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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