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SLO approves a safe-parking program 

Following community outrage over a police sweep of overnight camping in vehicles, the San Luis Obispo City Council has thrown its support behind a program to allow overnight parking on Prado Road for a limited number of vehicles.

During a six-month initial phase of the program, the city won’t enforce a section of the municipal code that prohibits using a recreational vehicle as a dwelling unit.

On March 20, the SLO City Council unanimously approved the city manager entering into an agreement with the Community Action Partnership of SLO County (CAPSLO) to initiate the Safe Parking pilot program, which will provide overnight parking for five vehicles at the Prado Day Center.

Participants will be required to commit to case management and remain drug and alcohol-free. City staff will report back in six months to discuss the program’s progress.

CAPSLO’s Homeless Services Coordinator Dee Torres told the council that the organization will begin evaluation of the program as soon as it gets off the ground.

Council members agreed to delay discussion of one component of the program that would have required police to step up overnight camping enforcement elsewhere in the city.

“I think we’re starting down a path to eliminating overnight RV parking on the street,” Councilman Andrew Carter said. “I think that end of things needs to be looked at apart from this [program].”

That matter will return to the council for discussion in the coming months.

Almost everyone at the meeting applauded the program as a good start, but one that doesn’t address the larger problem of homelessness in the city.

“It’s not just enough to give them a place to sleep; we have to look at this thing in its totality,” Councilwoman Kathy Smith said.

Roughly two dozen residents spoke in favor of the program. Many urged the council to suspend all enforcement for people sleeping in vehicles across the city.

“What these people are being ticketed for is sleeping,” said SLO resident Stew Jenkins. “It’s inhumane to harass and impoverish them further. It’s an unconstitutional vagrancy ordinance.”

Since the Police Department amped up its enforcement efforts in February, officers have issued 48 camping violations, according to Capt. Chris Staley. Two vehicles have been towed for parking for more than the 72-hour limit, and two were towed for expired registration, Staley said. Police also issued 11 warnings that resulted in no additional enforcement.

“Historically, the [SLOPD] has taken a reactive approach to illegal camping, which was the case here, quite frankly,” Police Chief Steve Gesell told the council.

Gesell said the department initiated the sweep after receiving letters from local business owners complaining of campers creating an “unruly environment.”

One person who received a citation has challenged the constitutionality of the city’s municipal code. The matter is set to go before a traffic commissioner on March 22 at the San Luis Obispo Vet’s Hall, according to SLO City Attorney Christine Dietrick.

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