Palo Alto’s Vehicle Habitation Ban on the Hit List

Palo Alto’s Vehicle Habitation Ban on the Hit List of Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s Homeless Bill of Rights.

On June 27, 2012 Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee signed into law the Rhode Island Homeless Bill of Rights.

On December 4, 2012 California State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano introduced a California equivalent: AB 5, which is a bill that would create the Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights and Fairness Act, which provides that no person’s rights, privileges, or access to public services may be denied or abridged because he or she is homeless, has a low income, or suffers from a mental illness or physical disability.

Assemblyman Ammiano’s Bill specifically identifies the right of homeless people to exist in public and the right to use the public streets and vehicles without being criminalized contrary to Palo Alto’s proposed Vehicle Habitation Ordinance.

Excerpts From Assemblyman Ammiano’s Bill:

53.3.   Every person in the state, regardless of actual or perceived housing status, income level, mental illness, or physical disability, shall have the right to all of the following basic human rights and legal and civil protections:

(a) The right to use and move freely in public spaces, including, but not limited to, plazas, parking lots, public sidewalks, public parks, public transportation, public streets, and public buildings, in the same manner as any other person, and without discrimination.

(n) The right to make his or her own decisions regarding whether or not to enter into a public or private shelter or any other accommodation, including social services programs, for any reason he or she sees fit, without facing criminal or civil sanctions, harassment, or arrest from law enforcement, public or private security personnel, or BID agents.

(o) The right to occupy vehicles, either to rest or use for the purposes of shelter, for 24 hours a day, seven days a week while legally parked on public property without facing criminal or civil sanctions, harassment, or arrest from law enforcement, public or private security personnel, or BID agents.

Over the last few years some people within the city of Palo Alto have opined for an ordinance which would outlaw the use of vehicles as a form of shelter.  Such a law could actually deny homeless people the right to own vehicles outright as the ordinance was constructed and proposed in July of 2011.  Current City Attorney Molly Stump and City Manager James Keene have refused to clarify whether or not such an ordinance would prohibit homeless people from owning the property of a vehicle, instead deliberately attempting to be vague in order to oppress the most vulnerable of our society knowing full well that most do not have access to legal representation that would expose the fraudulent construction of the law.

What is certain is that Assemblyman Ammiano’s bill is the antitheses of the hate propagated by Palo Alto Council Elect Liz Kniss, current Councilman Sid Espinosa and the Palo Alto Weekly who openly support taking away homeless persons’ vehicles.

Based upon Mr. Ammiano’s bill, he considers Palo Alto’s proposed Vehicle Habitation Ban commensurate with the human hate motivated:

Jim Crow Laws; the Ugly Laws of San Francisco; the Anti-Okie laws; the Sundown towns’ laws; the Vagrancy laws and the current “Quality of life” and “civil sidewalk” ordinances used to eliminate people from society based not upon their character but upon their physical and economic characteristics.

In August 2010 the Palo Alto Weekly published an Editorial:  It’s long past time to ban ‘vehicle dwelling,’  In that article the Palo Alto Weekly falsely states that Menlo Park prohibits vehicle habitation under its nuisance law and health and safety provisions.  This deliberate attempt to mislead the public demonstrates the prejudice against homeless people, homeless people that includes veterans who have put their lives on the line so that reporters like Jay Thorwaldson of the Palo Alto Weekly can write freely and in safety.

Should Assemblyman Ammiano’s bill pass, Palo Alto’s bigots will not be able to hang their hat on the vehicle habitation ordinances that exist in other municipalities to justify enacting a similar ordinance here, in fact they will be publicly identifying themselves as haters of their fellow human beings who have more in common with those who enacted the “white only” drinking fountain.


Assemblyman Ammiano’s Bill:     ab_5_bill_20121203_introduced

S.F. Chronicle Article:


One Reply to “Palo Alto’s Vehicle Habitation Ban on the Hit List”

  1. Hi Tony,

    You have written an excellent, compelling and important piece educating the public on the absolute necessity of opposing any proposed vehicle habitation ordinance here in Palo Alto, CA. Your article is a call to arms for all concerned citizens/human beings, where ever state sanctioned ignorance and discrimination still stands.

    For your readers, particularly those who now or in the future might find themselves living in their vehicles: here are a few legal tools–far from exhaustive– to explore in beating back the states effort to criminalize such conduct: (1) Jury Nullification: For a full explanation and much source material re how to employ this legal strategy see:

    (2) Another alternative, if pushed to a jury trial as a result of the state criminalizing the act of living in one’s vehicle– is the Defense of Necessity, now recognized as a legitimate defense to such a shameful charge.

    See: In re Eichorn 69 Cal.App. 4th 382 (1998) and for a detailed analysis of the potential impact of In re Eichhorn see: IN RE EICHORN: THE LONG AWAITED IMPLEMENTATION OF THE NECESSITY DEFENSE IN A CASE OF THE CRIMINALIZATION OF HOMELESSNESS by Antonia K. Fasanelli. You can find this article with a Google search or in the American University Law Review at Vol: 50:323 (2001).

    (3) For yet another weapon to use against the state should they decide to prosecute you for living in your vehicle see: Pottinger v. City of Miami 810 F. Supp. 1551 (S.D. Fla. 1992) In Pottinger–there is a full discussion of how to employ the 8th Amendment ban against cruel and unusual punishment as a legal defense to the state’s effort to criminalize homelessness and by implication living in one’s vehicle. The number of defenses that can be raised to such outrageous laws is only limited by your imagination. Now go out and fight back!!

    Aram James

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