Palo Alto city leadership discusses plans to fund new police building by imposing new hotel taxes

No new taxesFour members of Palo Alto City Council met yesterday to discuss the idea of putting a new tax before voters next year to fund infrastructure projects, and finding a way to tax business owners to help pay for two parking garages was among the ideas circling the table.

A parking garage downtown and another along California Avenue were two projects that topped Mayor Greg Scharff’s list of priorities.

At yesterdays infrastructure committee meeting, Scharff asked if there was a way to Commercial space downtown and on California Avenue at a set price per square foot so that city residents wouldn’t have to build the garages.

City attorney Molly Stump said that is something the city will need to explore first, before providing information on how it could be done. Councilman Larry Klein said he would be “intrigue” if city officials could find a way to carve that out.

Council commissioned a poll,  which costs $28,000, to help determine whether to put a bond issue before voters in November 2014, and, if so, what projects should be included in the measure.

Council was initially eager to find out whether voters would support a bond measure that would help fund part or all of a plan for a new station police station that would be double its current size.

But according to the pole, only 53% of voters would support this, when a two thirds’ vote is needed.

Scharff said people in the city told council that they want a new police station, but he is not sure if they’re willing to pay for it.

Other infrastructure items that topped the committee’s list of what is in need of work or repair included fire stations, bike paths and newly paved streets and sidewalks.

An increase of the city’s hotel tax, which is currently 12%, to 14% received support from 62% of the voters polled.

A hotel tax that goes in the general fund only requires a majority vote for approval. Scharff said he would be in favor of increasing city’s hotel tax to 15%. He said he doesn’t see much less support for 1% more.

City officials mentioned that Palo Alto has a high hotel tax rate compared with surrounding cities. But Scharff said Palo Alto is a destination spot, and it’s hotels can’t be compared with hotels in other cities such as Sunnyvale.

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Lights out at Cubberley Community Center – Homeless vehicle dwellers need not apply

In a decision last-night that shook the homeless of Cubberley Community Center also known as Palo Alto’s “de facto homeless shelter”, Vehicle dwellers will no longer be able to sleep in their cars or vans in a vote, 2 against and 7 for the ban on vehicle habitation.

The long two year battle some say has just begun with one local attorney William Safford vowing to represent any vehicle dweller faced with penalties at no charge if homeless vehicle dwellers are cited under the new Palo Alto city ordinance. A charging offense of a misdemeanor under the new law and California Penal Code.

Judge LaDoris H. Cordell (Ret.)
Judge LaDoris H. Cordell (Ret.)

Strong passions were evident as those opposed to the ordinance stepped up to the microphone pleading with council-members for compassion and to look for other solutions rather than taking away their shelter and the security of their vehicles.

Concerns for personal safety

However, many of the residence of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, which boarders Cubberley Community Community Campus, express their concerns for personal safety as a result of the growing homeless population.  They feared for their safety and as one person related, even beginning to feel “paranoid”.

Councilmen Larry Klein a staunch supporter of the ban was determined to restore safety to the area and felt it was his moral obligation to do so. Liz Kniss another supporter of the ban challenged the faith based and non-profit communities to lend greater assist in finding additional solutions and out-reach services for the homeless community.

Sealed fate of Vehicle Dwellers

What sealed the fate of the vehicles dwellers were perhaps the personal tours provided by the Palo Alto police in where they discovered by way of license plate checks that many of the vehicles were not even registered with Palo Alto addresses giving rise and support that Palo Alto was in fact becoming a magnet for the homeless.

This personalized police tour uncovered 27 vehicles’ and 15 people sleeping in sleeping bags. Gail Price stated that homelessness is ‘one of the biggest social issues facing our nation’ but felt the ordinance was necessary.

The ordinance she said would not be a single action but that she would be looking for the “next” steps in helping the homeless population in Palo Alto.

Soft roll-out of vehicle habitation ordinance

Our concerns are, as the city of Palo Alto roles out there phased approach in helping the homeless and homeless vehicle dwellers that the Palo Alto police will be rousting out the homeless vehicle dwellers from their cars and sleeping bags at all hours with what they feel is “probable cause” to search their vehicles and personal possessions under the ruse of a “welfare check” as the city implements this new ordinance.

One homeless vehicle dweller, Diane Jones living in her vehicle since last November on Cubberley campus say’s she has been harassed at all hours by the PAPD knocking on her windows. “They knock and pound at the doors and windows and we “can’t get any rest”.  Our question is, who’s going to police the police on reported bad behavior on their part?

Living in Vehicles Ordinance

Related articles: Palo Alto to Decide Whether Sleeping in Car Should Result in Jail Sentence

City of Palo Alto on a collision course with homeless vehicle dwellers

Cutting edge of technologyPalo Alto often is on the cutting edge, and the first city to try anything. But when it comes to the proposed ban on living or sleeping in cars that goes to City Council tonight, Palo Alto is late to the party.

In Santa Clara County, 12 cities prohibit people from living for sleeping in their vehicles, while Monte Sereno and Los Altos do not. In San Mateo County, 18 cities have such ordinances, while only East Palo Alto, Colma and Portola Valley don’t. Menlo Park prohibiting overnight parking on residential streets, which effectively bans car camping.

Redwood City police Sgt. Greg Farley said the city doesn’t have an ordinance specifically banning people from sleeping in their vehicles. But he said police will knock on the door and charges up to the discretion of the officers. Typically a warning will be given, he said.

Farley said people usually move on or stay awake. If a vehicle citation is given, the first time there is a fine of $100, the second time it’s a $200 and each time after that it goes to $500, be said.

Farley said the city doesn’t receive many complaints about people living in their cars. Typically police come across commuters who pulled over off the highway to sleep.

The Kmart parking lot on veterans Boulevard is where police typically find people living in cars, but with Kaiser now taking a portion of the lot, the numbers have gone down, Farley said.

Menlo Park police Sgt. Matthew Ortega said the city has no particular ordinance for people living in their cars. But cars can’t be parked on residential streets or within 300 feet of residential zones between 2 AM and 5 AM., Ortega said. Residents have to park in their driveway or have a permit to park on the street, he said.

If a car is parked on the street during this time and person is in the car or nearby, he said the police would first ask them to move, but they could be cited for a parking infraction, which is a minimum of $25 for the first time.

At other times during the day, Ortega said police would not stop, if the car is parked legally, for a person in a car, except to maybe make a welfare check.

Ortega is aware of Palo Alto’s proposed ordinance, and he said Menlo Park may “steal” it, if and when it is passed.

Los Altos police Sgt. Cameron Shearer said that the city doesn’t have a ordinance saying a person cannot sleep in his car.

You can’t park here

There is an ordinance saying no one can stop or park a car on any street for longer than 30 minutes between the hours of 2 AM and 6 AM if there is notice posted on the block.

But Shearer said he is not aware of anywhere in the city that this is currently posted.

The number of complaints police receive regarding people sleeping in their cars is minimal, Shearer said. If police do come across someone in their vehicle for a long time, they trying to make sure the person is OK and is receiving social services, if needed, he said.

Mountain View police did not return calls Friday, but the city does have an ordnance stating no one can live in a car park on the street in residential areas.

If Palo Alto’s ordinance passes tonight, police response to people living in vehicles will be mostly complained driven, according to city officials.

It will be up to the discretion of the police officer as to whether to issue a warning for arrest and offender, but police will try to match people living in their cars with the services needed.

City attorney Molly Stump previously told the Post that a violation could result in a misdemeanor charge, but that’s “pretty far down the road.” The penalty for a misdemeanor is a fine up to $1,000 or up to six months in jail.

Court costs

Former Santa Clara County public defender Aram James, an opponent of the car camping ban, said that based on  his calculations, using a study completed by a legal industry trade publication, a trial for just one case, if a person were arrested for living in his car, could cost taxpayers to $10,000 a day.

James said this is money that could be spent on solutions to homelessness. He also said the number of cases that could arise from an ordinance, such as the one proposed in Palo Alto, could overburden the criminal justice system and the public defender office in Santa Clara County.

Calls to the public defender office we’re not returned last week. If council approves the ordinance banning car camping, a second we will occur no less than 11 days after the first reading.

The ordinance will go into effect 30 days after the reading, but the City Council’s Policy and Services Committee, which is made up of four council members, has recommended a phased approach that defers full enforcement for six months.

Living in Vehicles Ordinance

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Palo Alto vehicle dwellers face potential jail time set aside in secret from original report

Van DwellingA proposed ban on sleeping in cars going before Palo Alto City Council on Monday doesn’t say that a violation would be a misdemeanor charge, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or six months in jail, but the city attorney confirmed this yesterday.

The proposed ordinance banning the “human of habitation vehicles,” which is 365 words on two pages, makes no mention of the penalty. And the penalty isn’t mentioned in City Manager James Keene’s report to City Council in advance of Monday’s meeting.

Parking violations in Palo Alto Municipal Code are infractions, a step below a misdemeanor, which only results in a fine and no possibility of jail. City officials yesterday downplayed the misdemeanor aspect of the proposed ban, saying arrests would be a last resort.

Officers to use discretion

City Attorney Molly Stump said a violation could result in a misdemeanor charge, but that “pretty far down the road.” She said the decision to arrest an offender is something that is up to the discretion of the police officer, but police will try to match people who are living in their cars with the services needed.

The Post wanted to talk to Palo Alto police about the proposed ordinance . But police said  that all questions would have to be directed to the city’s Chief Communication Officer Claudia Keith. Initially yesterday, Keith didn’t know for sure if the ordinance was a misdemeanor, and she said she have to do some close “checking.”

Then the Post reached City Attorney Stump, who was able to confirm that while the ordinance going before council on Monday doesn’t mention a penalty, it is a misdemeanor under the Municipal Code.

Stump said when a complaint of someone living in their the car is received, police officers will respond based on the facts in each situation. She said it isn’t possible to provide one blanket penalty for all situations.

City officials are “aware that many individuals living in vehicles there may be extenuating economic, mental or physical health issues that are difficult to overcome and that may be best addressed by one or more of the local social services providers,” Keene said in his report.

Living in Vehicles Ordinance

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Just Say No To Palo Alto’s Proposed Vehicle Habitation Ban

interiorgilkisonvanOn August 5, 2013 the city council will consider passing an ordinance that would criminalize living in one’s vehicle here in Palo Alto. If passed and enacted… the anti-vehicle dweller ordinance would carry, upon conviction …for its violation…up to 6 months in the county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

After it appeared that the city had abandoned the proposed ordinance, after a nearly 1 ½ year battle (July 2011 thru November 2012), between homeless activists and the city government … a reconfigured city council (beginning in January 2013), with newly elected city council person Liz Kniss, a recently termed out member of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, and former mayor and city council member in Palo Alto… leading the charge on steroids, to yet again attempt to foist this draconian, hate filled legislation down the throats of the good people of this community.

Prosecutions under this proposed ordinance would have extremely adverse consequences on an already overburdened criminal justice system…here in Santa Clara County.

Given the innocuous nature of the conduct that can trigger charges under this new law, judges, juries and public defenders (who would be charged with defending the bulk of these cases), are all likely to be extraordinarily displeased to see these cases substantially increase their case loads, flood their courtrooms and drain very limited judicial resources that are needed to defend and prosecuted the huge number of serious cases .

Trial of just one such case, in the courts of this county—will cost in the neighborhood of  $10,000 a day, monies clearly better spent in finding permanent solutions to homelessness.

Each case charged under this law—preventing people with no other choice from living in their car—will be defended by raising the very time consuming, complex and expensive “Defense of Necessity.” See: Defense of Necessity in homeless cases:

Other viable defenses to charges brought under this ordinance would include: discriminatory enforcement, outrageous government conduct, and defense by way of juries exercising their inherent power to vote not guilty despite a clear violation of the law—because the jury concludes i.e., that a particular law is morally repugnant i.e., such as prosecuting member of the homeless and car dwelling community for the most de minimis conduct. For more on Jury Nullification

Outside of Palo Alto City Hall is King Plaza–named in January of 2008–in honor of Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King.

On a plaque in their honor displayed in King Plaza, are the following two quotes, both extraordinarily relevant to the campaign to convince at least 5 members of the Palo Alto city council…to vote in opposition to the proposed ordinance:

(1) “Somewhere we must come to see that social progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless effort and persistent work of dedicated individuals; and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation and irrational emotionalism. We must realize that the time is always ripe to do right.” Martin Luther King from Stanford University in 1967.

(2)”The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members…a heart of grace and a soul generated by love.” Speech at Georgia State University in 2000 by Coretta Scott King.

This year, in April… our current city council… by a 6-0 vote, gave City Manager James Keene.. the discretion to raise the banner for gay pride … as well as pass a resolution recognizing that 76 percent of voters in the city rejected Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman.  Rainbow Flag will fly in Palo Alto.

In this same article, current Mayor Greg Scharff is quoted as follows: “This is the civil rights issue of our time.” “I see no possible argument why people should not be allowed to marry whoever they wish.”

I believe the same arguments and logic can be applied to the struggle to end homelessness here in Palo Alto and across this country. It is incontrovertible that the fight to end homelessness, is equally the civil rights issue of our time. To state otherwise requires a total denial of the facts surrounding the current crisis re homelessness in this country.

I can think of no greater irony and hypocrisy than for the city of Palo Alto and its city council and government who pride themselves for honoring the civil rights struggles of the 1960’s…and the more recent civil rights struggle for gay rights, to now pass an ordinance–contrary to every notion of civil rights and equal protection of the law, a law, that if passes demonizes, marginalizes, and criminalizes…the most vulnerable among us…the unhoused and vehicle dwellers.

The arc of justice in this country is fluid, but leave no doubt, bends towards more not less justice and toward more not less civil rights for the homeless.

In just the last two years Rhode Island and Connecticut have passed Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights. Many other states will soon follow with similar legislation…outlawing the very type of ordinance our Palo Alto City Council is threatening to pass and enact.

In the end… the only right, moral and constitutionally appropriate action to take…is to table this misguided and mean-spirited proposed vehicle habitation ordinance forever!

Anyone who opposes this ordinance, stands for justice.and is unwilling to tolerate a hate law targeted at the most vulnerable members of our community, should attend the city council meeting on Monday August 5th, to speak-out  and voice your opposition to this unconscionable proposed hate law.

Living in Vehicles Ordinance