Young Menlo Park couple could face fines of $500 per day for living in driveway RV | News | Almanac Online |


Young Menlo Park couple could face fines of $500 per day for living in driveway RV

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Arlena Bain and Alex Mulholland pet their cat, Tuna, who lives with them and two other cats in their RV in Menlo Park's Belle Haven neighborhood in Menlo Park on Nov. 13. (Photo by Magali Gauthier/The Almanac.)

Arlena Bain and her boyfriend, Alex Mulholland, both 27, might be the young people any great-grandmother would hope could move nearby.

They care for cats. They work together at Wahlburgers in Palo Alto, where they earn that city's minimum wage – $15 an hour – plus tips. Mulholland takes classes at De Anza College.

Given the area's housing costs, their relatively meager joint income made living on the Peninsula difficult, but they thought they'd found a workable workaround. For months, they've been living quietly in an RV parked in the driveway of Bain's great-grandmother's house on Madera Avenue in the Belle Haven neighborhood of Menlo Park, a setup that offers them some privacy while still being close enough to be of support to the 93-year-old homeowner.

But come Dec. 3, their housing situation will cease to be an option.

According to Bain, the problem started in September when Menlo Park's code enforcement officer, Eleonor Hilario, responded to a complaint from an anonymous neighbor about the presence of the RV.

The complaint triggered an inspection, after which Hilario found the RV to be out of compliance with Menlo Park's municipal code, citing sections including the prohibition of RV "storage" on properties zoned for single-family residences. She gave the couple verbal warnings before they received a formal notice of violation on Nov. 7, with an initial deadline of Nov. 25 to comply with the ordinances. The deadline has been extended until Dec. 3, but it still doesn't give the couple long to find a new housing situation, they said.

Menlo Park Mayor Ray Mueller told The Almanac that he had requested an extension for the couple through the holidays, but the police department denied the request. According to Mueller, the extension was denied because the couple has already been granted an extension.

As Bain explains it, there was lag time between the initial inspection and the issuance of the notice of violation, and that gap created even more stress because she wasn't entirely certain that the enforcement notice would come through. Yet without having information in writing about what part of the code her home was in violation of, she said, she couldn't take the matter to the local legal aid nonprofit, Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, to see if she'd have any way to fight it.

Given less than a month between the formal notice being sent on Nov. 7 and their hard deadline of Dec. 3, they now have little time to find a new housing situation or find a new location for the RV, Bain said. To comply with the municipal code, Bain and Mulholland will have to move the RV to a new long-term location, whether or not they continue to live in it. They're considering selling it because RV parks and safe parking facilities in the area are full, Bain said.

"People who get evicted from apartments have longer than we have," Bain said. "In a mobile home, it's like we don't have any rights."

The notice of violation includes a copy of municipal code sections, with purple check marks next to where Hilario found the RV to be out of compliance. Hilario declined to comment for this story.

The notice indicates that the RV's siting violates the city's nuisance ordinance in the "menace to safety" category and the "storage in yards" section, which prohibits RVs from being stored in a front or side yard for more than five days. It marks a third violation in that section of the code, under the heading "further limits on motor vehicle storage," stating that no more than one vehicle can be stored on a single-family lot, and laying out specific driveway parameters.

Police Comdr. Rich Struckman told The Almanac that the department is still working with Bain and Mulholland to correct the violations. "This is where we're at," he said. "This has been going on since September."

If they don't correct the violations, though, they will be subject to citation and fines. He added that the way the vehicle is parked creates a fire hazard, and that a previous configuration of the RV made it intrude onto the sidewalk.

"I think the spirit of the ordinance as written long ago is to ... keep the neighborhood tidy," he said. "We have neighbors who are complaining.

"We can't go on forever and ever. Ultimately we have to take action or the problem never goes away."

Limited options

Bain said she has explored moving the RV into a local RV park, but such parks all seem to have waiting lists and are beyond their budget.

And resources suggested by the code enforcement officer that might help other households, such as a housing support program that helps low-income residents secure down payments to buy a property, aren't helpful for their situation.

"We obviously can't afford an apartment if we live in an RV," she said.

On top of their existing challenges with looking for a new housing situation, she added, is that when she's applied for apartments before, she's run into difficulty because applications typically ask for paystubs to confirm income, which don't account for tips, so her income appears lower than it is to potential landlords.

"Even to try (to get) another job to get a higher income in the time they gave us is not possible," she asserted. "The city is forcing us to be homeless and it doesn't need to be that way."

Mulholland's mother, Susyn Almond, who sits on the city of Mountain View's Rental Housing Committee, expressed frustration with the situation.

"I feel like my son and I are sort of the prototype ... of what's happening in Silicon Valley housing," she said.

"I live in a mother-in-law unit in Mountain View; he lives in an RV. ... He's starting a new part of his life, going to college, and gets hit with this even more insecure housing. ... It just kills me."

Related story:

Menlo Park: Mayor, county supervisor to explore RV safe parking program


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41 people like this
Posted by Happy Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Nov 21, 2019 at 2:25 pm

Happy Resident is a registered user.

Move in with grandmother. Continue to help her. Sell the RV and use the proceeds to pay grandmother some rent and pay for groceries. Possible?

42 people like this
Posted by Obvious
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Nov 21, 2019 at 2:48 pm

Moving in with grandma is of course the obvious answer. Instead of having the family solve this simple issue, they are trying to have the city solve it. Living in Grandma's driveway in a RV is not acceptable to the neighborhood. So do the right thing.

36 people like this
Posted by Please...
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Nov 21, 2019 at 3:01 pm

Possible to have some empathy for a low-income couple?

34 people like this
Posted by Member
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Nov 21, 2019 at 3:13 pm

If moving into grandmother's was an option we would of already. This shouldn't be an issue city or family. And other rvs in other parts of Menlo Park aren't having to deal with this. Plus the complaint made towards us was false so... if the city is banning rvs then all rvs should be restricted not specifically just ours. We do pay rent fyi.

19 people like this
Posted by No Easy Solutions
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 21, 2019 at 3:42 pm

Do agree with Member's comment above. I do see RVs parked in drive ways in MP that have been there for a while. This is not uniform application of the ordinance, just targeted towards those only living in them?

13 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 21, 2019 at 4:03 pm

Gee the chief isn't paying for a taxi to haul them and the RV to Ocean Beach in SF?

17 people like this
Posted by editoratlarge
a resident of another community
on Nov 21, 2019 at 6:13 pm

editoratlarge is a registered user.

There are RVs parked in driveways in my neighborhood. I can see people complaining if it were in the street, but it’s not. [Portion removed; incivility violates terms of use.]

12 people like this
Posted by Clunge
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 21, 2019 at 6:13 pm

Awhile back we were thinking of buying a smaller RV for weekend trips. Realized the City wouldn’t let us keep it in our back yard so we scrapped the idea

There’s a home on Willow near East Creek and Waverly. Been there for years, basically store there, no different than these folks.

Code enforcement doesn’t do things on their own, they wait for a call then they go out and start citing you.

You kids ought ask De Anza if you can park while you’re still enrolled, or even Stanford. Some colleges are opening space for struggling students.

Good luck

31 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Nov 21, 2019 at 6:57 pm

Menlo Park seems to be the only city locally that has decent rules and enforcement about RV's. Of course you can't leave one parked in your driveway endlessly. It's a total eyesore for the rest of the neighborhood to have to look at. Just like you can't take over public space to live on as your own (in your RV.) I do have sympathy for people with smaller budgets, but I don't think that allowing them to live in an expensive neighborhood in a way that degrades it is a fair solution.
Thank you Menlo!

8 people like this
Posted by Ryan
a resident of another community
on Nov 21, 2019 at 8:04 pm

Too bad your not in Austin Texas. We'd get you a spot to fix this situation. Managed 3 RV parks here and its not hard , we've even set up temp spots when were full to compensate for tenants of other parks due to flooding or storm damage. You might ask around. An extension cord with adapter , garden hose , and septic clean out is all you would need for a camper that small.

27 people like this
Posted by Vanessa
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Nov 21, 2019 at 8:10 pm

It’s curious because I’ve seen RV’s stored in many affluent areas of Menlo Park (Sharon Heights, and the neighborhood adjacent to Atherton off of Valparaiso east of El Camino) without issue, some of which look like they haven’t moved in literally years. I wonder what the difference is? Oh yeah, their owners are affluent... It’s almost as if the Menlo Park Police Department has an entirely different agenda for our end of the city —spoiler alert, they do.

29 people like this
Posted by MPCA
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Nov 21, 2019 at 8:14 pm

Parking RV in the driveway and living in it is not a housing solution. Thank you MP for taking action to support and protect our neighborhoods and residents' quality of life. Parking RV, dilapidated unregistered cars and rusted boats in driveways or side yards is illegal in MP, it is unsanitary, it is unsightly and it is selfish. I sympathize with the low income young couple, but they are young, they should have life skills to manage life and should be able to figure out a solution without negatively effecting a single family R1 residential neighborhood. I will be honest, I sympathize with the neighbors who live next to their unsightly trailer more. I am grateful to Ms.. Hilario for taking action and working with neglectful neighbors all over MP in an effort to clean up their properties and better all of our lives. Happy Thanksgiving and all the best!

25 people like this
Posted by MPCA
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Nov 21, 2019 at 8:56 pm

A trailer habitation in a R1 zoned neighborhood is not a solution. RV parks are zoned specifically for RVs. The young couple earns over $62K plus tips, not tremendous, but enough to leave grandma's driveway at their age. They are way past the dependency stage. Thank you MP for protecting and supporting our quality of life and not allowing our neighborhoods to become campgrounds.

23 people like this
Posted by MPCA
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Nov 21, 2019 at 9:13 pm

Someone suggested and attempted:

(1) suggesting building giant fences

- building codes and regulations mandate fence heights, so a "giant" fence is not an option for those residents adhere to municipal rules and regulations in a civilized community like Menlo Park

(2) attempting to shame those who don't want their R1 zoned neighborhood turned into a trailer park as "rich"
- thanks for trying, does not work

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

37 people like this
Posted by West Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 21, 2019 at 9:47 pm

I know of two RVs parked in west Menlo that had code enforcement called on them in the last few months and had to leave. Whether you agree with the laws or not, it seems to me that they are being enforced fairly across all of MP when neighbors complain.

23 people like this
Posted by LLAP
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 21, 2019 at 10:33 pm

Parking in Tanya's driveway is not a solution. She too has neighbors who would not want their neighborhood turned into a camp ground RV park cat sanctuary. A residential trailer should be parked in an appropriately zoned area. I don't want to solve this couple's issue, they earn enough to find an apartment near by, they are 27 years old and should be able to adapt and survive without imposing their lifestyle onto others. Live Long and Prosper.

35 people like this
Posted by disgusted
a resident of another community
on Nov 21, 2019 at 11:17 pm

Petty bureaucracy and callous NIMBYs versus decent people struggling to keep their heads above water. I know which side I'm on.

You can tell how "sympathetic" the people in the neighborhood are just from the comments here. Their "sympathy" for unquestioned hardship is so meager that they prefer ejecting this couple into total uncertainty rather than endure the terrible "unsightliness", as though their neighborhood was Versailles. Well I see the area on Google Maps and if someone hadn't pointed out the RV I wouldn't even have noticed it. The photos here aren't "unsightly", much less "unsanitary" as one whiner suggests.

The only purpose to the so-called "sympathy" of the NIMBYs is to relieve their own conscience and morally wash their hands of the matter. The idea that the RV residents are the "selfish" ones in this story is an indication of how morally warped our culture is.

Finally, the coward who informed on the couple deserves special attention in this sorry episode. How about trying to communicate with the RV couple instead of sicking the police on them? Tell the couple you wish the RV wasn't there forever and see if they wouldn't agree to find a new arrangement by some reasonable future date. That's how the issue should be confronted in a decent community, but as we see this neighborhood is no community (few are in America).

I'm sorry for Arlena and Alex. I hope you're able to land on your feet. My appreciation to the residents of the neighborhood who didn't try to screw them over. For the "sympathetic" others, I have nothing but contempt. And for the anonymous coward, I hope karma is real because they richly merit something in return for being a miserable weasel.

Happy Thanksgiving.

16 people like this
Posted by Dee in CA
a resident of Woodside: other
on Nov 22, 2019 at 2:09 am

I'm kind of in the same boat you're in right now. My landlord sold the house we were renting with absolutely no notification to us. Just an annoying real estate agent and the new owner popped in and said we need to leave because he was moving twelve of his employees into the house. Like seriously what the hell?! We don't have a huge income and the rent prices in California are absolutely ridiculous so all we had was our RV...Now where to park the damn thing until we can find a place to live...hmmm. It's tough to find a place to park because you're right, all of the RV and Mobile home parks are packed and don't have vacancy. You can't stay at a wayside for more than eight hours, a major portion of the campsites close during the cold seasons and there's a few open but the prices are outrageous. I'm parked at a fairground camp area right now where they're letting us park for a max of one month and it's the cheapest one we found at $46 a night. Times are tough and sometimes we fall and need to pick ourselves up from unfortunate circumstances and I think that the neighbors should mind their own damn business. Live and let live. I mean seriously, it's the holidays and all these people can think about is that they don't like the way an RV looks in someone else's driveway? Are they that miserable with their own lives that they need to kick someone else when they're down? They're disgusting and they should be ashamed of themselves. And what if you parked the RV in grandma's backyard? Is there a loophole in this? I'd intentionally find one just to piss them off because they really deserve a slap in the face. They also really need to get a life. I wish the best for you and hope everything works out. As for the neighbors...they can rot.

13 people like this
Posted by Will
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 22, 2019 at 3:08 am

Why can't Americans worry about there driveway and let others take care of there's. You own property but can't have an rv in your driveway what? Worry about the corruption in our government think of ways to stop hate..stupid people stupid laws get a hobby..i think there's enough homeless people...change the laws change the government..enough is enough..

10 people like this
Posted by A Nightmare
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 22, 2019 at 7:04 am

oh, so this story is why Mueller proposed creating an RV park at the USGS site! typical knee jerk response to an on going criss that the City of Menlo Park has ignored..If the City wants to partner with LifeMoves and create housing - permanent and emergency housing - at the USGS then I'm all for it. Allowing RV's to park there without support support services such as bathrooms, showers, laundry facilities, waste disposal, and 24 hour security patrols is a nightmare. Considering that most of the RV's used for housing and parked on the streets are actually being RENTED by slumlords who are charging the occupants, there will be many greedy businessmen taking advantage of the "solution" proposed by Mueller. And if the City or a Non Profit were to provide the proper infrastructure necessary to accommodate an RV park at the USGS, why not just create low income housing there? Also, there is the need for emergency shelters in the area during natural disasters or other emergencies, war time or economic emergencies. My suggestion is to create an emergency shelter with all the necessary amenities and also build low income permanent housing on site at the USGS. The emergency shelter can be used by people on the wait list for permanent housing and could also be used by the community in times of emergency. But just opening up the parking lot and allowing RV's to park the there is not the way to address the current crisis and comes with a whole host of problems. I would be in favor with an RV park at the USGS only if all the amenities were provided, including security and that it was bundled with a package to provide permanent low income housing and related services. Otherwise the RV park will grow out of control and impact the surrounding neighborhood, because there IS a housing crisis that requires more than a bandaid approach.

16 people like this
Posted by Dee Shnutz
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 22, 2019 at 7:28 am

In the meantime, just move it every 5 days. On the street, back in driveway. Take photos, which are time stamped as evidence of compliance. Goteem

10 people like this
Posted by Diana H
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Nov 22, 2019 at 7:31 am

Amen to Dee and Will if our world had more people like you guys we would be definitely living in a love peaceful mindful world. Thank you Dee for expressing you compassion. It made my day no doubt. In a world that expresses so much hate .instead of expressing the love of power you expressed the power of love for the young couple in this situation . humanity should be the concern especially if you've been blessed and help the ones that struggle dont kick someone when their down what kind of person does that?and Bill your right every needs to mind their own driveway as im sure that the young couple had no plans of laying a foundation for the rv in the driveway

6 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Nov 22, 2019 at 7:51 am

EPA has trailers parked by the park entrance to Cooley landing. You could probably live off their till you figure things out.

Why not move into your grandmother's garage?

15 people like this
Posted by Alex
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Nov 22, 2019 at 10:28 am

Ridiculous people are worried about somebodys rv in the driveway when other people in the world are dealing with real. Issues like hunger strikes and bad government. People in menlo park are flat out nosy and [portion removed; keep it civil] human beings. The money in menlo park has gotten to your heads. The point people fail to realize is these people are forced to homelessnes in less time than a tennant in a apt or rental. I wish this couple the best in they fight.

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