SLO homeless plan facing legal battle
March 22, 2012
Amid allegations of illegality, San Luis Obispo City Council members voted Tuesday to unanimously approve two portions of a homeless parking plan while agreeing to revisit the plan’s proposal to increase police actions against homeless who sleep in their cars.
Council members endorsed the implementation of a pilot program aimed at providing safe parking for a small number of homeless who sleep in their vehicles.
The pilot program permits CAPSLO to allow five cars to park overnight in the Prado Day Center parking lot without being ticketed for having homeless sleeping inside. Those allowed to park in the lot would also be required to utilize CAPSLO case management offerings.
Most members of the community who spoke during the meeting approved of the pilot program, though some questioned the cost – $80,000 for six months or $16,000 per car.
“It will cost $16,000 each for six months versus handing out parking vouchers,” said San Luis Obispo based attorney Stew Jenkins.
In addition, speakers were highly critical of the plan’s proposal to increase ticketing of homeless who sleep in their vehicles and are not allotted one of the five spaces. Council members voted to delay discussion over the proposed increased enforcement for a few months.
Countywide, officials estimate there are approximately 4,000 homeless with about half of those being children, and about one fifth of all homeless sleeping in vehicles.
Proponents of the more aggressive ticketing include San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Adam Hill and his girlfriend Dee Torres, homeless services coordinator and the promoter of the proposal. Hill asked the council not to heed public comments by members of the public who oppose Torres’ proposal because the issue of homelessness is too complicated for most lay people to understand.
Hill then asked council members to support Torres’ proposal because of issues of drug and alcohol abuse by the homeless and their need for structure and management.
One homeless man who spoke out during public comment, Rubin Agular, said he does not drink or do drugs, works 40 hours a week and attends school.
“I do not use drugs or alcohol,” Aqular said. “I just happen to be poor.”
Danny Braninburg sleeps in his van at night, unless he is in jail for not being able to afford the large tickets and fines he receives from officers several times a month, he said. Unable to pay for the $450 a piece tickets, and $50 a day in late fees, Braninburg recently spent 24 days in jail in lieu of some of the fines.
Braninburg said police have been increasing their nightly raids, and as a result, he has received five tickets in the last month, or $2,250 in fines.
Working homeless contend the constant harassment by police keeps them and their children from getting a good nights sleep and they risk having their vehicles confiscated by police.
Attorney Jenkins asked the council in a letter delivered Tuesday, to stop ticketing homeless for parking in their vehicles and return all fines collected in the alleged illegal implementation of the ordinance.
“For the first time since moving to San Luis Obispo in 1961, I am ashamed of my city,” Jenkins wrote. “How and when did it become acceptable to criminalize human existence based on poverty.”
In his letter, Jenkins asked the council to suspend its sleeping vehicle ordinance, dismiss pending citations, expunge convictions and return fines.
City Attorney Christine Dietrick said they have already received one challenge to the ordinance that the city expects to beat noting that the type of ordinance was facially (on face not application) upheld in another case.
Jenkins contends the current implementation of the ordinance is in violation of California law and both the California and U.S. Constitutions, because it criminalizes human existence.
Along with San Luis Obispo based attorney Saro Rizzo, Jenkins is planning on filing a suit on behalf of several homeless who have been ticketed by San Luis Obispo police for sleeping in their vehicles.