Dietrick slams judge’s ruling as judicial misinterpretation
July 9, 2012
By KAREN VELIE
Frustrated by a judge’s ruling that bars San Luis Obispo police from ticketing homeless people sleeping in their vehicles, the city council Tuesday will consider an emergency ordinance seeking a way to continue the practice. City Attorney Christine Dietrick called San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Charles Crandall’s decision “judicial misinterpretation.”
The city attorney is recommending council adoption of an emergency ordinance adding to the health, safety and welfare section of the city’s municipal code, which would specifically allow police to immediately restart its program of ticketing sleeping homeless.
To a clause in the present ordinance that reads, “Existing and new structures should reflect adopted safety standards,” Dietrick wants to add new language in order “to prevent the immediate threats to the public health, safety, and welfare associated with the conduct of living in vehicles in unsuitable areas within the city, including on local public streets.”
Dietrick has not yet produced a staff report or draft ordinance for public review. Instead, Dietrick says she will make the staff report and draft ordinance available prior to Tuesday’s meeting.
In April, local attorneys Saro Rizzo and Stew Jenkins filed a lawsuit accusing the city of San Luis Obispo and the chief of police of discrimination, harassment and the criminalization of homeless people because of its January-enacted plan to ticket homeless using a 30-year-old development ordinance prohibiting people from living in vehicles on private property.
Rizzo and Jenkins also noted that a vehicle code ordinance implemented by Santa Barbara that prohibits people from sleeping in their cars and RVs on city streets was deemed illegal by an appellate court because of insufficient signage. In San Luis Obispo, there is no signage prohibiting people from sleeping in vehicles.
In May, Judge Crandall took motions from both the city and the attorneys for the homeless residents under submission, and urged the city to voluntarily refrain from issuing citations while the issue was under discussion. The city elected instead to ramp up its late night raids.
Last week, Crandall granted Jenkins and Rizzo a preliminary injunction that prohibits police from ticketing homeless who sleep in their vehicles until the end of the trial noting the city’s unconstitutional treatment of the homeless.
“In addition to using an enforcement strategy that appears to be singling out poor and homeless people for harsher treatment, the court is very uneasy with the specific manner in which the police have apparently been enforcing Standard 015 and issuing criminal citations,” Crandall said. “These methods include but are not limited to, the use of late-night police forays needlessly utilizing flashing lights, blaring horns, intimidation, threats and other scare tactics.”