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

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

One Reply to “Time is running out for those who call the streets of Palo Alto their home”

  1. 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.

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