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San Diego Repeals Ban On People Living In Cars

San Diego police cars with flashing lights roll up on 17th Street to clear the homeless and their tents from the sidewalks in the East Village, June 27, 2016.
Susan Murphy
San Diego police cars with flashing lights roll up on 17th Street to clear the homeless and their tents from the sidewalks in the East Village, June 27, 2016.
San Diego Repeals Ban On People Living In Cars
GUEST: Bianca Bruno, reporter, Courthouse News Service Subscribe to the Midday Edition podcast on iTunes,Google Play or your favorite podcatcher.

The San Diego City Council on Tuesday repealed a nearly 26-year-old ban on people living in cars, after a group of disabled people sued the city, arguing the law was discriminatory.

The city has been barred from enforcing the "vehicle habitation ordinance" since a federal judge imposed an injunction in the case last year. The judge said the law was vague and arbitrarily enforced.

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Councilman Mark Kersey said while sleeping in cars is not an ideal situation for people experiencing homelessness, it is often better than the alternative.

"It's certainly not a permanent solution to the crisis that we're facing by any means," he said. "But 100 percent of the time I'd rather have someone sleeping in the car than on the sidewalk."

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit argued they were disproportionately affected by the vehicle ordinance because homeless shelters are sometimes unequipped to accommodate their disabilities.

The ordinance's repeal settles only part of the lawsuit, which is also challenging the city's ban on parking oversized or recreational vehicles on city streets between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. Ann Menasche, an attorney with Disability Rights California representing the plaintiffs, told council members the city was criminalizing homelessness.

"We're punishing human beings because they have disabilities because they are poor," she said. "And more and more, we're punishing people who are working full time in this city but can't afford our skyrocketing rents."

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City officials may try to rewrite the ban on living in cars so it can withstand legal challenges, but council members gave no indication Tuesday of whether they would support such a move.

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