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Class-Action Lawsuit Filed Against City Of San Diego Alleges Mistreatment Of Homeless Living In RVs

"No Parking 2 a.m. to 6 a.m." signed posted in a parking lot at Balboa Park, Nov. 16, 2017.
Matt Hoffman/KPBS
"No Parking 2 a.m. to 6 a.m." signed posted in a parking lot at Balboa Park, Nov. 16, 2017.
Class-Action Lawsuit Filed Against City Of San Diego Alleges Mistreatment Of Homeless Living In RVs
Class-Action Lawsuit Filed Against City Of San Diego Alleges Mistreatment Of Homeless Living In RVs GUEST: Ann Menasche, senior attorney, Disability Rights California

Our top story on "Midday Edition", the city of San Diego has been finding new places for the homeless to sleep the past few months. In the middle of a Hepatitis outbreak that has killed 20 people so far, the city opened the campsite in Golden Hill. It has plans to open at least three large tents and it opened up a city parking lot for homeless people who sleep in their cars. A federal lawsuit filed on Thursday claims despite that work, the city has ignored the needs of homeless people who are disabled, especially those who sleep in RVs. Joining me as one of the lawyers who filed that lawsuit, Anne Menashe. Welcome to the program.Thank you for having me.The city's RV ordinance prohibits RVs from parking on city streets or in public parking lots between 2 AM and 6 AM. On what grounds are you suing the city of San Diego?On many grounds. First, we requested reasonable modification under the Americans with disabilities act so they make an exception for people with disabilities and they did not do that. It is discriminatory, it is unconstitutional, it is basically endangering the very lives of the people that are being ticketed. They can have their RVs taken from them, their vehicles taken from them for five or more unpaid tickets. The End up with these -- they End up with these huge fines which is difficult for them to pay without sacrificing food or medicine. It is a violation of equal protection of the laws. There is a whole number of constitutional violations involved in that ordinance.There are a lot of claims, it seems to be the heart of the lawsuit is the law is discriminating against homeless San Diego into our disabled. The law applies to anyone parking a recreational vehicle in San Diego, not just people who are homeless or disabled. Why do you think the law is being used in that way?We know that is why the law was actually passed. We have a record of discussions that went on when it was being passed. They were targeting what they called transients, which were people who are homeless. Our lawsuit, our plaintiffs have disabilities but the class is broader than that. It is anyone who is homeless that lives in the vehicle, not just an RV, camper or under the vehicle. It is broader than that. The constitutional issues are central to the case, as well as the discrimination issues under the Americans with disabilities act.There are nine plaintiffs in this lawsuit. Do have a sense of how many people are affected by the ordinance?There are two different ordinances. One is 2 AM until 6 AM prohibiting RV parking in the city. The other one is living in your vehicle. Vehicle habitation, we are challenging both of those. We think this is a low estimate. According to the point in time count, it was 817 people who were homeless in vehicles. We believe that it is probably more than that.One of the laws you are targeting is the law that prevents you from sleeping in your car. There are parking lots run by transfer change to allow people who are homeless to park the cars and sleep with them -- sleep in them. Not RVs, but cars.There is not enough of those spaces available. It is way less, it is a small percentage of people who are homeless and have vehicles. Those lots, every single one of them, I think there are three total now, exclude RVs completely. The other issue is there are other concerns we have as well. People are living or working or have their services available in a certain area, they don't necessarily have gas money. There are a lot of restrictions on people that we all think are necessary for people -- who we do not think are necessary for people competent to make their own decisions. They are excluded and there is not enough spaces available.The city's ordinance came about because residents were complaining RVs were calling -- causing parking problems, there's a lot of loitering interest. How do you get the law to accommodate your clients while addressing those complaints?In any neighborhood you will have people that don't trash. I have the problem in my neighborhood. You deal with that problem. You don't exclude a group of people based on the bad behavior of a few. It is legitimate to say you should not dump trash, you have to follow certain regular roles that people follow. However, the complete ban, we have great clients that are really responsible and are capable people. They are caught in it just like everyone else. That is not fair and it is not right.The city attorney's office released a statement yesterday saying they had not seen your lawsuit yet but they would review it. What is a resolution you are seeking? To have the law thrown out?The living in your vehicle ordinance, the one that prohibits vehicle habitation, that one is out and out unconstitutional. A very similar ordinance was thrown out in Los Angeles. It is so vague, that you can't possibly figure out what living in a vehicle is supposed to mean. It is not defined. Does it mean if you keep your stuff there? Does it mean if you sleep there at night? Does it mean if you take a nap during the day? People don't know what they need to do or not do in order to complying with it. That is out and out unconstitutional. We would like to have the ticketing stop across the board under those two ordinances until there is affordable, permanent housing available for our clients.I have been speaking with Anne Menashe, a senior attorney with disability rights California. Thank you so much.You are welcome.

The lawsuit filed late Wednesday with the U.S. District Court in San Diego alleges that disabled homeless people living in their recreational vehicles are unfairly targeted for tickets.

RELATED: Disability Advocacy Group Questioning How San Diego’s Overnight Parking Laws Affect Homeless

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City of San Diego municipal code states "oversized vehicles, non-motorized vehicles and recreational vehicles" cannot be parked on city streets from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. It is also "unlawful for any person to use a vehicle while it is parked or standing on any street as either temporary or permanent living quarters, abode, or place of habitation either overnight or by day.”

The fine for parking overnight is $100, plus a state-mandated surcharge of $12.50 per ticket. The city has a temporary permit process where people can park their RV's overnight, but applicants must have proof of residency to acquire a permit.

In addition to the city of San Diego itself, the group is suing Mayor Kevin Faulconer, all members of the city council, the police department and Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman — in their official capacities.

"Stop the tickets" painted in red on the front of an RV parked in Balboa Park, Nov. 16, 2017.
Matt Hoffman/KPBS
"Stop the tickets" painted in red on the front of an RV parked in Balboa Park, Nov. 16, 2017.

"We think that the entire city government is unfortunately responsible," said Ann Menasche, senior attorney for Disability Rights California. "For the harassment and the discriminatory treatment and unconstitutional treatment of our clients and of the entire class.”

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In March, Disability Rights California sent a letter to the city attorney’s office, asking for a reasonable accommodation under the American's with Disabilities Act — what they considered to be a stop to the ticketing. In September, the city attorney's office met with the city council in closed session to discuss the letter, but a spokesman said no action was taken during the meeting.

Now, after no action from the city, Disability Rights is representing nine named clients. They are also including 817 people sleeping in vehicles that the Regional Task Force on the Homeless identified during their annual homeless count this year.

“A lot of them had careers and jobs and became disabled and they should not be punished for that," said Menasche. "It’s not their fault, there’s no affordable housing.”

In a statement Thursday afternoon, City Attorney of San Diego Mara Elliott said, "we have not been served and have not seen the complaint. We will review the complaint and advise our client accordingly."

Class-Action Lawsuit Filed On Behalf Of Homeless Living In RVs
Class-Action Lawsuit Filed Against City Of San Diego Alleges Mistreatment Of Homeless Living In RVs
Disability Rights California is representing nine named clients, as well as hundreds of others who claim the city of San Diego's parking laws unfairly target them.