May 272018


Over the last week there has been an interesting, sometimes spirited, discussion on the Barron Park newsgroup regarding the RVs parked on El Camino Real. The original letter to the City Council from Richard Placone  and some of the replies that followed are reproduced below with the hope that this discussion will grow and we can, together, find a solution to the situation.


Greetings Council Members,

Last Monday on my way home from Menlo Park, heading South, I counted 50 RVs parked on El Camino Real, from Embarcadero Road to Charleston Road. It appeared that all had been parked there for some time; indeed a couple were on jacks or were actually trailers unhitched from a towing vehicle.

The city has recognized that this is a serious problem, one causing potential safety issues to passing  traffic as well as sanitation problems, amongst others.

However, I consider this to be a Compassion Problem, one that this Council is well aware of, but consistently denigrates the issue, as well as the occupants of these “homes away from home.”   I have learned that when it has been suggested to Council members during one of its meetings, that a real solution is possible, the following objections have been  stated by sitting members:  “we will be establishing a potential hepatitis camp; or “we will be creating a venue for criminal activity”; or “the city shouldn’t be spending tax dollars of homeless people like this”.

Consider this: Palo Alto is nationally reputed to be one of the wealthiest cities in the country.  We are renowned for having one of the most highly educated populations, with outstanding employment opportunities and more.  I posit that these are the very factors that are drawing the RV dwellers to our city (and other nearby cities for that matter) – for the jobs that are being created here.

Do we know who these people are, where they come from and what they are doing during the daytime?  I have heard, read and been told that most are workers here on the many construction jobs in town and on the Stanford campus; that they are the workers in our heavy tax producing hotels,  making the beds and cleaning the rooms; that they are servers in our over the top in prices restaurants; and most recently Stanford graduate students living off campus.  It would seem to me, that it is this town’s very success in everything it does, except providing a wide rage of housing opportunities, that has resulted in the “El Camino RV Ally”.

“So where does Compassion come in?” – I hope you are asking yourselves.  These are our fellow human beings, most not as fortunate as those of us who either settled here in years gone by and are now homeowner millionaires, or are wealthy business leaders or very well-paid high tech employees.  The council’s everlasting thirst for more and more growth,  mostly consolidated in large, lucrative business developments, and the minimum of affordable housing, are major factors in creating this issue.

We have brought this on ourselves, ladies and gentlemen of the Council.  I believe it is our responsibility to resolve this problem in a manner that is compassionate to the RV dwellers, and respectful of the taxpaying citizens of this town.

You have the solution staring you in the face, if only you would collectively puts your hearts and minds together and determine to resolve this problem in a manner fair to all.

What might that solution be?

I’m told the city owns a large piece of property purchased from the city of Los Altos, which is used for storage of equipment.  We all know that the city controls, if not owns hundreds of acres in the baylands.  For a relatively small sum, a simple RV park or parks could be established. Hard gravel paving, a few modest restrooms with showers, plug in power and water and  RV dumping station, is all it would take.  A simple system of occupant registration and a small per night,  week or monthly charge would help defray some, if not all of the operating costs.  The occupants themselves could be organized into community “gatekeepers”, keeping order and such.

If this city can afford to spend over $8 million redesigning Ross Road for a few cyclists, to the consternation of most of the residents, from what I have observed, surely it can come up with a Compassionate Fund, and get these RVs and their human occupants off the highway and into a safe place with the most basic of human amenities.

And by the way, if Stanford students are actually part of this highway population, then by all means get the university involved – it has a responsibility to resolve problems related to the campus.

Thank you for your attention to this letter.  I look forward to your response and hopefully, constructive action.

Respectfully submitted,

Richard Placone
Chimalus Drive
Barron Park Neighborhood.
Palo Alto

In June 2017 Palo Alto Weekly journalists Jocelyn Dong, Linda Taaffe, Sue Dremann and Gennady Sheyner discussed the reasons for this phenomenon, the changes residents would like to see and the city’s response.

May 222018

On Tuesday morning, May 22nd, members of Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning (PASZ) submitted petitions with over 3000 signatures to the Palo Alto City Clerk, Beth Minor. This was the culmination of a 4 week volunteer effort across the city to gather signatures to qualify the initiative for the November ballot. The petition signatures will be verified by the Santa Clara Registrar of Voters and then the petition will go to the Palo Alto City Council on June 11, 2018.

The initiative, drafted by former Palo Alto councilman Greg Schmid, with the help of other members of PASZ, would reduce the amount of new office/R&D space which could be built under the new comprehensive plan. The current Comp Plan allows for 1.7 million sq. ft. of new office space over the 15 year life of the plan (2015-2030). That’s over 113,000 square feet a year, as opposed to the long-term historic growth rate of 58,000 sq ft/yr, which has already created congestion, traffic and a 3 to 1 jobs to housing imbalance.

The PASZ initiative –
Would cut office/R&D growth in half, bringing it back to its long term historic growth rate.
Would apply CITY-WIDE – including Stanford Research Park, Stanford Shopping Center, San Antonio, East Meadow, West Bayshore and East Embarcadero.
Would be PERMANENT – it would require a vote of the residents to increase the cap and could NOT be changed by the Council.

In a recent editorial, The Palo Alto Weekly stated:
There is no constituency other than commercial development interests supporting new office development in Palo Alto, and every square foot of new office development approved in the city makes our housing shortage and road congestion worse.”

May 172017

Two new email newsletters are being circulated  to inform the public of a variety of issues for residents of Palo Alto. Where appropriate, some of the articles will highlighted here.

Palo Alto Matters is founded on the belief that communities thrive when neighbors are at the table in public decision making. We live here, we play here. We walk, bike, shop, drive and work here. We build our families and retire here. What happens in the City of Palo Alto happens to us.

Our city is at a crossroads as we confront the challenges of rapid regional growth. Understanding local matters, making your voice heard and holding City officials accountable for what matters to you can put you in the driver’s seat to advance balanced solutions. We’re here to help you do that.

The editor, Jennifer Chang Hetterly,  is a member of the Citizen Advisory Committee for the Comprehensive Plan Update, has chaired both the Palo Alto Parks and Recreation Commission and the Facilities subcommittee of the Cubberley Community Advisory Committee, and served extensively in PTA and Site Council leadership for the PAUSD.

To Subscribe to Palo Alto Matters Click Here 


SF Peninsula news is fast-moving and busy residents are challenged to stay informed.  This newsletter, published by the San Francisco Peninsula Neighborhood Association, places current news on housing, jobs and transportation into useful context.

This Week on the San Francisco Peninsula is edited by two Palo Alto residents, Neilson Buchanan and John Guislin, who have no ties to developers.  The sole objective is to provide information in support of residential quality of life. (Note: This newsletter occasionally highlights  articles on news sites that have limited access for non-subscribers.)

To Subscribe to SF Peninsula News Click Here
Mar 242017

Most of us aspire to the concept of ‘one man, one vote’. Our country was born in the Boston Tea Party with a cry against “taxation without representation” but is the converse true? Are those who pay higher taxes entitled to a larger voice in the governance of our city?

All homeowners should have received a ballot for an increase in the Storm Water Management Fee. This fee would cover operation of and improvements to the city’s storm water management system. Although most of Palo Alto is in Flood Zone ‘X’ which means little danger of flooding, we do live near a number of creeks which could flood and cause problems. It was noted that several years ago, one of the agencies in San Jose voted not to pay $7.5M to improve Coyote Creek because they didn’t think any flood damage would result in more that that amount! Fast forward to last month, the damage is estimated at $500M, not to mention how people’s lives were destroyed. Some may never recover. For more information about the program,  visit

Some of you may have noticed that the ballot includes your name and address, parcel number (APN) and your signature and that the accompanying letter states that

“Ballots will not be removed from their envelopes until the tabulation begins. As required by state law, during and after tabulation, ballots will be treated as public records.”

Why are these ballots were not treated as normal ‘secret’ ballots, where your name and signature are on the outer envelope and this is separated from the ballot before tabulation? The explanation received from the City Clerk’s office was:

“Section 4(e) of Article XIIID of the California Constitution (aka Prop. 218) requires that assessment ballots be “weighted according to the proportional financial obligation of the affected property.”  This means that owners of properties with higher assessments have greater influence than owners of properties with lower assessments.  Specific information about the property associated with each ballot is required to determine its weight, and under state law this information becomes public record after the ballots are tabulated.  In Greene v. Marin County Flood Control and Water Conservation Dist. (2010) 49 Cal.4th 277, the California Supreme Court held that assessment ballot information, including the name and address associated with each vote, is appropriately treated as public record after ballot tabulation.”

The fee is calculated on the basis of ERUs (Equivalent Residential Units) which are defined as the Impervious Area (Sq. Ft.) / 2500. Residential properties are assigned ERUs based on lot size which assumes a ratio of impervious area (driveways, sidewalks, etc) to open soil areas. Large commercial properties, many of which are located away from the most vulnerable areas of Palo Alto, would have much higher ratios (parking lots, etc) and hence higher fees. Does this mean that commercial property owners have a much larger voice in determining the fate of the flood control projects?

But if you read the cover letter which accompanies the ballot:

“…The Storm Water Management Fee will only be approved if the number of Ballots cast (and not withdrawn) in favor of the fee exceed the number of Ballots cast (and not withdrawn) in opposition to the fee. Each ballot counts as a single vote…”

And the ballot itself states:

“You will receive a separate ballot for each parcel you own that is subject to the fees, and one vote may be cast for each such parcel.”

Regardless of how one feels about the validity and value of the fee and the requested increase, in the light of such discrepancies in the stated ballot procedures, how can we feel assured that the information we are receiving from the City is accurate, that the ballots will be tabulated correctly and that the results will represent the will of the residents?