Is SLO’s vehicle sleeping ban unconstitutional?

June 20, 2014

Cartoon Homeless HomesBy KAREN VELIE

Amid a federal appellate court ruling Thursday that struck down a Los Angeles law that prohibits homeless from sleeping in their vehicles, San Luis Obispo homeless advocates are waiting to see how city officials will respond.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously agreed that Los Angeles’ ordinance prohibiting people from using their vehicles as living quarters “opens the door to discriminatory enforcement” against the poor. In addition the court said the ordinance was unconstitutionally vague.

In 2010, Los Angeles officials decided to aggressively enforce the city’s living in a vehicle ban in order to protect public health and safety. The city then started a task force to cite and arrest homeless people sleeping in their RVs and automobiles, according to the ruling.

In response, an attorney filed a lawsuit on behalf of several Los Angeles homeless people claiming the city’s ordinance “criminalizes otherwise innocent behavior.” The federal appellate court agreed.

“This broad and cryptic statute criminalizes innocent behavior, making it impossible for citizens to know how to keep their conduct within the pale,” Judge Harry Pregerson wrote for the court.

The court determined that the Los Angeles’ ordinance was a “convenient tool for harsh and discriminatory enforcement by local prosecuting officials.” In its conclusion, the court noted that Los Angeles has many options at its disposal to alleviate the plight and suffering of its homeless citizens other than enforcement actions.

In the Los Angeles case, four police officers were personally sued for their participation in the unconstitutional treatment of the homeless.

San Luis Obispo

In 2012, attorneys Saro Rizzo and Stew Jenkins filed a lawsuit accusing the city of San Luis Obispo and its chief of police of discrimination, harassment and the criminalization of homeless people. Following a decision by a superior court judge that the city’s treatment of the homeless was unconstitutional, the San Luis Obispo City Council agreed to dismiss all tickets given that year to homeless residents for sleeping in their vehicles.

City Attorney Christine Dietrick responded by recommending the council adopt an ordinance under 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.

In addition, the police department created a task force to focus on the homeless. The police department then implemented a top ten offender list, which targets those most cited for more police oversight.

Jenkins and Rizzo are analyzing the case to determine its impact on San Luis Obispo’s enforcement practices.



  1. womanwhohasbeenthere says:

    Vote NO on Measure Y (which funds these ridiculous salaries) and maybe, just maybe, we will have to get a city attorney for less money. Or hire one by the hour as we did in the past.

  2. Pelican1 says:

    The Grapes of Wrath have come to SLO. Even Steinbeck would be appalled by how our homeless are treated.

  3. achillesheal says:

    May be a stupid question, but where do people who sleep in their cars go to the bathroom?

    Seems like that would be a public health, safety and welfare concern.

    • Mr. Holly says:

      What would you suggest they do?

      • achillesheal says:

        Get off drugs and alcohol, get a job and a toilet or move in with some relatives.

    • alanharold says:

      Most probably use public toilets. Urinating or defecating in public within the city IS a public health, safety, and welfare concern, which is why it is already illegal.

      • achillesheal says:

        Most public restrooms are locked at night. They use the great outdoors and try to find unlocked restrooms, which is why I have to chase them away for my office some mornings.

        • Slowerfaster says:

          If it were ‘against the law’ for you to poop, what would you do ?

        • sloslo says:

          If you think carefully, you will find a solution in your comment: Don’t lock the public restrooms at night. When the Downtown Association put portable toilets out on St. Patricks Day, there were ZERO public urination citations given that weekend. I don’t think anyone urinates in public because they want to – people do it because they have been deprived any other option.

  4. Rambunctious says:

    It’s too bad there is not some ranch or farm with out buildings that aren’t being used. The homeless could sleep there and maybe learn to be reasonable and get up and work on the farm for their keep. Yep it’s too darn bad that there ain’t a place like that in SLO to keep the homeless off of the streets. What a shame.

    • kayaknut says:

      There was, it was called Sunny Acres, but it was within eyesight of Christine Mullholland and she used her friends in high places to make it go away.

  5. Pete says:

    The readers might want to recall that after giving the city lousy advice numerous times on this issue, causing the city court losses and expenses, she was given two raises for terrific performance. Our city attorney now makes more than the state attorney general.

    Reminds me of the various CEOs that drove their companies into the dust and got huge raises.
    What a country…

  6. freshair says:

    Illegal? It does appear to be the case, yes indeed.

    CAPSLO should spearhead its own version of a Safe Parking Program in use by New Beginnings in Santa Barbara. New Beginnings has helped 687 homeless people living in their vehicles this year alone, according to their website:

    The program is a cooperative between New Beginnings, area churches and non-profits whereby participating institutions provide parking places for vehicle dwellers registered with the New Beginnings program. It’s purpose is to provide a level of stability needed for vehicle dwellers to effectively make positive changes in their lives.

  7. Dirk Anderson says:

    Constitution? I’m not sure what Country I’m living in anymore, let alone Constitution.
    Failure to enforce Border Laws, Attorney Generals illegal “Fast & Furious” gun running program, will of the people being thwarted by big Money Corporations and their Congressional influence peddling. President bypassing Congress at every opportunity (can’t say I blame him). NSA’s Unconstitutional spying on Americans with secret collaboration various Telecom Corporations. The old Republican/ Democrat paradigm is pretty much irrelevant, it’s U.S.A. inc. deal with it.
    And just who is to blame? the American people are, get the Government etc. “we” (yes, I hear voices, makes you feel good) deserve. I don’t give a damn what kind of car anyone drives, or the Mac Mansion, or that old woman you’re married to etc. keep all that joy to yourself. If it is all that satisfying, why do so many in this culturally impoverished community proactively seek out the homeless so they can demean, condescend to, and crown themselves at another’s expense? Don’t bother me, (Would not know you existed) with your itsy, bitsy, teenie, weenie quarters etc. Give them to the Mayor. Radio Personality Bruce Williams used to say: “Nothing more pathetic than a two-bit whore”.
    This Town won’t get a dime out of me for: (1) bicycle on a sidewalk (Elks Club Bridge, please)
    (2) Illegal camping or whatever it was recently (Officer did refer to me as a “Criminal” …’you would know’). If approached by a legitimate owner or authority, I’m reasonable about leaving.
    “Stake-Holders” when it comes back in your direction don’t come crying to me.

    • Slowerfaster says:

      “And just who is to blame? the American people are, get the Government etc. “we” (yes, I hear voices, makes you feel good) deserve.”

      It is the apotheosis of the Stupid. 317 million ‘Murkans’ dumber than dog droppings….. 99% suffering from CRE : Cranial Rectal Embeddment.

      America as a functioning democracy/republic is done, finished, kaput. We are in the midst of an ultimate collapse, and only the smartest will recognize it and do the only intelligent thing: get out of the way and leave if possible.
      Rule by ultra-rich international swindlers is complete; and the rest of the 317 million dolts are too stupified with their electronic toys and other gadgets to do anything about it, or are just unwilling and uninterested to do so.
      All the while, perfectly normal, benign, necessary, innocent behaviors and activities are criminalized.

      The writing’s been on the wall a long time…from illegal undeclared wars that have killed millions of innocents abroad, the destruction of unions and the off-shoring of decent jobs, the ravaging of the environment for money, the adulteration of food and the narcotizing of already feeble minds by the real dope peddlers…Big Pharma.
      Your CREtin ‘neighbors’ see only mental grafitti.

      It’s the End of the Empire, my friend. Visionaries like Hunter S. Thompson, Gore Vidal, Christopher Hitchens had it correct. Chris Hedges comes close.

      • Dirk Anderson says:

        Everything is competitive, selective, and at times adversarial. It’s the human condition. I’ve pursued my interests and accomplished the most important things. I have enough to keep me busy until the day I croak. Not a whole lot anybody can do to me. That said,and I don’t know how much of it is age related, but the Culture does disgust me. Seems diseased and socially polluted. When that happens tends to effect everyone to include those who think they can hide behind their various props and cover.
        When it gets to the point that when I’m in a fast food restaurant, and some who knows they are annoying me with a cell phone, comes over to provoke and annoy me some more and gives me a shove, than stands there and tries to convince the world (most of whom did not speak English) that I pushed him (until he saw security camera), apparently out of some sense of special privilege in society, presumably so he could get on his cell phone and report me, I’m not so sure I want to participate in that kind of society if you can call it that.

        • Slowerfaster says:

          It’s due to this culture of hustling. Everyone’s out to make the fast and big Bucks …and if they have to lie, cheat, steal, and just generally be obnoxious, well SO WHAT. All the bigshots do it.
          Gone is fairness, courtesy, appreciation for the small things, even just enjoying some quiet and solitude.
          They busy their miserable lives by telling everyone else about it.

          Thankfully, there are still places in the world where the people do not behave like out-of-control feral children..
          The US is too far gone, though. Just too many of these super indulgent grifters to deal with.

    • bobfromsanluis says:

      “And just who is to blame?” Of course, those who do not follow politics, who either don’t bother to vote or in the last two days of a campaign finally pay attention for two seconds and then vote for the best teeth or the slickest brochure or t.v. commercial have played right into the hands of the political elite. This is by design; the United States has had two similar periods in our history when we had a very strong middle class and a large percentage of citizens paid attention to politics- the 1770s and the 1970s, and the political elite paid attention to our paying attention to them.

      By constantly hammering on a “war on unions”, off-shoring manufacturing jobs with tax breaks for doing so in the late seventies and the eighties, the seeds of destruction of the middle class were planted. With Clinton signing off on repealing Glass-Stiegal at the end of his second term and the unfunded tax cuts put in place by W that was then followed up with the financial meltdown in 2007-8, most people don’t have the time, the energy or the inclination to involve themselves into politics, and again, the political elite could not be happier about it. Yes, it is our fault, but we have had a huge push to make sure that far too many citizens either don’t think their vote means anything, or that they are just too busy to pay attention.

      • alanharold says:

        Don’t forget about 1870’s…also very prosperous for most(middle) americans.

  8. kayaknut says:

    No matter the outcome of this I see Ms. Dietrick getting another raise soon.

  9. Vagabond says:

    Yep, rather that just admitting the ordinance was a stupid idea that was judged to be unconstitutional. The City attorney breaks out the lipstick and applies it to the pig again! We will do the same exact thing again and just call it something different! Insanity defined.

    • justchuck says:

      Insanity perhaps. Meanwhile this semi-competent attorney is drawing an exorbitant salary at the taxpayers’ expense.

      • Mr. Holly says:

        Hurry up and endorse that sales tax, it’s about time for another raise.

      • bobfromsanluis says:

        “semi-competent”? The same city attorney that has had to call in outside help on seemingly every critical issue, and then goes on to lose most of those cases? INCOMPETENT is how I label her; but she certainly seems to have hoodwinked our city council as they all seem to have proclaimed in having “faith” in her performance. Sheesh.

        • OnTheOtherHand says:

          I think that the Mayor and the council majority support her because she follows instructions even when she should be telling them, “No, you can’t do that.”

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