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People Living In Vehicles Call New San Diego Law Prohibiting It Unfair

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People living out of their vehicles are upset about the city of San Diego's new vehicle habitation ordinance, but residents near the beach are hoping the law provides relief to an influx of campers.

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Speaker 1: 00:00 In San Diego, it's now illegal to live in your vehicle parked on the street. The law was passed with the idea that people can go to city funded safe parking lots to sleep overnight. But KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman says, while some people are looking to get out of their vehicles, others are not.

Speaker 2: 00:17 Grasso has been living out of his van for the last year in San Diego.

Speaker 3: 00:20 It's a lifestyle for some, uh, something cheesy, but I'm just traveling and I got kind of stuck here in this for a little bit. I can't afford a rent.

Speaker 2: 00:28 Grasso sleeps in the ocean beach area and says he cannot afford renting a place on his disability income.

Speaker 3: 00:34 Do you live on 1000 a month and you can't even rent a one bedroom for 1,001? So what are, what are you to do?

Speaker 2: 00:39 He says, living out of a van is not easy.

Speaker 3: 00:41 You're trying to get by on, on everything. In fact, cooking your vehicle and not go out to eat every time. Trying to stay healthy, which is very difficult.

Speaker 2: 00:49 After San Diego passed an ordinance barring people from sleeping in their vehicles overnight and anytime near homes or schools. Grasso says some residents have been putting notices on his car.

Speaker 3: 00:59 This means that the entire dog beach parking lot is no longer parking areas at all times if you are living in your vehicle. So B, I saw, I'm not allowed in dog beach anymore cause I live in my vehicle. You can't camp and on camping areas, uh, just like you don't want somebody living in your driveway. Um, it just, it for health, safety, all kinds of reasons.

Speaker 2: 01:25 Denny Knox is executive director of the Ocean Beach Main Street Association, which represents more than 500 businesses in ob.

Speaker 3: 01:32 We're generous community. We're kind of laid back and I feel maybe we've been taken advantage of.

Speaker 2: 01:38 If you go to ocean beach you'll see many people living out of their vehicles. Knox is supportive of the new law and hopes it will drive campers out of town.

Speaker 3: 01:45 It brought a really rough element to town, which we didn't appreciate. Um, and uh, we're just not a camp ground.

Speaker 2: 01:56 When the city council approved the law, it was done with the idea that the city would provide lots for people to park and sleep overnight. The lots are run by Jewish family service and have case managers working to get people into housing.

Speaker 3: 02:07 You can target those services for those spots. Yeah, it makes perfect sense because when everybody's spread out all over the place, how do you get services to all these people? It's, it's unmanageable, which we've seen

Speaker 2: 02:19 but not everyone wants to leave their vehicles. It's comfortable, you know, it's not a real extravagant, you know, we've got, like I said, we have solar. Some people like John Solano are just looking for a place to park and sleep in. Their home on wheels is in 1999 is 35 feet. Solerno lives out of his RV by choice. I just retired. I'm 65 and we elect me instead of paying rent in a ditch to get us to try to save your, and I had a house, I sold the house and you'd be equity. The money, you know, cause you're not getting as much as I thought I was doing it. And my social security normally parking his 35 footer isn't a problem. So Learn, oh, says he pays to sleep at an RV park but can't stay there all the time. I do have a membership, Marie stay three weeks out of the month, about one week out of the month. We have to, we have to move because of the, uh, rules pretending

Speaker 4: 03:00 to that membership. That means one week out of every month to learn, oh, has to find other places to park and sleep. I'm trying to stay out of people's way. I didn't like doing to here, you know, uh, hinder anybody's via, I mean, view of their ocean and reverence. I think there were parking on hindering their views or whatever. So we tried to stay out at a residential neighborhoods so we don't bother them. That's why I'm in a secluded place here. He feels the new law is not fair. They've isolated us into it and they picked us out of the things, kind of discriminatory solar things. If people are following other laws, they should be able to park and sleep on public streets. You got her registered, you're not being a hindrance. United being a nuisance. Okay. You have a right and a privilege. You've earned Grasso in ocean beach agrees.

Speaker 3: 03:36 There are people who try their best just to get by and it makes it much more difficult when you have to worry about someone clamping down on you or taking Europe. Literally you have left.

Speaker 2: 03:47 The San Diego Police Department says they have not started ticketing people under the new law, but we'll soon, Jewish family service is set to open at safe parking lot and mission value. Within the next few weeks it will be able to accommodate both cars and RVs. And that was KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman for more on the new vehicle ordinance. He spoke to midday addition cohost Maureen Cavanagh. Let's talk about this. Statistics involved in this issue. How many people does the city estimates sleep in their cars overnight? Right. And we really don't have numbers just specifically for the city of San Diego. I'm voice of San Diego reported, uh, from the, we all count that there's more than 500 people living in their vehicles countywide. Um, so it's, it's really unclear. You know, I talked to SDPD, they don't have a definitive number of how many people they can say there are, but it appears like it's in the hundreds.

Speaker 2: 04:34 Okay. So how many of the safe parking lot spaces are there? Right. So right now the city sponsored safe parking lots. There's 120 and those are in Kearny Mesa at those lots, uh, funded by the city, but run by Jewish Family Service and nonprofit. Um, they're planning on bringing 200 more online and those are going to be in mission valley, um, at an old lot right across from Stcu stadium that's going to be able to accommodate RVs and they say that that's going to open up in mid June. So within the next few weeks, one in the city way to enact this law until they had a more adequate number of safe spaces for the vehicles overnight. You know, there's a lot of discussion of that at the council meeting. Um, when they voted on this, it seemed like there was some confusion saying that we can't enact this until we have the required number of spaces.

Speaker 2: 05:19 That is not a requirement. That wasn't part of the ordinance, you know, homeless advocates or people who are advocating for people living in their vehicles feel that that should have been done. Um, the city council decided to vote, um, without making that a caveat. Basically, when the police start to begin ticketing vehicles, what's the worst that could happen to the people who are living in their cars? Right. Yeah. So at, at that council meeting, a, a city rep said, you know, the way that this law is designed, it's to make impounding somebody's vehicle, a last resort. I've done a number of stories on people who say that they have had their vehicles and patent their RVs taken away after they had gotten so many tickets. The old ordinance, obviously we don't know how that's gonna Pan Out, what this new ordinance, but the city says that they want to make impounding in an Rv, a last resort. And like SDPD says they want it, get people to comply. Um, it's all about education and just getting compliance with the new law.

Speaker 5: 06:11 Now, during this whole controversy, we've heard a lot from the people who say they've chosen so-called van life, right? They choose to live in their vans, but a lot of people in this situation didn't make a choice. They just wound up having to live in their vehicles. Is there a difference in the way these two different groups are reacting to this new law?

Speaker 2: 06:28 Yeah, I think there's differences and their similarities. I mean, you heard in the story, the one gentleman who stays near a ocean beach a lot, um, you know, he's disabled. He doesn't make enough money, like $1,000 a month to rent a place here in San Diego. Um, and he feels that it's very unfair that he potentially could be ticketed again. He said he had been ticketed in the past. Um, then you talk to somebody who liked that retiree who's in there, who they, he and his fiance moved out of their home. They sold their home. They said they needed the equity and they bought an Rv. And so they're living out of their RV because they say, you know, it's more affordable. He feels like, Hey, if I'm following every law, you know, my registrations, good to go. I have insurance. Why should I be able to park and sleep on the streets? But I think that there's a general consensus that this law is unfair. You know, like that, that gentleman, I didn't have 10 include in the story, um, who sleeps in his RV. He stays at, but like a RV park part of the time he, he understands where the city's coming from in terms of, you know, you see these RVs that people buy for like $500 in there, like from 1970 in their piece of junk. Um, he doesn't want to see those either. And he thinks it gives people a kind of a bad rap.

Speaker 5: 07:32 Did you speak with anyone who was relieved that perhaps by parking in these safe parking lots that they would be able to get services that might get them out of having to live in their car?

Speaker 2: 07:43 Honestly, no. Um, you know, when you, when you talk to people, people either haven't heard of those lots or they don't want to go. At least the people who I've talked to. Um, I've yet to talk to somebody who says, you know what, where are those lots? I, I want to go there. So there's a general resistance to going there. I don't know necessarily why that is.

Speaker 5: 08:00 It sounds like neighborhoods though, where there were many people living in cars really pushed for this new ordinance. We heard in your story about the bathroom problems involved. Yeah. What other problems did those living in cars bring to the neighborhood?

Speaker 2: 08:15 Yeah, I mean, uh, at, at that council meeting, there was a lot of people who say that they lived in the beach community and then they were just, you know, there's RVs and their campers and vans everywhere. Um, just people say things like trash, um, drug use. But these are all obviously a anecdotal. Um, cause you talked to some people living in their vehicles and they say, Hey, I don't, you know, I, I pick up after myself. If you want to look at people making trash, look at people, college kids who are on the beach and they have a party and they leave all their stuff or tourists that go there and they do the same thing. They feel that they're being kind of scapegoated when they talk about things like trash at the beach. Um, but a lot of, a lot of residents said that they were like afraid to go into the bathrooms because people were doing drugs in there and you know, people leaving trash outside of their vehicles.

Speaker 2: 08:57 Some people even complained that they're just taking up parking in the parking lots down there. Especially in ocean beach. I mean if you go down there right now, you'll see plenty of RV's. But I will say, at least when I go down there during the day, there are plenty of parking spaces. Any idea when the SDPD will start issuing tickets for sleeping in cars, right? Yeah. So I talked to them. There's no set date right now. Um, there's still under this, um, education phase where they're saying that they're getting complaints from people. They're going out there making contacts with people. So like if you called the police and said, hey, there's somebody sleeping and RBS side of my house, they would go there. They would let them know, hey, the laws in effect right now, um, you can't do this. Make some other accommodations. They give them a number for Jewish family service.

Speaker 2: 09:34 Now, obviously that lot's not opened yet, but it is going to start happening soon. I mean, I talked to one officer who said, usually they wait about a month before they start enforcing it. I know it would make sense if they started doing this. Um, when they opened up that new safe parking lot in mission valley, they haven't said whether or not they're going to do that. But yeah, as of right now, it's not being enforced and, uh, some residents probably aren't happy about that. I've been speaking with KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman, man. Thank you. Thanks Maureen. And he was speaking to midday addition cohost Maureen Cavanagh.

Speaker 6: 10:04 [inaudible].

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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.