SLO homeless win big in ticketing battle
August 10, 2012
San Luis Obispo City Council agreed Thursday to dismiss all tickets given this year to homeless residents for sleeping in their vehicles.
In April, 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 because of what they called unconstitutional enforcement of a camping ordinance. During their late night raids, police officers would bang on the tops of vehicles, run sirens and flash lights before handing out tickets costing up to $500 each.
In July, San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Charles Crandall said the ordinance the city was using to ticket the homeless was unconstitutional, and did not apply to city streets. Crandall then placed a temporary ban on the ticketing.
The city council responded by adopting an emergency ordinance that would allow police to ticket homeless sleeping in their vehicles in an attempt to “overrule” the judge’s ban on the late night raids.
As part of Thursdays settlement agreement, the city is restricted from applying the emergency ordinance unless “there is an articulable threat to public health and safety.” The city is 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.
The city is then permitted to enact a parking ordinance that could ban sleeping overnight in vehicles on public streets. However, the city will be required to follow California’s Vehicle Code signage requirements, according to the settlement agreement.
Rizzo and Jenkins agreed to forgo a fee multiplier that would have permitted them to increase their rates because of laws supporting attorneys who work with the poor. According to the agreement, Rizzo and Jenkins can apply for attorney’s fees through the courts.
Nevertheless, in a press release the city said it “firmly disputes the plaintiffs’ rights to attorneys’ fees and retains the right to oppose the motion.”
Even though the city agreed to stop the late night raids and expunge the tickets, city officials deny that any of their actions were illegal.
“While the city still firmly believes that its ordinances and actions are legally valid and appropriate, the city made a financial decision to direct its resources and focus away from litigation and towards policies and services that positively impact members of the community affected by homelessness,” the press release says.