SLO again facing litigation for homeless ticketing
September 19, 2012
In what appeared to be a repeat of a March San Luis Obispo City Council meeting, amid allegations that San Luis Obispo city staff’s proposed plan to stop homeless from sleeping in their vehicles could have legal ramifications, the council voted to approve the new ordinance.
In March, prior to the city council agreeing to an increase in police raids of homeless who sleep in their cars, attorney Stew Jenkins asked the council to stop ticketing homeless for parking in their vehicles and return all fines collected in what he called an illegal implementation of the ordinance.
The city council rebuffed his request and a month later Jenkins and Saro Rizzo filed a lawsuit against the city claiming its implementation of the ordinance was unconstitutional, an argument San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Charles Crandall agreed with.
In the end, with legal fees slated to cost the city several hundred thousand dollars, the city agreed to a settlement that restricted its police from applying the emergency ordinance unless “there is an articulable threat to public health and safety.” The city was also required to enforce the ordinance through public information, education and warnings. As of December 31, the new emergency ordinance is to be eliminated, according to the settlement.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, Jenkins noted two issues: That a lawsuit filed against Santa Barbara for an ordinance that barred overnight sleeping in vehicles that used inadequate signage to warn people was won by homeless advocates. The new ordinance, put together by SLO city staff, utilizes similar signage amounts to what was deemed inadequate in Santa Barbara.
And secondly, that section seven of the new ordinance is an unconstitutional “poisonous pill.” Section seven says that if a court determines the city’s new ordinance is illegal, they can go back to the old one which was already deemed illegal.
“I warned the city litigation would occur,” Jenkins said. “If you are going to adopt, strike section seven.”
In another repeat of the past, City Attorney Christine Dietrick said she stood behind the legality of the new ordinance and saw no reason to delay a vote while the ordinance is reworked. The new ordinance makes sleeping in your car a parking infraction while the old ordinance made it a criminal offense.
Councilwoman Kathy Smith and Councilman Dan Carpenter dissented asking their fellow council members to hold off while the city looks for solutions for people sleeping in their cars.
Information about the success or failure of a pilot program aimed at providing safe parking run by CAPSO for a small number of homeless who sleep in their vehicles will be provided to the council in October.
The handful of homeless permitted to utilize the parking program are required to sign over 70 percent of their income to homeless services to be used in securing housing, which program administrators said usually takes more than a year. In addition, homeless services then charges the client $12.50 in administration fees.
And while CAPSO is touting the success of its program claiming it has been able to place several homeless people into housing, those interviewed by CCN claim they either found housing on their own or through agencies not affiliated with CAPSLO.