The San Luis Obispo City Council will be asked tonight to approve an emergency ordinance that could allow the city to continue ticketing homeless people for sleeping in their vehicles on public streets despite a Superior Court order last week forbidding the city from doing so.
Four of the five council members must vote in favor of the ordinance for it to pass. If approved, it would take effect immediately.
City Attorney Christine Dietrick said it would be up to City Manager Katie Lichtig, police Chief Steve Gesell and the council to decide whether to enforce the new ordinance.
As long as the council agrees, Lichtig said, it will be enforced “on an as-needed basis.”
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“Our intent all along has been to address public health and safety concerns,” Lichtig said.
The council is also expected to decide in closed session today how to proceed against the tentative ruling, which might mean asking the court to reconsider or vacate the order.
San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Charles Crandall issued the order last week in response to a lawsuit filed by attorneys Stewart Jenkins and Saro Rizzo. The lawsuit alleged that the city’s original ordinance, which prohibited people from sleeping in their vehicles, was unconstitutional and vague, and that it resulted in arbitrary enforcement.
In his ruling, Crandall expressed concern about the location of the ordinance in the city’s municipal code and questioned the City Council’s intent when creating the ordinance in the mid-1990s.
Crandall found the ordinance did not apply to public streets but only to private property, something the city has characterized as “judicial misrepresentation.”
Dietrick said the emergency ordinance being considered tonight will fall under the city’s peace, moral and welfare regulations, which are typically enforced by police.
Other regulations in that code section include laws pertaining to underage drinking, open containers of alcohol and noise.
The original ordinance was listed under zoning codes pertaining to property in the city’s municipal code, which are typically enforced by code enforcement officers.
“The hope is to ensure the city’s continued ability to enforce the city’s reasonable regulation in the interest of health and safety of the community,” Dietrick said.
The council will also be asked to reaffirm the intention of the original ordinance and make it clear that it was intended to govern both public and private property.
“There is no city or county in the state of California where you are going to find a willingness to allow squatters to take up residence on streets or other public property,” Councilman John Ashbaugh said. “Most people would agree that public parks, streams and tributaries deserve a higher standard of protection.”
Councilman Andrew Carter said the city always intended the original ordinance to apply to public streets.
“We were very surprised by Judge Crandall’s ruling,” Carter said. “The ordinance was written to apply to public streets, and while it was a novel interpretation to tell the council what the council meant, tomorrow night we will make clear the purpose of it.”
Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.