Lawsuit filed on behalf of San Luis Obispo’s homeless
April 9, 2012
San Luis Obispo city officials are accused of discrimination, harassment and the criminalization of homeless people, in a lawsuit filed on Friday.
At the behest of city officials, police wake up homeless sleeping in their cars and give them tickets of up to $500 a piece for either living or sleeping in vehicles. Officers then order the homeless to “get out of town,” the suit says.
Attorneys Saro Rizzo and Stewart Jenkins are asking the court to order the city to stop enforcing a city ordinance that prohibits sleeping in vehicles and to pay financial damages and costs.
The suit contends the ordinance is unlawful because it is vague, discriminatory, and fails to abide by California Vehicle Code 22507(a) which requires signs to be posted before an ordinance restricting parking can be enforced.
In 2004, the 2nd Appellate Court in Ventura ruled the city of Santa Barbara could not enforce a parking ordinance in place to stop homeless from sleeping in their cars for more than two hours because the city, which had posted 33 signs, did not have adequate signage. San Luis Obispo has no signage.
The late-night raids started several months ago after city officials working to appease business owners asked police to crack down on homeless sleeping in their vehicles on Prado Road. The sweeps have caused some homeless people to lose their vehicles while others have spent time in jail to pay off fines.
In March, San Luis Obispo City Council members voted unanimously to approve a pilot parking plan that is slated to provide five spots for homeless to legally park. Amid allegations of discrimination against the homeless and threats of lawsuits, the council agreed to revisit the plan’s proposal to increase police actions against homeless who sleep in their cars.
Currently, there are approximately 1,000 homeless living in SLO with about 50 percent sleeping in vehicles. The lawsuit claims city officials are promoting the late night raids in an attempt to prompt the homeless to leave SLO.
“Public statements by at least one member of the city council (Andrew Carter), since the March 20 council meeting, clearly show the purpose of the city’s enforcement campaign is to expel from the city its citizens with nowhere to sleep but their vehicles and to discourage other homeless individuals from traveling to the city of San Luis Obispo,” the suit says.
The lawsuit, filed in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court, names the SLO Homeless Alliance and several homeless residents as plaintiffs, with the city of San Luis Obispo and police Chief Stephen Gesell named as defendants.
City Attorney Christine Dietrick said at the March 20 city council meeting that she believes the city will beat challenges to the ordinance noting that the type of ordinance was facially (on face not application) upheld in another case.