SLO revisits issue of people sleeping in their cars

A line of cars on Prado Road, where many homeless gathered to live and sleep in their vehicles.
A line of cars on Prado Road, where many homeless gathered to live and sleep in their vehicles. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The San Luis Obispo City Council will consider adopting an ordinance Tuesday explicitly prohibiting overnight camping on city streets and city-owned parking areas in the wake of an August lawsuit that led to an agreement with homeless advocates.

It also is developing a separate law that would further restrict parking of “oversized’’ vehicles, such as motor homes, trailers and boats on city streets.

Council members say this second measure has nothing to do with the homeless issue, but advocates for the homeless and Councilman Dan Carpenter disagree, saying it’s an end run around the proposed ordinance and there is no new “oversized” vehicle issue.

The city’s settlement with the SLO Homeless Alliance in August — after the group sued the city for its alleged unconstitutional ticketing of homeless individuals — stipulated that the city approach enforcement differently.Tuesday’s discussion will outline the city’s latest plan, which prohibits anyone from camping in their vehicles from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Violators would first be issued a warning, then a parking citation.

Anyone sleeping in a personal vehicle or in a vehicle that contains “bedding or camp paraphernalia ar-ranged for the purpose of” sleeping during those times would be subject to a citation.

Violations would no longer be misdemeanors, and the city would post signs making people aware of the law as part of the new ordinance.

The issue has become contentious. Some residents and advocates have urged the council to take more steps to help homeless people, while business owners and others have complained about the litter and unsanitary conditions caused by the homeless population.

Stewart Jenkins, one of two San Luis Obispo attorneys who represented homeless individuals in the lawsuit against the city, said that although the new ordinance would be an improvement, it is less than perfect. “The reality is the city keeps putting the cart before the horse,” Jenkins said. “They want to create restrictions before they have any place for these people to go.”

‘Oversized’ vehicles

The proposed “oversized vehicles” ordinance was discussed at a public meeting Tuesday; it’s designed to control when vehicles such as motor homes, trailers and boats can be parked in residential areas. Options include limiting the time an oversized vehicle can be parked on the street, such as a certain number of days, or creating permits for street parking of large vehicles.

The proposal, which the council has said is a separate issue from the practice of homeless people sleeping in their vehicles, irked a group of homeless advocates at the meeting after they were told that the city has separated the two issues.

Carpenter, who was the sole vote against the settlement with homeless advocates, called Tuesday’s meeting a “disaster,” saying there is no growing “oversized” vehicle issue.

“It was an attempt to pacify a situation that we put ourselves into when we signed this agreement,” Carpenter said. “And now we are backed into a corner and have to come up with something to satisfy this agreement, yet make it look like we are not focusing on the homeless.”

The majority of the 29 people who attended the Tuesday meeting made it clear that they wanted an exception from overnight parking regulations for people living in their vehicles. Many said they might support some regulations to control parking of oversized vehicles not being lived in.

Homeless consultant

Meanwhile, City Manager Katie Lichtig hired consultant Flint Strategies to handle public outreach for the parking ordinance on Aug. 29 at a cost of $24,500.

City Council approval of that hire was not necessary, and council members were not informed before the hire. Expenditures of less than $25,000 are left to Lichtig’s discretion.

The consultant will also handle outreach for the safe parking pilot program, which includes five spaces at Prado Day Center. The council is set to review that program Oct. 2, and the city hopes to expand it.

“The fundamental issue under all of this — the one that everyone really cares about — is the homeless and the people camping on the streets,” said Councilman Andrew Carter. “Like any major policy issue, there are going to be two violently opposed views of it. It comes down to where do three council members come to agreement and what kind of middle ground is reached, to the extent that a middle ground can be found.”

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.