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San Diego Repeals Ban On People Living In Cars

February 6, 2019 1:52 p.m.

GUEST: Bianca Bruno, reporter, Courthouse News Service

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Related Story: San Diego Repeals Ban On People Living In Cars


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Hundreds of homeless people who live in their cars in San Diego will no longer be breaking the law. The San Diego City Council voted unanimously yesterday to repeal the law that made it illegal to live in a vehicle even though several members who voted for the repeal say it's just the lesser of two evils. Joining me is Bianca Bruno reporter for Courthouse News Service.

Bianca welcome. Thank you. Now a federal judge ruled last year that San Diego had to stop ticketing people for living in their cars. Why was that city law ruled unenforceable. That wasn't decision coming in from Judge Anthony Battaglia in federal court and he found that the city's vehicle habitation ordinance was vague and the way it was being enforced by law enforcement was kind of really arbitrary decisions that were inconsistent in the way the law was being enforced. Why did he say the law was too vague. So he said it was too vague because it didn't detail what exactly the city considered the circumstances for making a vehicle one's home.

And so there were some people who were ticketed under the law. One guy was parked in his RV reading a book when he got a ticket. Another person part of this case before the judge was ticketed multiple times while they were parked in a business parking lot. With the permission of the owner and there were some sort of anecdotes in court and with filings that the plaintiffs filed where they said that police officers basically told them they could ticket them whenever they saw their cars. So that really comes in to the sort of arbitrary enforcement of that ordinance.

So more people being fined and piling up criminal records for living in their cars. There were people whose are vs are vehicles got impounded because they couldn't pay these tickets and then obviously fines would sort of double if they weren't paid in the first place. Do we know why this city first enacted this law you can't live in your car. I think that was back in the 1980s. So I think the law comes mostly from concerns you know that most neighborhoods or people would have just of people living in cars on the street kind of sanitary concerns safety concerns and those are still obviously an ongoing part of the conversation including with the decision that came in yesterday.

So who sued to overturn this law. So the lawsuit came in in late 2017. It's a class action in federal court by a group of homeless people living in our views and vehicles who are also disabled. And so they say that this is a last resort option for them but based on sort of their limited incomes you know either being permanently disabled and living on disability or on social security living in vehicles in San Diego is is the only sort of appropriate option for them. And is there any reason that this issue affects disabled homeless people in particular.

So they say that the city ordinance discriminates against them because the city has argued that they could live in homeless shelters. Well for people who have disabilities whether physical or mental those are usually compounded by just the circumstances of a regular homeless shelter. That's not an appropriate alternative for them. So if the homeless shelter is not able to fill the needs of the disabled person they're not going to be comfortable there. Sure. Okay. Now one of the influences on the city council were the number of people living in their cars who spoke out before lawmakers.

Did that seem to have an effect on the people on the city council. I think so. I know Councilman Mark Kearse he said that sleep while sleeping in cars isn't ideal and certainly a better alternative to sleeping on the streets. And that's certainly something that's been prevalent throughout the case as it's made its way through federal court judge Bhattacharya has referenced the hepatitis A Crisis multiple times and saying that you know the alternative for these people on such a limited income in San Diego really is sleeping on the street. And that's you know unsafe it's unsanitary and it's dangerous.

Well that goes to my last question to you. Homeless counts have found that there are about 800 people living in their cars here in San Diego. So has the city told the court that there is anywhere else for the people to go or that they're working on anyplace else that these people could go as an alternative to living in their cars. Well that's an interesting point because when the city lost its case last year when the judge issued an injunction telling them they couldn't enforce the vehicle habitation ordinance last fall they had argued that these folks could go to homeless shelters.

Well obviously that argument wasn't successful because of the reasons we talked about earlier and the safe park lots. That's a city open the past couple years are not available for our VS. So I did imagine that they've met multiple times the city and the class attorneys to to discuss a settlement. I'd imagine that could be part of a settlement is opening up a safe lot accessible to Arby's or just a different solution. I've been speaking with Bianca Bruno reporter for Courthouse News Service. Bianca thank you.