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SLO city backs off on overnight campers 

The city of San Luis Obispo will expunge all tickets issued this year to people caught sleeping in vehicles. In addition, the city agreed to refund fines and explore “alternate regulatory paths” following a civil settlement reached in an Aug. 9 closed session meeting.

After about two hours of deliberation, the SLO City Council voted 4-1 to approve a settlement with attorneys for the SLO Homeless Alliance, a group of roughly 50 people ticketed during police crackdowns on overnight campers.

The settlement was a major win for the Alliance:

•All criminal citations issued since Jan. 1, as well as the recent “emergency ordinance” passed in July, will be dismissed.

•Refunds are available to anyone who has paid fines for those citations.

•The City Council has until Dec. 31, to come up with a new regulatory approach before the existing law expires.

•The city will not argue with a court-ordered injunction on ticketing.

•The city must place proper signage in certain areas.

And the settlement could also give SLO Homeless Alliance a better stance in recouping its attorney fees.

In accepting the settlement, however, the city protects itself from future litigation by those who were ticketed. City Attorney Christine Dietrick said an emergency ordinance passed in July will continue to be enforced through the year with education, warnings, and citations when there is a threat to health and safety.

The city has spent at least $77,000 on third-party consultation and mediation fees to fight Alliance members—not considering roughly 200 hours of city staff time—and there are still a number of invoices outstanding, according to the city.

“I would have rather just given the [money] to homeless services as opposed to coming down this road with nothing to show for it,” Councilman Dan Carpenter, who opposed the settlement, told New Times. He added that he was in favor of mediation early on in the process, but that the council received a “clear message” from the city attorney that the law was defensible.

The councilman took issue with an announcement that a tentative settlement had been reached following a mediation session attended by Mayor Jan Marx and Councilman Andrew Carter before the rest of the council could be briefed.

“I felt that backed me into a corner and in the court of public opinion I was going to look like the bad guy,” Carpenter said. “But the idea behind [the crackdown] was to protect the residents of this community, even if it goes to appeals. They basically rolled over and that’s a horrible message to the community.”

The settlement leaves other financial unknowns, he added, such as the cost of necessary signage, and whether the city has opened itself up to litigation from people ticketed prior to January.

Carpenter said he expects the council to discuss moving forward at its Oct. 2 meeting.

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