Palo 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.
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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