Parking Issues on El Camino Real: A complex community issue
Learn more about the City’s efforts supporting those who may be living in their vehicles and addressing parking-related community concerns
This blog is in response to community concerns shared about the City’s parking enforcement on El Camino Real and to increase public information on this complex community issue. Read more for details on the City’s efforts to balance public health and safety concerns while compassionately supporting those who may be living in their vehicles. The City’s parking enforcement efforts are not intended to displace Palo Alto community members. They are designed to encourage compliance with the law, and in so doing, protecting the health and safety of our community.
City Process for Vehicles Parked in Violation of the City’s 72-Hour Ordinance
The Police Department is charged with enforcing parking regulations in the City of Palo Alto, and, as such, has enforced the City’s 72-hour Municipal Code for many years. The City has a law which states that no vehicle shall be parked on a public roadway for more than 72 consecutive hours without driving at least one-half mile (10.36.030(a) Palo Alto Municipal Code). In a typical year, the Police Department receives between 1,000 and 1,500 complaints from residents and businesses about vehicles parked in violation of the City’s ordinance. In enforcing the Municipal Code, the Police Department uses vehicle towing as a last resort.
For vehicles that appear to be someone’s home in which a person is actively living, staff does everything possible in these situations to gain voluntary compliance. This includes being flexible with the timing and giving the owner or occupant a reasonable amount of extra time to move the vehicle, instead of immediately towing the vehicle. Staff also provides details on support services available. Several City departments support the Police efforts including Public Works and Community Services, and staff teams seek to balance the need for enforcement, especially when health and safety concerns are present, with compassion by offering support services to vulnerable community members. Staff has not seen that these efforts displace community members that may live in their vehicles. In fact, staff has found that those vehicles regularly repark nearby. These efforts limit abandoned vehicles and reduce trash and other debris that could cause health and safety issues on City streets.
Police Community Service Officers (CSOs) respond to each community complaint and place an informational flyer (also commonly called a “tow warning”) on the vehicle. This warning was developed as a way to work with vehicle owners to inform them of local laws and it shares that the vehicle will be subject to citation and/or tow if it is not driven at least one-half mile within 72 hours of the warning being placed. Police personnel then return 72 hours later, and if the vehicle has not complied with the law, then it is subject to a $86 parking citation and/or a tow.
The Police Department offers an online form on its website, as well as a dedicated telephone number (650–329–2258), to receive complaints from community members about vehicles parked in excess of 72 hours.
Increased Community Complaints of Parked Vehicles and Health and Safety Concerns on El Camino
Beginning in the summer of 2018, and in response to community complaints, the Police Department began proactively enforcing the 72-hour parking ordinance on a monthly basis along El Camino Real within the city limits. Once a month, Community Service Officers (CSOs) placed warnings on all vehicles parked on El Camino Real such as cars, trucks, buses, trailers, and RVs. This is done to educate the vehicle owners about the law, and to encourage voluntary compliance. Most vehicles comply with the law, by driving the required distance within 72 hours. The vehicles are often parked somewhere else nearby, which is entirely legal under the law.
In late 2020, the City saw an increase in the number of complaints from community members about RVs and other vehicles parked for extended periods of time along El Camino Real. Several complaints also included concerns about property being left outside some of the vehicles, sometimes of such a volume that it completely blocked the sidewalk or was left in the roadway. Staff also observed that some vehicles were leaking fluids. Residents expressed health and safety concerns with regards to human waste. Beginning in January 2021, the Police Department increased the rate of proactive enforcement along the entirety of El Camino Real within the city limits to weekly and increased sharing support services available to those who may be living in their vehicles to ensure they are aware of help, especially during this challenging time.
As noted above, the City’s approach includes offering information on available social service resources, and personal contacts with vehicle owners or occupants whenever possible to encourage voluntary compliance with parking restrictions and removing property on the public right-of-way (such as the sidewalk).
Between January 1 and March 10, 2021, as part of the weekly proactive efforts, Police Department personnel have placed tow warning flyers on 450 vehicles. Of those 450 vehicles, the majority voluntarily complied and moved within the 72-hour time period. Personnel issued 16 parking citations and towed three vehicles for parking violations. The three towed vehicles were two RVs /motorhomes and one trailer; these were unoccupied and not actively lived in. Staff from the Public Works Department have also assisted by removing unwanted property and using street sweepers and were thanked by a number of residents who live in their vehicles for their help with cleaning up the area. In all other areas of town, the Police Department continues to respond on a complaint basis to reports of 72-hour parking violations and related concerns.
The City is aware of the complex realities of the situation, balancing several priorities including public safety laws and social services needs of individuals with the ongoing Bay Area housing crisis, homeless challenges, and now, the pandemic.
For the City’s Support Resources summary, a compiled list of social service resources provided to vulnerable community members who are seeking assistance, go here.
City Efforts to Assist Those Living in Vehicles
The City’s Safe Parking program is an effort to support community members living in vehicles. Recently, the City and County opened a Safe Parking program on Geng Road, managed by the County of Santa Clara and a homeless service provider that offers space for 12 vehicles. There are also a few local churches who have submitted applications to explore Safe Parking programs on their sites seeking to support vulnerable community members.
In addition, the City continues to have a close relationship with LifeMoves — Opportunity Services Center (OSC), the homeless drop-in and resource center at 33 Encina Avenue behind the Town and Country Shopping Center. The OSC serves as a resource for individuals living on El Camino Real for financial assistance, food, case management, and housing search, as available and eligible. There is also a health clinic onsite, Peninsula HealthCare Connections, which provides both physical and mental health care, as well as COVID-19 testing.
The OSC receives grant funding through the City’s Human Services Resource Allocation Process (HSRAP) and the Community Development Block Grant program (CDBG), a Federal funding source, to support their work. Through the City’s Emerging Needs Fund Grant program, two other local nonprofits have received small grants to assist families with children living in RVs along El Camino Real.
Upcoming City Council Discussion Planned on Unhoused Services
On April 5, 2021 the City Council will hear a status report on services for the unhoused. The update will include further details on the City’s Safe Parking program, support services available and other opportunities to support the City’s unhoused community members.
Community members are encouraged to attend to share their thoughts with the City Council.
For meeting details, including the meeting packet and other staff reports, go to www.cityofpaloalto.org/councilagendas
More Online Resources
For more about City support services, go here.
For more on the City’s Human Services focus areas, go here.
For more on Life Moves Opportunity Services Center, go here.
For more on the Palo Alto Police Department, go here.
To follow the City on social media, go here.