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Safe Parking Program Proposal

From the Etz Chayim Affordable Housing Committee Impact Team: David Bergen and Lisa Ratner (co-chairs)
Stephen Branz, Natalie Elefant, Jim Fox, Lisa Jicha, Hayden Kantor, Emily Young

Summary and FAQs

We propose that Etz Chayim apply to the City of Palo Alto to participate as a safe parking site, to be managed by the nonprofit Move Mountain View (Move MV).  The safe parking program would allow up to four passenger vehicles (no RVs) and their occupants to park overnight temporarily in our parking lot. We would partner with the local non-profit Move MV which has a strong track record running such programs in the area.


Etz Chayim would enter into a Safe Parking agreement with Move MV (terminable on 30 days’ notice) establishing the use of our lot for a safe parking program. They will take on all day-to-day aspects of running the program including ensuring clients have caseworkers, connecting clients to services, and also will coordinate with the county and city. They will also handle all client intake and screening to ensure clients are well-positioned to use safe parking as means to a better life.

Based on Move MV's assessment of need, we intend our site to be for women only as long as the need for that exists, but we will have no restrictions on guest demographics in our application. Our safe parking program could help people ranging from single mothers to the elderly on social security find more stable and healthy Ives. Our goal is to help our neighbor find permanent stable housing and all of the benefits that follow.

The program would enhance safety in our community by helping people living in vehicles on our streets into permanent housing and employment. It is an evidence-based initiative that is an ethical and effective way of supporting vulnerable neighbors.  It would also enhance the safety of our facility by having people there all night who are invested in being safe and who can report any suspicious activity.

In August 2022 the Etz Board directed the Etz Chayim Housing Impact Team to begin taking the necessary steps for getting approval for the program.

FAQs about our proposal can be found here.


The Affordable Housing Committee has been investigating approaches to alleviate the housing and homelessness crisis in our area. We previously brought the safe parking program to the attention of the Etz board in 2019, when the Palo Alto city council considered whether to adopt an overnight safe parking program which would be hosted on congregational lots and be managed by a lot operator such as Move MV. The board supported us in advocating for this new city ordinance (PAMC 18.42.160), which was enacted in early 2020.


Currently, five churches host safe parking programs with Move MV as the operator, two in Mountain View (Lord’s Grace Lutheran and St Timothy’s) and three in Palo Alto (Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto , Highway Community, and First Congregational Church). Move MV is also running larger 24x7 lots for RVs in Mountain View and Palo Alto.

The attached agreement between Move MV and Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto sets out program processes, general rules for guests, and specific rules for the UUCPA site. Move MV and Etz would enter into a similar general and site-specific agreement for our lot. We will be able to specify the population served, type of passenger vehicle, whether pets are allowed, and other conditions. General behavioral rules for the clients – no drugs, alcohol, weapons, loud noises, fighting, cooking outside the vehicle, etc. – are universal for all lots.

Commitments During Safe Parking Operation

What Etz Chayim Would Do:

  • Reserve up to four parking spaces for program guests (clients of Move MV) to park their cars and sleep overnight, with the understanding that the use of those parking spaces will be under the management of Move MV. Etz will set arrival and departure times anywhere within the 6 pm to 8 am time frame permitted by the City of Palo Alto ordinance. Actual hours can be adjusted to meet our needs, and guests can be told that on certain days they would need to stay away longer. A site plan attached.
  • Reserve six additional spaces adjacent the parking spaces for privacy and for a portable toilet with sink to be used by guests (locked, with a key given to clients). We may decide to also provide access to our trash bins.
  • Attend an orientation session with Move MV prior to opening of the lot.
  • Bring any concerns to the attention of the Move MV.
  • Respect and protect the privacy of clients, including not sharing any client names, images, or any identifying information publicly.

What Move MV Would Do:

  • Obtain at least $2 million liability insurance and supply certificate of coverage to Etz. See the sample agreement for the indemnification clause.
  • Provide staff and take sole responsibility for management of the safe parking program, including client intake, management and monitoring of the lot, ensuring lot rules are enforced, and client case management including but not limited to helping clients find permanent housing.
  • Take applications for spaces and vet clients
    • All must have a working vehicle, valid drivers’ license and registration, and auto insurance. 
    • Clients will be asked if they are on parole or have any restrictions on where they can live. They also will be required to state a commitment to find permanent housing, and to work regularly with a case manager to obtain  this housing. They will not be asked to submit to a formal criminal background check.
    • All clients will be asked to comply with the behavior rules for the lot or be removed from the lot.
  • Issue monthly renewable parking permits to clients.
  • Manage contract with vendor to provide and service portable toilet.
  • Keep Palo Alto Police informed of who is staying in the lot.
  • Supply 24/7 contact phone to reach staff for any issues/concerns.
  • Supply dedicated roaming security for the lot during times of operation.

Next Steps

Now the the Etz Chayim Board has given preliminiary approval, we will need to go through the following process:

  1. Conduct outreach to the Etz Chayim membership to provide information and answer questions.
  2. Conduct outreach to St. Andrews and our renters (Spark Church, Theatergames, Tango, Israeli dance, etc.)
  3. Conduct outreach to neighbors whose residences are adjacent to our site
  4. Sign agreement with Move MV, contingent on city approval
  5. Return to Etz Chayim Board to obtain approval of agreement with Move MV and permission to apply for permit with the city 
  6. Submit application and project plan to City of Palo Alto Planning Department, with Move MV contract attached 
  7. If the application is approved, the City Planning Director’s tentative decision  will be mailed to neighbors within 600 ft.
  8. After the Planning Director’s approval, participate in a community meeting about our permit that will be open to Palo Alto neighbors, held by the City of Palo Alto. At any time (before or after the tentative approval) we may do outreach or convene meetings with the neighbors. When to do so will depend in part on advice from Move MV and the experience of other congregations.
  9. If no appeal is submitted, approval is final in 14 days
  10. Move MV vets clients for placement in our lot
  11. Clients begin staying in our parking lot overnight.

Connection to Jewish Values

From the New York Times editorial on Feb 24 by Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, regarding welcoming the stranger; https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/23/opinion/colleyville-texas-synagogue-antisemitism.html).

“The command to care for the stranger is mentioned at least 36 times in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible–more than any other mitzvah. It’s mentioned so often because we need the reminder, because it isn’t natural. It is hard. Just getting past the notion of fearing the stranger is a big enough hurdle.”

In our morning Yom Kippur haftorah reading, Isaiah 57:14-58:14, Isaiah speaking for God asks whether we have shared our bread with the hungry; or brought the poor, the outcasts to our home; or offered our compassion to the hungry; God does not desire fasting unless there is a moral or ethical foundation for ritual behavior (Isaiah 58:5-58:7).

Finally, a commandment that seems to speak to this particular program: We are commanded to leave the corners of our fields for the poor, rather than eat those crops ourselves. Here, we can let them use a corner of our parking lot, and it’s even easier than leaving the corners of our fields because we won’t be using it ourselves at that time.

Value Added by Etz Chayim’s Involvement

Our city and region lack sufficient housing that is affordable to people of all incomes, but decent housing for very low-income households is especially scarce; this population is especially hard hit and may become homeless with only their car as shelter. A woman may flee her home to escape domestic violence and can only afford to live in her car. People working low paying jobs and who have no financial reserves are often just one emergency (medical bills, sickness or injuries, or rental increases) away from losing their housing. As a result, people are sleeping in their vehicles on our streets.

Our Etz community itself has members for whom housing stability is precarious. We have, on occasion, allowed members living in their cars to use our building as a temporary refuge while their children do homework as long as our building is open.

The program would enhance safety in our community by helping people living in vehicles on our streets into permanent housing and employment. It is an evidence-based initiative that is an ethical and effective way of supporting vulnerable citizens. It would provide safe, stable, temporary overnight parking for those without permanent housing and a connection to services which ultimately will lead to permanent housing.

Although other congregations in Palo Alto are participating in this program, the configuration of Etz Chayim’s parking lot could make it a particularly good spot for women as contrasted with other congregational lots. Our parking spaces are not hidden behind a building as in the UUCPA’s lot, but in a fairly lit area, which could provide an added sense of safety. Move MV has mentioned to us that some of their clients would prefer a women-only lot. If we choose, our site-specific agreement could cover that.

Possible Concerns

Why would it not be useful for Etz to participate -- what downsides were considered and dismissed, and why?

  • Safety concerns of Etz Community or neighbors:
    • Move MV vets all applicants and only places them in the congregational safe parking program if they are a good fit: willing to follow the program rules, with a working, registered, insured vehicle, and agreement to participate in the search for permanent housing. MoveMV participates in the Santa Clara County Homeless Management Information System and employs several case managers who work with the safe parking guests. Although MoveMV does not do formal criminal background checks (Santa Clara County rules prohibit them), MoveMV does ask if the guest is on probation or limited in where they may live.  Clients that have greater needs, such as PTSD or addiction, will be humanely connected to more appropriate shelters in the county network.
    • All clients will be asked to comply with the behavior rules for the lot or be removed from the lot.
    • Using this vetting procedure, no safety issues for the program or host have arisen since 2018 when MoveMV began operating two church lots in Mountain View. People who sleep in their cars on the street are vulnerable to crime and to being asked to move in the middle of the night. These conditions make safe parking guests more invested than anyone in making sure there is no trouble or danger in the lot where they are sleeping. Guests are given permits by Move MV.  Guests know who is supposed to be in the lot at night and can call the police or MoveMV to report anything suspicious. This makes our own grounds and building safer.
    • Police know who is supposed to be on the lot and who is not.
  • Inconvenience or being ‘in the way’ of Etz activities:
    • Noise: We already have the train;
    • Overnight only (not during school hours). Also, we can specify hours when needed, e.g. if we want the clients to arrive later on a day when we have holiday services.
  • Effort of getting approval from the neighbors
    • We expect fewer noise concerns than some have experienced, due to the neighborhood (e.g. the train).
    • We expect fewer safety concerns since the only residences abutting our parking lot are behind a tall fence, with no access to residential properties from our lot.
    • We believe this is worth the effort.
    • Some neighbors of the first churches to implement the program had concerns which were resolved after further discussion and education about the program.


Appendix A: Sample project plan and agreement from the Unitarian  Universalist Church of Palo Alto (UUCPA)

UUCPA Application and Project Plan, with the full set of links associated with the permit, as well as video of the community meetings.

Appendix B: Jan. 2020 Palo Alto Weekly article about safe parking highlighting Etz Chayim as an interested congregation

Appendix C:  City of Palo Alto safe parking website with link to ordinance: 

Appendix D: Site Plan of the congregation parking lot

Mon, July 15 2024 9 Tammuz 5784