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Palo Alto Joins Santa Cruz in Rejecting the Right to Sleep: A Sad Tale of Two Cities
by Steve Pleich
Wednesday Aug 7th, 2013 1:28 PM
My Dreams of Sleep
Although my own sleep is often troubled, I nevertheless continue to dream of a community that regards sleep as a fundamental human right. These thoughts came particularly to mind while reading an article about the recent Palo Alto City Council meeting where sleeping in one’s motor home was criminalized by local ordinance. It was my hope that a passionate, well reasoned defense of the right to a restful, undisturbed night’s sleep for the vehicularly housed might resonate with that elected body. However that “dream” was effectively snuffed out by a decision that seemed to reject out of hand that most basic right. But does this decision accurately reflect the views of that community, or ours, with regard to the right to sleep? My dream is that it does not.

I think we might all agree that our moral sense compels us to extend our hearts to the less fortunate among us who often ask for nothing more than a safe, undisturbed night’s sleep. Intellectually, there is little dispute that sleep bears a direct relationship to our ability to live happy and productive lives. One can scarcely find fault with that logic.

But more than that, for some families in reduced circumstances living (and sleeping) in a recreational vehicle is the only way to keep the family unit together as they struggle to regain their economic footing. Are the people of Palo Alto and the people of Santa Cruz so calloused to the challenges faced by the vehicularly housed that they would simply brand this survival option illegal and not give it any further thought? Again, my hope and dream is that they do not.

So I would ask that as we work to create safe places to sleep for the vehicularly housed residents of both communities we do one more thing:

We look to find a place for them in our hearts as well. That, it seems to me, is a dream worth sleeping about.

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by Becky Johnson
Wednesday Aug 7th, 2013 10:23 PM
STEVE PLEICH WRITES: "Are the people of Palo Alto and the people of Santa Cruz so calloused to the challenges faced by the vehicularly housed that they would simply brand this survival option illegal and not give it any further thought?"

BECKY JOHNSON: The people are not. I went to Palo Alto Monday night & spoke to the City Council. I listened to their concerns & those of those who spoke in favor of the ban. There was no sugar-coating. These people wanted a "tool" police could use to "get rid of" anyone parked in a vehicle on a public street who "bothered them." No need for them to be breaking any laws. Just merely living is enough to arrest, put on trial by jury, and jail for 6 months. The actual language of the ordinance says that the behavior which constitutes arrest "...may include but is not limited to eating, sleeping or resting." Under this ordinance, playing parchesi, talking on your cellphone, or reading a book will become arrestable crimes if "someone complains."

None on the City Council were honest about their intentions. They claimed they were moved by "safety" concerns. Yet how is someone unsafe by someone eating in their vehicle?

When one woman who lives in her vehicle came forward to plead with the council to not pass the ban, she burst into tears. The Council looked bored. Not a single person showed a hint of compassion for the population they are condemning to a fringe existence in fear of police. The only note of hope I had that evening was the very large turnout by people of the faith community, those outraged by this attack on poor and homeless people, advocates, and many who said they'd supported various city councilmembers campaigns in the past, but were appalled at this law.

One councilwoman expressed outrage that we would consider this to be "criminalization of homelessness." She said that she's appalled when she sees a person living in their vehicle and "only wants to connect them with services." Of course in the planet she lives on, their are precious few services that provide legal housing to a person who can't afford it. And as a member of the Palo Alto City Council, she should know this. She obviously could care less.

The only "services" this law will connect a homeless person with are the police, the courts and the jails. The City Attorney explained that while the ordinance is a misdemeanor, meaning the person is subject to immediate arrest, the DA can downgrade the violation to an infraction so that person loses his/her right to a public defender or a jury trial.

This is not surprising considering that jury trials in Santa Clara County cost $10,000/day and will most likely last 3 or 4 days.

When the council voted 7 for 2 against, many in the audience shouted "Shame! Shame!" Few were surprised. Most felt it to be a done deal before the council deliberated. This was a 1st reading, so in order to pass into law, the Palo Alto City Council needs to schedule this on a future agenda. Word has it that that will be on the Consent Agenda.
by i guess
Thursday Aug 8th, 2013 1:59 AM
A misdemeanor to eat in your car?
Talk about a Police State!

What's next? You can't eat in a park?
by Steve Pleich
Thursday Aug 8th, 2013 10:52 AM
Becky is right to invoke the voice of the people; a voice she has championed for many years. Perhaps there is a glimmer of hope for that voice to be heard in Palo Alto. A man can "dream" can't he?
by Robert Norse
Sunday Aug 11th, 2013 10:20 PM
While the Ban is probably a fait accompli--there's a "2nd reading" Monday August 12th shortly after 7 PM, I'm reposting the strong and persuasive anti-Ban arguments presented before the May 5th meeting which encouraged dozens of speakers to cram their comments into 1 minute and oppose the Ban:

These two strong articles by homeless activists in Palo Alto correct the misstatements of bigotfriendly authorities and reveal the human dimensions of the proposed attack on the main affordable housing for homeless people in California (vehicles).

Tony Ciampi presents his research on the status of anti-vehicular housing laws in the South Bay (in sharp contrast to the claims of the staff report). Staff and Council campercrushers are insisting all other cities and counties neighboring have anti-habitation laws. Ciampi's report disputes this.

Santa Cruz, of course, continues to explicitly criminalize sleeping in vehicles--though only at night (11 PM to 8:30 AM--see MC 6.36.010a).

In Santa Cruz an unholy alliance of the Seaside Company, the SCPD, the City Council, gentrification-zealous neighborhood groups like Santa Cruz Neighbors, the "tourists-are-us" Downtown Association, and outright bigoted Take-Back-Santa-Cruz-style groups have combined on the mayor-appointed Public Safety Citizen's Task Force. The Public Hysteria Task Farce (as I call it) meets every other Wednesday 6 PM at the SCPD Community Room It's open to the public (though they usually don't allow you to speak or present testimony). Its agendas, staff reports, and minutes are available at So far the City has refused to provide access to audios of the past meetings.

The head of this "Homeless Crimes" group is Seaside Company PR huckster Kris Reyes and includes "let the addicts die!" stalwart Steve Schlicht, vice-chair retired anti-homeless cop Jim Howes, Take-Back-Santa-Cruz sympathizer Renee Golder, and a host of other disreputables (see for the full list), hand-picked by Mayor "Bullwhip" Bryant, whose idea of law enforcement is being brutal to homeless people (destroying their camps, property, dignity, & rights).


From: t.ciampi [at]
Subject: Signage Required Prior To Enforcement of VHO
Date: Mon, 5 Aug 2013 01:22:54 -0600

Palo Alto City Council:

Please Be Advised that prior to enforcing the Vehicle Habitation Ordinance the City of Palo Alto will be required to erect signage on every block in the city that the city wants to enforce the ordinance pursuant to CALIFORNIA VEHICLE CODE 22507

corroborated by the case law:


Judge orders police to stop citing homeless for sleeping in cars

Read more here:

The city of San Luis Obispo was ordered Thursday by a Superior Court judge to pay $133,880 in legal fees and other associated costs to the two attorneys who sued the city over its treatment of homeless people living and sleeping in their vehicles. The ruling brings the city’s cost to settle the lawsuit to more than $270,000.

Read more here:

If the city of Palo Alto erects signs at Cubberley Center the vehicle dwellers will move to Gereenmeadow necessitating signs in Greenmeadow. After signs are erected in Greenmeadow the vehicle dwellers will move to Fairmeadow and then on to Adobe Meadow and Palo Verde. After signs are erected in those neighborhoods the vehicle dwellers will move to Midtown and Barron Park eventually settling down in Old Palo Alto and Professorville. In the end there will be thousands of signs on every block in Palo Alto to deal with 30 cars.

Councilman Larry Klein,
My apologies, I was incorrect about Pacifica and San Francisco not having a Vehicle Habitation Ordinance as I was misinformed by local homeless advocates there. However I have recently been informed that it is still legal to live in a vehicle in most places in San Francisco and Pacifica because there are no signs posted in the majority of those districts, only a few small areas is living in a vehicle prohibited.

It should also be noted that Mountain View allows Vehicle Habitation in commercial areas and prohibits Vehicle Habitation in residential areas.
SEC. 19.111. Regulation of storage or parking of vehicles in residential areas. "No vehicle parked upon any public street shall be occupied or used for dwelling purpose." ONLY REFERS TO RESIDENTIAL AREAS

I've heard reports as many as 70 vehicle dwellers living in Mtn. View's commercial areas. I spoke with Mountain View Community Service Officer Leslie Ota on May 15, 2013. Ms. Ota supplied me with Mtn. View's current muni-code SEC. 19.111. (c) regarding the use of vehicles in residential areas. She also informed me that the city/police department were receiving numerous complaints from businesses in commercial areas regarding people sleeping/living in their vehicles. She also stated to me that she was tasked to investigate the expansion of Mtn. View's vehicle habitation ordinance to include all commercial areas as a result of Palo Alto enacting a Vehicle Habitation Ordinance. A response to the belief that Palo Alto's vehicle dwellers will move to Mtn. View. I believe she stated that she conducted an preliminary report during last fall and early winter, Oct-Dec. 2012.

Mr. Klein you are doing to Mountain View what you have been complaining about that other cities have been doingto Palo Alto, force the homeless to move Palo Alto.

San Jose: based upon the ordinance, 6.46.040, cited in the staff report, 3965, it is NOT ILLEGAL live in a car in San Jose. 6.46.040 only refers to trailers and house cars- VC 362 not regular cars.

Menlo Park: Chapter 8.04 NUISANCES1 (18) Human occupation as a dwelling or residence of a motor vehicle, recreation vehicle or a structure not qualified as a dwelling unit under Title 16 of this code; All that this ordinance states is that a motor vehicles such as an RVs or Campers are not subject to the zoning codes listed in Title 16: Menlo Park does not have an ordinance as confirmed by the Menlo PD.

From: Acker, Nicole M (NMAcker [at]
Sent: Tue 7/09/13 6:43 PM
To: t.ciampi [at] (t.ciampi [at]; abjpd1 [at] (abjpd1 [at]
Cc: McIntyre, Alex D (admcintyre [at]; Jerome-Robinson, Starla L (

To Mr. Ciampi and Mr. James,
It is not illegal to sleep in your vehicle (except in trailers – see below) in the City of Menlo Park; however, we do discourage it for safety reasons. The exception to this is in the following ordinances from our municipal code which addresses sleeping in a trailer coach. In addition there is an overnight parking ordinance for parked vehicles in Menlo Park overnight, which I have included below.

Chapter 7.20 – TRAILER AND TRAILER CAMPS 7.20.010 Definitions.....I will be sending out a training bulletin to the police officers and sergeants of our department as a reminder. We realize that the City of Palo Alto is working on an ordinance to ban sleeping in vehicles, which does not impact our City.

Best Regards, Nicole
Nicole Acker| Management Analyst – Training/Hiring/Public Information
Menlo Park Police Department


----- Forwarded Message -----
From: chuck jagoda
To: Tony Ciampi
Sent: Sunday, August 4, 2013 1:50 AM
Subject: Alternative Suggestions--some examples

Hi Everyone,

I sent this out originally and the Pastor Greg wrote back and asked if I'd sent it to the City Council. I hadn't. So I added a few things--especially to the Suggested Alternatives section near the end and sent it to the City Council.

I'm resending it to you all again--I know I did already did resend it---but I'm not sure that people noticed the added Suggested Alternatives. Now there are 10.

I'm suggesting we all come up with 10 new ideas. Only out of A LOT of ideas--including bad ones--can we get a list of ones we like.

The City Council keeps LOOKING and ASKING for alternative suggestions. We have to start the ball rolling, prime the pump, model the behavior we want to see.

So, I've put the Suggested Alternatives in blue type (like this) to make them easier to find. You might even want to reread this whole, new, and improved email.


Subject: Re: Cubberly

First, thanks to the neighbor who wrote the original email for this opportunity to discuss the issue at hand.

I am a sometime-Cubberley car camper. I know many of the people who live there on a regular basis--in their cars or on the ground. (Instead of "regular" I was going to say "normally" but it's not anything like normal living.)

Here's my thing: we car campers have already lost resources--jobs, homes, family. To take away what few resources we have left means you really don't get it. You think it's a game or a con job or just "bad people." You don't realize we are you, just a few bad breaks from where you are now. We're not bad people, any more than your nephew or daughter-in-law who was in an abusive relationship or an older worker who helped make Silicon Valley so silky and is now a burden are "bad people."

Lots of inflated rumors are going around about Cubberley. The populations ebbs and flows. Over the winter before last (11/12), the populations went down.

There are not "bad people doing bad things" at Cubberley. Some who camp there have worked in this area for many years and now are suffering from the second worse economic downturn in anyone's memory.

I challenge any one to come up with a list of crimes or offenses or even real complaints at Cubberley. There have lots of false complaints about Cubberley campers--but FOUNDED complaints, where some wrong doing was found or an arrest was made or even evidence of a crime being committed---those seem to be very hard to find evidence of. Except in the newspaper or the mouths of those who support the ordinance.

To the parent who worries about her kids at Cubberley--take a few minutes to go around and introduce yourself to the people who you see nearby and are afraid of. Introduce your kids to them. Or, do you want your kids to grow up afraid for the rest of their lives? It doesn't have to be like that. Parents at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church sign up months in advance to come--and BRING THEIR KIDS--and sit with homeless people when the Hotel de Zink is at their church. Why can't you be like that? Didn't you hear Christ say, "as you do unto the least of my brethren, you do unto Me"? What did you think he was talking about when he said that?

You know that messy old yellow van in the Cubberley lot? It belongs to Eleanor an older woman who taught the children of Silicon Valley for years and now is not in such good shape. Where do you want her to go if you succeed in throwing her out of Cubberley?

Get a clue Palo Alto: You have gotten rid of single room occupancy hotels in downtown Palo Alto and the cheap motels along El Camino. You've closed Clare Mateo Shelter. Instead of talking about "referrals" for the car campers, realize there ARE NO SHELTERS to refer people too. If you go through the exercise of calling the listed "resources" for homeless people, you'll find that they are only part of a great round robin calling circle. You will get referred from one to the other to the other and after you've run around to them all--you will find no shelters in Palo Alto and darned few in Santa Clara County.

So if you close up the low cost, semi-affordable housing, then build no new affordable housing--and when a developer DOES build something and asks for a variance to NOT build the affordable apartments part of the deal, you give it to him/her--and then tell the displaced homeless they can't live in vehicles any more--what do you think the result will be?

The result will be no places, no facilities, for us/them, and YOU when you need shelter. Think you're insulated and will never need shelter? We used to think that too. We got a surprise. Unfortunately, some of you will also. And you'll not be so happy to be on the other end of an ordinance that means you do not even have your vehicle to sleep in.

I don't want this--but it is a given that some homeowners reading these words will someday be on the wrong end of a vehicle habitation ordinance--IF you all are so ostrich-like as to not smell the lawsuits that will be upheld. Such law suits would waste a LOT of tax payers money trying to make invisible what is real and won't go away. That money that this ordinance will waste COULD be used to help solve the problem and do what we all know is right.

Do you know that some of the car-campers at Cubbeley make a point of going around the area and cleaning up their own trash as well as the food wrappers, condoms, and diapers that people from all over the area and even the region come and throw it as they use the facilities?

WHY do we clean up the messes of others? Because the messes will be blamed on us whether we made them or not. So we clean them up.

Unfortunately Cubberley is owned by a city (Palo Alto) with insufficient social conscience and broad vision to deal with its homeless population. They just wish they'd go away and try to accomplish this by making the City so inhospitable that we will go away. They worry it they're TOO generous, more and more homeless will be attracted.

I'd love to know in what church or religion people learned that there was such a thing as being TOO generous and how it could harm you.

What HAS Palo Alto done? What IS Palo Alto doing? Worrying about what other cities are doing and insisting on living down to their level is unworthy of a city like Palo Alto. Palo Alto may have some mean, stingy streaks to its nature, but it also has a great tradition of social leadership. It's Down Town Streets Program is imitated all over the world.

You know what those other cities we're so fond of comparing ourselves to have been doing? Establishing services, programs, even HOUSING the homeless! What a concept!

Anyone who thinks you can just wipe away homelessness with one ordinance is extremely naive, cut off from the world around them, and living in a cocoon.

We are living in time of the greatest transfer of wealth ever in the history of the world. That transfer is going from poor to rich. There used to a class of people called the working poor--some of them are now living in vehicles in Cubberley. They may never get back to the standard of living they (we all) enjoyed in the years after WWII.

There have been an additional 150 homeless in Santa Clara County in the last year. The homeless population of the whole country and all it's cities has increased. Palo Alto has not seen a proportional increase. If homeless people are a curse, Palo Alto ought to be very thankful for its low numbers.

Neighbors Helping Neighbors is a group here in Palo Alto that helps about a dozen families ease their transition from homes to homelessness in Palo Alto every month. Yet there are not a dozen new Cubberley campers.

The neighbor who wrote the original letter is very accurate when he says Palo Alto won't build shelters but in fact have made Cubberley into a shelter for homeless people. I say, "Thank God for at least THAT bit of compassion. And let's get busy on the shelter/affordable housing front. What IS the delay? What does it take to get it across that the need is long standing and the solutions not even on the horizon.

No one is talking about solutions other than more mean-spirited, un-Christian hating of one's fellow citizens.

When the Working Group that the City Council set up would meet, we were repeatedly reminded that the City would spend no money, allow use of NO city resources to help solve the attendant problems.

Santa Barbara has a lot more success with their homeless population because they actually dedicate resources--yes, even MONEY--AND the use of city parking lots--to solving problems.

While Palo Alto "saves" money on the homeless--let's not forget the Downtown Streets Team which saves the City a fortune on street cleaning--other more serious and interested cities are actually making progress. Instead of debating how harsh to be to their brothers and sisters, OTHER cities are taking this sad song and making it better.

All of the homelessness will not stop or go away or even stay out of your field of vision just because the City Council passes another nail in the coffin of the poor.

If there were one half of a brain at work on this issue, we would be discussing practical (if unusual) solutions. But THAT'S how problems get solved--NOT by isolation from "the other side." (That is a special note for the Greenmeadow Association.)

Why do we only debate only one lame proposal? How would banning car camping help one person? Where do you think we'll all sleep when you take our cars away? On the lawns of the City buildings? In the streets?
Is that where you want you daughter sleeping? Some of us ARE, literally, your sons and daughters. Do you really want us not even to have the protection of a locked car?

Why does no one bring up suggestions like:

1. Using NASA/Ames as a homeless shelter
2. Using the PO on Hamilton as a homeless shelter (like San Diego does)
3. Using city, county, state, and private lots for homeless parking at night (like Santa Barbara does)
4 Incentivizing, nagging, encouraging the other 33 faith communities in PA that currently don't participate in the Hotel de Zink to get busy
5 Allow use of city parking garages for overnight parking
6 Stop allowing developers to "change their minds" and build fountains instead of the affordable housing they agreed to when their project got approved
7 Tipi village of, by, and for homeless people on the Stanford vast campus
8 Buying cars and giving them to homeless people so they HAVE SHELTER.
9 Instituting a Guardian-Camper program so people could park their vehicle on the site of a business or construction site and keep the crime, vandalism, and trespassing down.
10 Instead of making the churches jump through so many hoops to help the poor, INCENTIVIZE them for hosting the homeless in parking lots, etc.

If all you think and talk about is negativity--then that's all you'll have in your life.

If you look for solutions--you find solutions.

Palo Alto is a really great place, full of people with a lot of great brains. They know that diversity is an important element of thriving and surviving. Yet they (you, we) ignore the need for diversity.

Just think of this practical situation. No matter what happens about this ban, you will have lawns to be cut and restaurants will have dishes to be washed.

If the few remaining poor are completely marginalized and excluded--who to you think is going to wash those dishes and mow those lawns? Workers who commute in from Merced and the Central Valley? Don't you think that will make life even more expensive here? Not to mention culturally poorer?

I know Palo Altans are not so stupid and mean spirited as to really want such a mean and harmful ban. People are frightened and they do stupid things when they're frightened. They even consider doing things in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which guarantees that citizens shall be secure in their homes--not have flash lights shined in their faces in the middle of the night as is the norm at Cubberley.

As some one said above, meet and talk. Problems don't get solved with long distance hating. Sit together. Eat together. Take each other's side. Work together on solutions.

I was once told that the Greenmeadow Association was concerned about where we went to the bathroom at Cubberley. I investigated and found out that the bathrooms were closed only at night from 10-6. I wrote to the Greenmeadow Associaton and asked to meet with those who were concerned in hopes we could work together to get the bathrooms opened at night.

The Greenmeadow folks would not meet and would not discuss. To me that is not really trying to solve a problem, it's holding on to the problem so you have something to complain about.

Is that really who you are and what you want to be--O Friends of Cubberley?

I sincerely hope not.

Chuck Jagoda --sometime Cubberley car camper