San Luis Obispo will dismiss all tickets issued this year to people for sleeping in their vehicles on public streets, according to a settlement approved by the City Council.
The agreement between the SLO Homeless Alliance and the city ends a months-long contentious court battle that ensued when Homeless Alliance advocates challenged the city, saying the citations issued for overnight camping were unconstitutional.
The council voted 4-1 in closed session Thursday to approve the settlement. Councilman Dan Carpenter dissented.
The settlement also stipulates that the city will pursue a different method of regulating overnight camping on city streets by the end of the year. The council will discuss various options in October. If it fails to do so, the council’s recently adopted emergency ordinance allowing police to ticket people sleeping in their vehicles will be prohibited.
“The settlement serves our clients, the most vulnerable citizens of San Luis Obispo — and all the citizens of San Luis Obispo — by making sure our neighbors are treated like human beings,” said Stewart Jenkins, one of two San Luis Obispo attorneys who represented homeless plaintiffs.
To date, more than 98 citations have been issued, Jenkins said. Those tickets will be dismissed and removed from records. People who already have paid fines can seek legal recourse to get their money back.
The settlement follows a preliminary injunction issued by San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Charles Crandall in July barring the city from issuing additional citations.
City Attorney Christine Dietrick said the city still believes it was within its legal right to ticket people sleeping in their cars but agreed to a settlement during mediation to avoid additional litigation costs.
Dietrick said the city has spent up to $120,000 on litigation costs for the case already by hiring outside counsel because staff did not have enough time. That figure does not include the time staff spent on the case.
Councilman Carpenter said he voted against the settlement because he believes the City Council should not have backed down.
“All of us were on board to keep moving forward because we had a great case,” Carpenter said. “To hear that we are backing down because we don’t want to spend more money was disappointing. If that were the case, we should have mediated months ago to reach a settlement and saved taxpayers what has already been spent.”
In October, the City Council will discuss alternative regulations designed to prohibit overnight parking on public streets.
The settlement includes a provision that the council will consider making the offense a parking citation and post signs making the law clear.
Dietrick said she didn’t see the change helping homeless people, who say they have been targeted by police for sleeping in their vehicles on public streets because they don’t have anywhere else to go.
“To characterize this as a victory for the homeless may be somewhat of a misunderstanding,” Dietrick said, because ultimately a person’s car could be towed or impounded if too many unpaid parking violations were to accumulate.
Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.