There Oughta Be a Law – II

On Jan 13, 8 intrepid people met at Red Rock Coffee in Mountain View for a Policy Cafe, to consider the 6 policies (see this earlier post) which Transitioners had proposed to submit to Senator Jerry Hill’s There Oughta Be a Law contest in the name of Transition Palo Alto.  After the ingestion of many beverages and some serious discussion, it was decided to submit the proposal submitted by Paul Higgins, which proposes regulating homeless encampments in a manner that gives people who are homeless more of a chance at stability and recovery.  After applying some spit and polish, the following proposal was e-mailed to Senator Hill’s office.  (As of this writing, Feb 7, we have not heard back about the proposal.  Senators have until Feb 17 to submit bills for consideration.)


Name: Paul Higgins and Peter Ruddock for Transition Palo Alto

Transition Palo Alto is a citizens’ group dedicated to creating a strong local economy and a resilient community as a strategy to counter climate change and create a better life for all in Palo Alto and the surrounding area.

Providing Stability for the Homeless Community Act


There oughta be a law: regulating homeless encampments. It is obvious that shelters and indoor living are not an immediate solution for every homeless person, given the diversity of mental illnesses, the lack of housing, and the safety issues with many shelters. There seems to be a ‘war on the homeless’ currently. Many recent laws criminalize homelessness, and every time an encampment springs up, police wait until it is well established and then tear it all down and clear it out- but to what end? Where are these people supposed to go? Usually the tenants simply move to another site. This game of whack-a-mole that cities seem to be playing with homeless encampments makes it much harder for mental health professionals and other homeless outreach/advocate professionals to treat and serve the homeless community. Outreach programs need stability to work and a managed encampment would provide that.

Certainly it is understandable that jurisdictions are uncomfortable with these encampments, as they generate citizen complaints and can become safety hazards.  But removal is, at best, a temporary solution, as the encampments will spring up again in some other location.  For the problem as a whole, forcing people to move every few months from illegal camp to illegal camp is counter-productive, making the process of (re)gaining a home virtually impossible for most.  We need to give people some stability if they are to have a chance at success.  Jurisdictions need to be empowered to create that stability.

WHAT’S YOUR SOLUTION? Please attach proposed language, if any. Be as detailed as possible, attaching extra sheets if needed.

We should enact a law that legalizes a regulated and managed homeless encampment. This could use vacant/blighted parcels, parks land, or other city or county land, and would include designated camping spots that service users would register for, and be monitored by community police or liaisons. This is what would make the living environment safer than a shelter (which often have insufficient oversight). The involvement of existing local organizations would be sought. Facilities such as trash cans, porta-potties, potable water fountains, showers, and sheet-mulched areas for camping would also be included (ecologically-sound options would be encouraged, such as composting and bioswales to process waste and grey-water, and a garden for service users to grow food). The site would also include mail boxes for service users and act as a drop off point for food bank bags. The area could be re-mulched periodically to maintain sanitary conditions.

The type of housing allowed would be diverse, as long as it was temporary.

While a sunset clause for a planned site is possible, a stipulation that all registered tenants be moved to a new location with equal/greater space/amenities or permanent housing.

This plan could fall under the purview of parks/public works/sheriff/health system, or more sensibly be a combined effort with some capacity/staff time given by each department. As mentioned local organizations would be sought to provide management and support.

A small fee could be charged to service users to offset management costs for the site. This could be 5-10% of income if the service user is on social security, or a few dollars in cash per day if not. In Berkeley, the city often charges a percentage of service users’ income to pay for an apartment.

The plan could function in multiple ways: it could outline a way that a plot can be used in a given way (letting organizations/depts come together organically to start a project); OR the plan could designate that a site(s) of given size be built and specify a budget, staff time from different departments, and make it happen; OR the plan could it take an existing encampment and get it ‘up to code’.

This law is not a solution to end homelessness in our communities. It is a temporary measure to allow people who are already sleeping on our streets somewhere safer to go than a park bench or alleyway. Rather than using the streets and parks for their human needs, this would provide a safer, more hygienic way to take care of those needs. Finally, it provides dignity and a sense of self determination for people who are living on the streets by allowing them to use what ever type of housing or non-housing they wish- in a designated, managed space.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION: Please include any studies, reports, newspaper articles, personal experience, or anecdotal evidence relating to your proposal.

List of articles/resources (California):

Thesis on Community Development as Solution to Homelessness:

San Jose city plans to use ‘jungle clean-up’ as model for dealing with homeless encampments:

General information about homeless encampments:

Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights Draft:

SF in-depth look at policies and ‘Division St. Encampment’:

Fact sheets:

Other States:

Nashville, Tennesee exploratory meetings on the issue:

Washington DC homeless criminalization:

ARE YOU AWARE OF SIMILAR LEGISLATION PREVIOUSLY INTRODUCED IN CALIFORNIA OR IN OTHER STATES? If so, please include the author, bill number, and outcome of the legislation:

List of related laws (California):

Gilroy legalized encampment proposal:

Nevada County legalized encampment:

Other States:

Seattle draft legislation:

Des Moines, Washington draft legislation:

Portland encampment legalization law:


Each encampment would cost government, whether local, county or state, money, which would likely come from the general tax fund.

Some of this money would be offset by fees charged to users, as outlined in the proposal. Analysis will show that concomitant savings will occur in all jurisdictions from decreased need for policing, decreased blight on land and fewer calls from residents. The net effect on all jurisdictions should be positive, but the financial impact will be felt differently by each jurisdiction.

(AB 551, which gives tax incentives for turning vacant, often blighted, urban land into urban farms and gardens provides an interesting analogy.  It costs the counties (where it is enacted) property taxes for those properties which enroll in the program.  Administrative expenses are mostly offset by application fees, but may also cost the counties some money.  Police will see a big savings by not having to patrol the formerly blighted properties, although some of the problems may simply move elsewhere.  However, the police savings will not necessarily go into the same pot that the property taxes came out of – if financial management is not made then school districts, dependent upon property taxes, will often suffer.  The small enrollment in AB 551 means that we have not seen any meaningful effects yet, although some advocates worry about the possibilities.)


Homeless Advocates, Mental Health Professionals, Social Workers, Food Banks, Churches, Police Departments


Cities / League of California Cities, Homeowners groups (neighbors, NIMBY), Police Departments


Sharing the Holidays

Transition Palo Alto’s last Share Faire of the year was a low-key affair, full of holiday cheer and spirit.

The Faire began with a Storytelling Circle, where everyone took there turn describing what the holiday season – no matter which holiday they were celebrating – meant to them.  We heard stories of travel and family and food – a lot of food.

And then the Faire ended with food.  Peter Ruddock taught us a seasonal recipe – cranberry-orange vinaigrette, an easy salad dressing made with winter produce.  (Peter omits the mustard and thinks it tastes just fine).


Photos courtesy of Herb Moore:



Getting Crafty in the Garden

On June 11, a group of people from Transition Palo Alto and the South Bay Permaculture Group met at Common Ground Garden to get crafty.  Half of the group sheet mulched a new section of the garden.  The other half made new signs, in anticipation of the upcoming Edible Garden Tour on July 23.  During a break, everyone got a great guided tour of the garden.  And after the work was complete, people shared a tasty, fresh, local potluck lunch together.  Look for more opportunities to work together in the garden, and in other places around Palo Alto too.


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Earth Day at the Facebook Farmers Market



Transition Palo Alto journeyed to far eastern Menlo Park on April 30, to participate in the Earth Day Celebration which opened the 2nd season of the Facebook Farmers Market.  We were joined by a large number of community organizations and businesses, greatly increasing the size of the normal market.  Music, free plants and an “upcycled” fashion show rounded out the festive afternoon.

The Facebook Farmers Market will take place every Saturday from 2:00 to 5:00 PM.  Expect music, kids’ activities and special events throughout the season.  If you’re anywhere nearby, do check it out.



A Seedy, but Tasty, Spring Share Faire


Transition Palo Alto‘s Spring Share Faire was a seedy event – build around seeds, that is.

An enthusiastic crowd gathered at Cubberley Community Center on a blustery spring day, happy to be inside and under cover, protected from the inclement weather.

We started the afternoon with the World Premiere of a new short film by Herb Moore made to Protect Community Seed Sharing.  The maestro was there in person for the event.  If you didn’t get to see the film live, you can watch it on-line – the effect isn’t quite the same, but you’ll enjoy it nonetheless:

Protect Community Seed Sharing from Herb Moore on Vimeo.

The film was followed by two sets of mini-classes.  In the Garden Room, we continued the seed theme with Hillie Salo talking to us about Seed Exchanges, Seed Libraries and the CA Seed Exchange Democracy Act (AB 1810), which Transition Palo Alto has endorsed.  Hillie was followed by Paul Higgins, manager of Common Ground Garden, who showed us how to propagate seedlings in flats and Peggy Prendergast, who led a very hands-on demonstration of worm composting, to the particular delight of the kids in attendance.

Next door, in the Food Room, things got really tasty.  Diane Ruddle led off by showing how to make preserved lemons and what to do with them.  She was followed by Margaret Szumilas, who taught us about sourdough bread and by Joyce Beattie, who taught us how to make compost soup (where you actually use things in order to keep them out of the compost!).

All the while, in the hall outside people were sharing goods – plants, books, kitchen gadgets and more – networking with their neighbors, registering to vote, and generally having a fun time.

Make sure to mark your calendars for June 10, when the next Share Faire will focus on Books and Media.

Here’s a slide show. Enjoy!

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Valentines Day Share Faire

So many people had left town.  Not only was it Valentines Day, but it was the middle of the three-day President’s Day weekend.  It was so quiet.  But that didn’t stop many of those who remained from gathering at Cubberley Community Center to share their love and Build the Fabric of Our Community at the first Share Faire of the year.

February’s Share Faire was the second instance of our “mini-class” format.  We held six short classes split into two themes:  Democracy and Organizing (as a companion to our Fourth Friday showing of Merchants of Doubt) and Fabric and More.

The Democracy room started with Jean Lythcott from the League of Women Voters who walked us through the process of registering voterss.  There are a surprising number of things to consider, and to help the registrant do, so that the registration form is valid and gets accepted.

Jean was followed by Eitan Fenson, who led us through the Ballot Proposition process in California and brought us up to date on Proposition 49, Amendment to Overturn Citizens United Ruling Question.

Finally, Peter Ruddock introduced us to the California Legislative process and taught us about AB 1810, the California Seed Exchange Democracy Act, which aims to protect Seed Exchanges and Seed Libraries in our state laws.

The Fabric room began with “More”, specifically with Lori Stoia teaching her class how to make a simple, natural body lotion.

William Mutch then put the fabric in Fabric, showing people how to make friendship bracelets, using a couple of simple designs.

To complete the Fabric session, Rani Jayakumar introduced people to Finger Knitting – knitting without needles.

There was, of course, time for people to visit the Goods Sharing tables – books, fabric, plants and more – in the hall between and around the classes.

We look forward to holding more “mini-class” Share Faires in the future, on themes including Food, Garden, Books, Media and much, much more.  Make sure to join us.

Our Interview with Shareable Magazine

A couple of months ago, a writer for Shareable magazine approached Rani and asked us to contribute to their article on ShareFests.  Rani and I spent some time talking about their questions and then she wrote up some great responses.  Alas, when the article game out (you can read it here) it did no more than mention that Palo Alto has a Share Faire.  Well, at least we’re on the map.  But we thought that the exchange with Shareable was too good to lose, so we’re reproducing it here as a blog post for you.



[?] What are some activities or events that do particularly well at your ShareFests?

Our Share Faires are held quarterly, and include goods (garden produce and tools, craft supplies, books, toys, and clothes) as well as skills, which vary each time. Classes by experts and which involve food are often popular, as well as garden-related booths, but seasonal activities (wreath-making) and new ones (shoe-making) do very well. Anything for kids attracts families – we have done crafts, storytelling, friendship bracelets, and music, among others.. We have also just tried a conversation circle with great success in an outdoor setting!

[?] In your opinion, what’s the importance of a ShareFest?

Transition Palo Alto, and the Transition movement in general, is founded on the principle that climate change and resource depletion are opportunities for a better vision of the world – one where we build community, encourage others to try things first and dive in, then understand its significance in your mind, and finally take it to heart, where it moves you. We beliyour Share Faires and other sharing events offer opportunities for people to dive in with their hands, but also deepen their involvement in the other two, through building confidence and resilience, developing and encouraging teachers, and bringing everyone along these steps to grow the movement.

[?] What are the goals for your ShareFests? What do you hope comes out of them?

Of course, we hope that sharing encourages less waste, less reliance on resources, and a stronger local economy. We hope that we are helping build a network of people who have skills and resources to support our community. However, we also hope that those who teach go deeper into understanding their roles as wisdom-keepers, and that those who attend do more than trade stuff but instead try something new, become experts and teachers themselves, and build a stronger, more integrated community that has shared its knowledge and is resilient in the face of what is coming. We have the broader goal of a vision for the future that is optimistic, interconnected, and a smooth transition to a post-carbon world.

[?] Anything you’d like to add about your events?

One issue we have had with our Share Faires is that as we become more popular, we find more people bringing items and leaving them. We have had to be careful about this sort of dumping, because it suggests an easy out – a way to release your material guilt, when what we are trying to encourage is less consumption. Instead, we are trying to focus on sharing the stories of our stuff, to make one-on-one connections, to help people find good homes for things that they are releasing from their lives.