San Luis Obispo parking lawsuit moves to mediation

Lawyers for the city, Homeless Alliance are set to meet with judge again today and talk about how they’ll proceed

nwilson@thetribunenews.comJuly 24, 2012 

UPDATE: Lawyers formally agree to mediation »

Lawyers have tentatively agreed to mediation to resolve a lawsuit over San Luis Obispo’s attempt to ban homeless people from sleeping in their vehicles on city streets.

Lawyers for the Homeless Alliance, which filed the suit against the city, as well as city attorneys, met with Judge Charles Crandall on Tuesday to discuss how to proceed after he issued an injunction stopping citations by police against the homeless on public streets. His action was in response to the lawsuit by the Homeless Alliance that contended the city’s ban was unconstitutional.

Following Crandall’s action, the City Council reinstated its ban by passing an emergency ordinance under a different section of the Municipal Code.

City Attorney Christine Dietrick proposed mediation Tuesday, and Homeless Alliance lawyers Saro Rizzo and Stewart Jenkins agreed to that suggestion outside court. The hearing is set to continue at 9:30 a.m. today to officially confirm the next step in the case.

“When you get to the bottom of this, you’re dealing with public policy issues,” Crandall said. “Trying to solve a problem of homelessness can’t be done by this court. Settlement mode is a good idea.”

Crandall contacted local mediator Scott Radovich during a break in the hearing, and he agreed to provide three hours of free service in an attempt to help resolve the case.

After that, the city and Homeless Alliance would need to share the cost, though the lawyers had preliminary discussions about the city picking up that tab.

Rizzo said that he’d like to see a program in place similar to one in Santa Barbara that offers 112 overnight parking spaces in 23 lots throughout the city, as well as an outreach program connecting people who are homeless with services.

San Luis Obispo launched a pilot program, overseen by the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County, offering five overnight parking spaces at the Prado Day Center.

A member of the homeless community, David Eves, who lives in his RV and has been issued tickets, attended the hearing and said he hopes for a solution similar to the Santa Barbara program.

“It makes sense to adopt a successful program like the one they have just an hour or so down the road,” Eves said. “Let’s have a spot to stay. That’s all we want.”

About 70 tickets issued to homeless people who were cited in recent months remain on hold at San Luis Obispo Superior Court. They are criminal infractions, and a hearing on those cases before Commissioner Stephen Sefton was postponed Tuesday.

Arguments over Crandall’s injunction and the proceedings in the case now that a new ordinance has passed appear also to be on hold until mediation is attempted.

“If we can advance the issue of improving the homeless situation somehow through the mediation process, that would be a win for everyone,” Crandall said.

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