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City to defend against SLO homeless lawsuit 

The city of San Luis Obispo says it will defend itself against a lawsuit spurred by the recent crackdown on people living out of their cars.

The lawsuit was filed April 6 in San Luis Obispo Superior Court on behalf of the SLO Homeless Alliance, a group representing about 50 people who have been ticketed for illegally sleeping in their cars along Prado Road since February.

The lawsuit specifically names the city, as well as Police Chief Steve Gesell in his capacity as enforcer of the ordinance. It claims that a section of the city’s municipal code, which outlaws the use of vehicles as dwelling units on city streets, is unconstitutional, overbroad, and in violation of California statutes.

The SLO Homeless Alliance argues that there’s no proper signage and that the ordinance is vague and leads to arbitrary enforcement. Furthermore, it claims that the city code essentially criminalizes living and sleeping, fundamental privileges guaranteed under the 14th Amendment.

Some members of the alliance were cited for simply talking on a cell phone while parked, according to the lawsuit, and others have been ticketed as much as five times in one month for sleeping in cars.

The lawsuit calls for an end to enforcement of the ordinance, and that it be declared unconstitutional. Alliance members further requested the court to grant an undetermined award for attorney and filing fees.

Stew Jenkins is one of two San Luis Obispo-based attorneys representing the plaintiffs. He told New Times he expects the city to respond with case law defending the ordinance.

Jenkins also cited a number of civil cases in other states that have found similar ordinances unconstitutional, such as a 2004 appellate court decision against the city of Santa Barbara, where a similar law was reversed. Santa Barbara’s ordinance banned the parking of recreational vehicles on city streets for more than two hours.

“The other factor that comes into play is that this is a land-use ordinance and the city is using this land-use hammer to hit people over the head who don’t own any land,” Jenkins said.

The city has until May 22 to file a response to the lawsuit, according to the City Attorney’s Office.

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