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Stanford students support East Palo Alto homeless amid city crackdown
Stanford students turned out to an East Palo Alto meeting to support homeless RV-residents (ZOE SAYLER/The Stanford Daily).

Stanford students support East Palo Alto homeless amid city crackdown

Dozens of Stanford students spoke out in support of residents living in RVs in East Palo Alto at a meeting of the East Palo Alto Public Works and Transportation Commission Wednesday night, where the commission discussed a possible parking ordinance that would prohibit overnight parking of oversize vehicles in the city.

Protesters and some residents who spoke at the meeting said the proposed ordinance is an affront to working class residents, including families and people of color, who are being pushed out of traditional housing by rising Bay Area housing prices. According to the San Jose Mercury News, homelessness in East Palo Alto’s Ravenswood City School District has more than doubled from 25 percent at the start of last school year to 58 percent.

“I have a hard enough time making ends meet on a graduate stipend,” said Vivian Yan, a graduate student who attended but did not speak at the meeting. “As a Stanford student, the least that I can do is try to support folks that don’t have the subsidized housing that Stanford tries to provide.”

The meeting came after city officials told Weeks St. RV residents Tuesday afternoon that they had to move their vehicles by 8 a.m. Wednesday or else risk being towed. Officials cited the public safety hazards created by RV residents dumping chemical toilets into storm drains on the flood-prone street as the reason for removal.

RV residents at the meeting said that they currently dump their chemical toilets in Redwood City for a fee of $25. Some suggested that the city provide free waste management or portable toilets to address the problem.

Stanford students who spoke at the meeting expressed solidarity with those living in RVs, condemned the proposed ordinance and publicly endorsed activists’ efforts moving forward.

Doris Rodriguez ’20 related the current situation in East Palo Alto to her childhood experience of living in an RV in Miami, noting the difficult choice her father had to make between feeding his daughter and paying a fee to dump their RV’s chemical toilet.

“I’m at Stanford because of people who had compassion,” Rodriguez said. “You’re blaming the wrong people.”

Chris Phan ’19, who is leading an Alternative Spring Break on housing inequality in the Bay Area this year, said that attending the protest gave her an opportunity to “do more than just teaching and talking about [housing rights].”

But not everyone in attendance agreed with the Stanford protesters.

Some East Palo Alto residents supported the ordinance, saying that allowing RV parking makes the streets unclean, unsafe and unwelcoming. Many suggested that the city create or support alternative options, such as designating certain city-owned lots for RV parking or working with local nonprofits and faith-based groups to determine a solution.

Some residents also expressed frustration that comments from Stanford students took up a significant portion of the public meeting and wondered aloud when the next EPA resident would be called to speak.

Others said the students in attendance should focus their attention toward securing resources from Stanford to help struggling neighboring areas like East Palo Alto.

“Get Stanford to allocate land for the people who have been working for them for centuries,” said Meda Okelo M.A. ’84, an East Palo Alto resident.

After hearing public comment, the commission recommended that the City Council immediately pursue possible connections with nonprofits and faith-based community groups that have offered to provide permanent or temporary places for RV residents to park.

The commission plans to further discuss the proposed ordinance at two separate special meetings, one addressing RV parking and another addressing commercial vehicle parking. Their recommendations will be brought to the City Council before the end of the 60-day parking prohibition on Weeks St.

This post has been updated. A previous version misspelled Vivian Yan’s name as Vivian Yang. The Daily regrets this error.


Contact Zoe Sayler at zoeneile ‘at’ stanford.edu.

  • Tokyotempura

    There’s plenty of space on the Stanford campus. Can’t we spare some of it to help these people?

  • Pixinguinha

    Stanford Students should inform themselves before parachuting in to protest health and safety measures in a community they know nothing about. The RVs were parked in a flood zone (Weeks Street was completely flooded the next day and had Mallard Ducks swimming across the pond that formed where RVs were parked) and given warning for months that they would need (and want) to move, as Weeks St floods after every major rainfall. The city helped them move several hundred yards down the street to get out of this flood zone. Added urgency was brought to the situation due to a lethal form of Hepatitis A that has killed 20 people in San Diego, and hospitalized several hundred. The RV residents have been dumping feces, urine, and chemicals into the storm sewer, which was blocked by solid waste dumping. This would have resulted in a flood of raw sewage in the areas the RVs were parking. To block the tow trucks that were helping the RVs move down the street out of the flood zone was misguided at best. East Palo Alto subsequently contracted with a biohazard remediation team to sump out the sewage and contaminated water, and power washed the street with a bleach dilution.

  • Patricia Finau Lopez

    Mark Dinan – you are full of bs. You talk as if you grew up in East Palo Alto and especially think you know the history if my street on Weeks.

    You and the new comers who recently moved into East Palo Alto started a coalition to come up with all kinds of issues to kick them out. Not just off my street but out of East Palo Alto.

    There are no freaken ducks swimming in there! The illegal dumping has been going for ages and decades. There is never a red zoning on my street until you moved in!

    This is the guy who is behind the ordinance that the City presented at the public and transportation commission meeting last week Wednesday.

    Not only does he and his tiny group is helping Kumar, Carlos Martinez, Sean carpenter to kick the Rv’s out completely, but to also, remove vehicles that our families and neighbors use for their landscape businesses, tree cutting/trimming, housework, etc.

    Wake up old timers of EPA! This guy Mark Dinan is bringing GENTRIFICATION into our community!