Palo Alto may force RV dwellers to abide by law

A half-mile stretch of El Camino Real, along the Peninsula, is a proving ground for how unaffordable Bay Area housing has become. RVs literally line the westbound side of the street from University Drive to Serra Street.

Frank Aldama is in one of the mobile homes, listening to the radio.
He has all the creature comforts of a home, but his is a home on wheels. For the past four years he's lived in this 30-foot RV that's parked in Palo Alto.

"I don't recommend anybody to live in one of these on the streets," said Aldama. When asked why he lives this way if he doesn't recommend it for others he answered, "Because I don't have anywhere to go."

Aldama's RV is part of an armada of similar vehicles lining the southbound lane of El Camino Real. For about a half-mile from University to Serra, the "King's Highway" is home to the mobile masses. But the wheels of change are turning.

"Over the past month in particular we've seen a rise in the vehicles parked along the street and we've gotten calls from folks asking what's going on," said James Keene, the Palo Alto city manager.

In response to resident's complaints, Keene said the city will, in two weeks, begin enforcing its parking ordinance. Parked vehicles will have to move every three days.

"Towing is on the table but it is absolutely a last resort. That is absolutely our last hope," said city Police Captain Zach Peron.

He explained that the change will come in steps. First and informational flyer, then a 72-hour tow warning, and lastly towing the vehicle.

"The ordinance says the vehicle must be moved at least a half-mile, but it doesn't say for how long. So conceivably a driver could circle the block and come right back to the same spot. The only mandate is that he or she can prove they moved the vehicle."

Critics question the timing of the crackdown, and say shrewdness provides a path around the ordinance.

"Really if it really comes down to it, people really need to learn how to play leapfrog," said Nicholas Newberry, who used to be homeless and living in an RV in Palo Alto before deciding to leave and live in homeless encampments in San Jose.

Others say more help is needed from social welfare agencies. Palo Alto's Opportunity Services Center is one place offering aid to the homeless.

"You might need some help with a meal now and again. Or a pair of socks, some kind of a small…it just helps bridge...get you through the end of the month," said program director Stefanie Bruggeman.

For the 50-plus residents living on wheels, they have half a month, before the city enforces the law and makes them prove their homes really are mobile.