An emergency ordinance allowing police to ticket homeless living in their vehicles despite a court order forbidding such action was passed by the San Luis Obispo City Council 4-1 on Tuesday night.
“I don’t think any of us take joy in doing this,” said Councilman Andrew Carter. He added that it is the council’s responsibility to enforce rules that protect the health and safety of the community. “We are saying that it is not an appropriate place to camp,” Carter said of vehicles on city streets.
The council’s action is in response to a ruling by San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Charles Crandall last week who found the city’s ordinance prohibiting sleeping in vehicles did not apply to public streets but only to private property, something the city has characterized as “judicial misrepresentation.”
The ordinance adopted Tuesday is the same ordinance struck down by Crandall, but moved to another section of the municipal code, which the city argues allows them to enforce the law. “This has been forced upon us,” said Councilman Dan Carpenter. “We are working toward solutions. What this is about tonight is the health and safety of the community — not about attacking a class of people, the homeless or anybody else.”
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More than a dozen people, many of them homeless and living on the streets in their vehicles, pleaded with the council to stop issuing citations.“I fought for this country, for the rights of all of you,” said Kimberley Frey-Griffin, 43, who lives in a recreational vehicle with her daughter and girlfriend. “Our voices need to be heard. We are not trash. We are not second-class citizens. We are people.”
Councilman John Ashbaugh, the lone dissenting vote, said the ordinance didn’t merit being adopted on an emergency basis.
Police began stringently enforcing the ordinance in February after complaints about littering, altercations, theft and public urination and defecation.
A lawsuit was filed by attorneys Stewart Jenkins and Saro Rizzo, defending the homeless, alleging the city’s ordinance was unconstitutional and resulted in arbitrary enforcement.
The council also reaffirmed that the ordinance applied to public streets.
Carpenter called Judge Crandall’s ruling that the ordinance didn’t apply to public streets a “ludicrous interpretation.”
Jenkins said Tuesday that the council’s adoption of the ordinance would lead to additional litigation.
“There is no emergency,” Jenkins said. “There is no reason to adopt another version of an illegal, unconstitutional ordinance.”
Councilwoman Kathy Smith said she would like to see enforcement of the ordinance scaled back while the city works to find a solution. The City Council in closed session late Tuesday night also unanimously agreed to authorize City Attorney Christine Dietrick to file a motion for reconsideration of Crandall’s ruling.
If the motion is not granted, Dietrick has been told to seek a stay of the injunction and file an appeal of the preliminary injunction.