SLO overrules judge on homeless raids
July 11, 2012
San Luis Obispo City Council voted 4-1 in favor of adopting an emergency ordinance that allows police to ticket homeless sleeping in their vehicles in an attempt to overrule a judge’s ban on the late night raids.
After determining a July 3 ruling by San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Charles Crandall was a misinterpretation of the city’s intent to use a development code to ticket people sleeping in vehicles, the city rewrote the ordinance and placed it in a health and safety code section.
In February, police started a program of late night forays using scare tactics and threats to stop homeless from sleeping in their cars. Two months later, 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.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, one person spoke in favor of the ban noting her fear of the homeless and the trash they leave behind. The remaining 16 public speakers said they were opposed to the city reinstating the anti-camping ordinance.
“We are human and it is hard to be harassed every day by the cops,” Barbara Walker said and then began to weep. “It sickens me that people want to treat us like trash. We are human.”
Explaining her support for the emergency ordinance, Mayor Jan Marx said she was concerned the city would become a magnet or a target for people who want to camp out on public streets.
John Ashbaugh said he was in favor of enacting an anti-camping ordinance, but was concerned with the emergency ordinance’s language and wanted a rewrite. He voted against the ordinance.
The ordinance includes a statement that the city’s intent is to “overrule any ruling to the contrary.”
City attorney Christine Dietrick said the new ordinance dealt with all the judge’s concerns. However, in his ruling, Crandall says his second concern is that the previous ordinance did not require the city to provide reasonable notice to local and state residents of the street camping prohibition. The new ordinance does not require the city to put up signs noting that it is a crime to sleep in a vehicle.
Crandall’s third concern has to do with criminally enforcing a zoning regulation, which is ordinarily investigated by code enforcement officers. In its emergency ordinance, the city notes police enforcement is required because the city’s code enforcement officers do not work at night.
Attorneys Rizzo and Jenkins said they are contemplating amending their complaint against the city and asking the judge to enact a temporary restraining order again banning the city from ticketing homeless for sleeping.
“Fighting the city is like going fishing in a 12-foot skiff and catching a 9-foot shark,” Jenkins said. “After getting it into the boat, it just keeps trying to bite your ankles.”