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.

  16 Responses to “RVs on El Camino Real”

  1. The only problem I see with the suggestion is that El Camino is a transportation corridor so that the people living in the RVs do not necessarily need a car. If you set up an RV park e.g. in the Baylands, the residents will most likely need to have cars (and parking spaces) unless there is shuttle service available.

    • Thanks for the input, Maurice. You point out additional problems, but optimist that I am, if the council decides to move on this issue, I think the problems you raise can be solved. The city already has a shuttle service, as does Stanford.

    • Yes, a shuttle would need to be included. Much better to spend money on this , rather than Charleston.

  2. I want to thank Richard for thinking about this problem. Unfortunately, his “solution” will not work. Here is a letter that I have posted to our City Council on the subject.

    Dear Palo Alto City Council Members,
    Richard Placone just sent you a letter, suggesting that a compassionate solution for removing the 50 or so RVs on
    El Camino Real is to build a big RV/trailer park in the Baylands. And that by doing so we would feel virtuous, by exhibiting our compassion, and in the process we would clean up the mess.
    Placone suggests that concerns about public health and public safety would be misplaced. Let’s leave those controversial claims aside, and think about the more obvious effects of the proposal. In fact, his “solution” would greatly exacerbate the problem.

    In the 1970s, Vancouver, B.C. had an analogous problem. The Trans-Canada highway stopped at the city boundary, and incoming traffic from the east was causing heavy morning traffic on city streets. The proposed “fix” was to put the freeway through to downtown. So they looked at Los Angeles and wisely decided not to do it. In essence, they realized that “if you build it, they will come.” More cars, more traffic, more congestion, more parking lots. Resources are limited, and you can never “get ahead” of the demand.

    The situation with the Richard Placone RV Park would be infinitely worse. If Palo Alto were to build, in the Baylands, even the most massive long-term RV park on the entire planet, it would be filled instantly. By whom? You would have the 50 Palo Alto RVs, several hundred RVs from Mountain View, several thousand RVs from the rest of the Bay Area, and tens of thousands from the rest of California and neighboring states. It would be a mess of unimaginable scale. And all those people who couldn’t get in? They would park in any available place in the city — after they’d filled up both sides of El Camino Real from Burlingame to Sunnyvale — hoping that out of compassion we would make it bigger.

    Thank you for your attention. I expect that common sense will prevail.

    • Placone’s message is right on target. Let’s do something simple now.
      Bloomberg’s response is head in the sand. But it does imply the larger National problem of needing to ensure economically balanced living standards for every citizen. There are models that work. Like in Scandinavian countries, for instance. That’s long term for us in USA. Short term something along the lines proposed by Placone is essential.
      Let’s work with neighboring towns like Sunnyvale, Menlo Park, San Carlos, etc. I think I have seen several trailer parks from near shoreline bike paths. Thank you, Dick, for getting something sensible going. Many will join in to promote resolution of this (both) immediate & long term issue.

  3. I personally don’t have a problem with the RV dwellers. What my problem lies with is the fact at least one of them is being used a Air B&B. The other thing is that several of them seem to be totally not in use. One isn’t even a RV it’s just a truck with junk in it that might have been in the process of being made into something but not any more. Another question is, are some of them just being used as a parking space for someone who is too cheap to pay for storage of the RV.

    Now I don’t have any real suggestions as to what a long term solutions is or even a short term one but the AB&B is a must go away item. Those that are junk and not RV’s should be towed away. The city of Palo Alto made a huge fuss over people using the same locations as a used car lot. Well that too is happening now only we are seeing RV’s and not used cars. There are I think three of them that are up for sale. Wasn’t there something about you can NOT park your car on that street for more then three days? if so why isn’t that being enforced?

    Yes this maybe all over the place as to what I am saying but the problem seems to me to be that kind of problem one that has way to many ways of going both in a good direction and in a bad direction as well.

    My two cents worth is over

  4. Dear friends, neighbors, and Council Members,
    You are all no doubt aware of the current “discussion” regarding possible solutions to the issue of lived-in, stored, rented out, abandoned, and Heaven-knows-what-else kinds of RVs – parked not only on El Camino Real, but throughout Palo Alto, and South Palo Alto in particular.
    May I suggest a reasoned, factual assessment of the “problem”? Nancy Krop and Richard Greene have written ideas along these lines.
    An *inventory* of what’s parked where, and the uses they’re being put to. I don’t know how we expect to solve a “problem” when we don’t know what it is? OCW and the Streets Teams members might be willing to undertake such an inventory?
    After such an inventory, a *separate survey* of those folks currently living in their cars or RVs to assess their ideas for alternative parking or other housing. These folks are our friends and neighbors also – not disposable elements whose lives should necessarily be managed by others..

    • Thoughtful, systematic approach w experienced social workers along the points suggested by Carolyn is essential & urgent. Via non-profit outfits w volunteers or professionals. Wonder if some such hasnt already been done via our city.

  5. I am curious about this whole issue. I wonder just how many of these trailers/RVs house “workers in the city.” I am suspect. I think Palo Alto has become a safe haven for many who just want to park here. Many don’t work here. They just “live” here. It’s a great place to live. Very tolerant in many respects. Not a great way to live in a trailer without amenities, but……this is a nice place to be. No one bothers you. Many amenities offered to these people. Churches, etc. The City is very tolerant. The trailer people “live” here, on El Camino and many other Peninsula streets. I know of a person who has a trailer here and another trailer in another city. Not working either place. I am all for helping people in real need but I do think we are being used by many who do not work here or intend to work here.
    I know this is a real problem in our society. It’s a very tough situation/problem. I have no answer.

  6. This recent cable access TV show focuses on East Palo Alto’s take on this regional issue. Henrietta Burroughs interviews Michelle Daher, City of East Palo Alto management analyst for environmental issues, and homelessness activist Pastor Paul Bains of St. Samuel Church of God in Christ. Their message challenges the assumptions about homelessness and living in RV’s held by many who live in more comfortable circumstances.

    • Thank you ever so much Mike!.

      A fantastically relevant 1-hour informative discussion. It covers a whole host of factors related to RV-in-the-street living.
      It also implied to me there is substantial Palo Alto and neighboring City knowledgeable staff involvement.
      And thanks to Dick Placone in getting interest in action on the topic started.

      So there seems to be substantial work happening in cities and cooperatively across cities on the Street RV multi-factorial housing topic.
      Following up on Dick Placone’s suggestions really requires dedication from one or more of our many community groups. Pastor Paul Brains
      strikes me as someone to provide perspective for those interested in organizing and participating with enhanced efforts for creating what is likely a perennial, but important,
      community governance, management and fiscal topic..

    • Yes, this is a very interesting video about RVs in EPA, but please make sure you watch it till the end, so you hear the different perspectives.
      I will forward to bpa-issues another email I had received on the subject of RVs being a substitute for low cost rentals that no longer exist.

  7. NeighborsHelpingNeighbors have data about RV residents enrolled in their program, as most of them are not what we would consider “homeless” but they are squeezed by the high rents situation. So if someone is going to make some study, they could also talk to NHN.

    This being said while driving on el camino today I saw two older? women on bikes with big plastic bags…probably homeless, really heart breaking.

  8. Perhaps the churches can intensify their share of help even more. And corporations can donate.
    Stanford students can volunteer.Just an idea.

    The link below is an example of communities with city, school & corporate support setting up lots of shelters for the homeless.

  9. RV park is a good suggestion but not permanent.
    Since the problem start with the high rent. The city have some land maybe city can built some low income rental apartment so the people can pay 500 a month or less. Another suggestion is rent to own apartment.

  10. We are human beings too… We have a right to live in this world too… We are not rich like you all are… We live on $900 a month…

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