At any given time, countless RVs are parked on the Stanford side of El Camino Real. Within them live a diverse array of people for a diverse array of reasons –– construction workers who would otherwise have to commute hours to their jobs, young couples saving on rent, Palo Alto retail workers who can’t afford permanent housing –– but some of the most affected by the pandemic have been families with young children who are homeless, some of whom live in these RVs.
According to the district, 23 students attending PAUSD schools are homeless. Although they now have the option to return to in-person school, they still must cope with challenging circumstances during the pandemic, such as spotty WiFi and unreliable power. Parking for extended periods of time on El Camino is illegal –– meaning those living in these vehicles may need to move them every 72 hours to avoid a fine.
Because of these kinds of situations, it’s the district’s responsibility to work with the City of Palo Alto to designate one a sparsely used parking lot as a temporary trailer park for those camped on El Camino Real, exclusively for families. The lot should be outfitted with WiFi and power, along with washroom facilities.
The city has already taken some action on this issue. In February, at 2000 Geng Road, Palo Alto opened its first “safe parking lot” in an attempt to create a safer place for RVs to park than El Camino Real. The lot includes a building with a shower and can accommodate 12 vehicles.
Despite this attempt at progress, it is unclear how much this development has aided those in need. Because the parking lot is on the other side of the Bayshore Freeway, it’s unfeasible for children who need to commute to school –– especially when their main form of transportation is also their home. Due to the fact that there are only 12 spots available in the lot, there has been little change in the number of vehicles on El Camino.
The district could further address the issue if it designated part of the parking lot at Cubberley Community Center as a trailer park and allowed those who park their RVs there to use the center’s electricity, WiFi and bathrooms.
The center is located within walking distance of two elementary schools, Hoover and Fairmeadow, and one middle school, JLS. It also borders Greendell preschool and is near Mitchell Park, an ideal place for children to play.
Community members may feel that this plan could be unsafe for children at surrounding schools. But ultimately, having young children live and play on one of Palo Alto’s expressways is far more dangerous than in a parking lot, and it allows them to learn in an environment free of rocking motion and loud traffic.
Superintendent Don Austin said that he opposes this plan because Greendell is at the same site. However, for those still worried about the safety of children in neighboring schools, it’s important to note that the trailer park would be reserved for families, and most of the parents would be off at work during the school day.
Furthermore, the City could designate a community resource officer to man the trailer park and make sure it stays safe. Taking action to help some of their most disadvantaged students is the district’s responsibility, and this plan is a substantial way to do just that. The center is much safer than the status quo –– and would be very beneficial for residents in such dire need.