host up to four vehicles.
So far at least four churches in Palo Alto, including Peninsula Bible Church, have expressed interest in opening up their parking lots to vehicle dwellers overnight.
The city also will explore converting two publicly-owned lots and the possibility of larger landowners opening up their lots for the program, with council members singling out Stanford University and its research park lots as potential sites for vehicle dwellers.
The proposed program and zoning changes will still need to be approved by the full city council and city staff have not yet set a date for when that would occur.
Winter Dellenbach — one of about a half dozen residents who spoke at Tuesday’s City Council Policy and Service Committee meeting — said that the program is needed by both the city’s vehicle dwellers and the community.
“This isn’t just another thing we can do. This is another thing we desperately need to do because these people desperately need a safe harbor provided for them to live in their dwellings,” Dellenbach said.
In recent years, the Palo Alto Police Department has logged about 1,500 complaints annually for abandoned vehicles on city streets, driven by concerns over safety, sanitation, impaired visibility and appearance. Some of those vehicles, however, have not been abandoned and instead, serve as homes for residents and families.
The city doesn’t know exactly how many residents are living in vehicles on city streets. A survey by the Palo Alto Police Department in August counted 126 motorhomes, vans or RVs parked on city streets, but it did not include residents living in passenger vehicles.
Still, the city is not immune to the impacts of the region’s housing and homelessness crisis, and in June, council members Tom DuBois and Lydia Kou asked the city to explore a safe parking program.
“The City of Palo Alto must address this matter from a health and safety standpoint,” DuBois and Kou wrote in a June memo. “The ultimate goal is to provide assistance to people to get them back on the path to stable housing.”
The city briefly banned vehicle dwelling on city streets in 2013 before repealing it a year later following a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Ninth Circuit to strike down a similar ban in Los Angeles.
Unlike its neighbors in Mountain View and East Palo Alto, Palo Alto councilmembers expressed in June that they have no intention of trying to ban RVs from the city streets again.
Instead, the council members said the safe parking program is a better way to address resident concerns while also providing vehicle dwellers the services and resources needed to transition into more stable housing situations.
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Source:: The Mercury News – Business