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SLO City digs in its heels on street-side ticketing 

Though they were hammered relentlessly by a long line of residents—those with homes and those without—the effort wasn’t enough to coerce the majority of the San Luis Obispo City Council to modify the city’s approach toward clearing public streets of overnight campers.

click to enlarge BACK ON TARGET :  Recreational vehicles line Prado Road in San Luis Obispo in this file photo from February, during the height of San Luis Obispo’s sweep on people sleeping in their cars on public streets. - FILE PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • FILE PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • BACK ON TARGET : Recreational vehicles line Prado Road in San Luis Obispo in this file photo from February, during the height of San Luis Obispo’s sweep on people sleeping in their cars on public streets.

At its July 10 meeting, the council heard pleas from about 20 SLO residents who asked the city to refrain from passing an emergency ordinance on overnight parking. In response to a ruling by SLO Superior Court Judge Charles Crandall that told the city to cease ticketing people in vehicles, councilmembers voted 4-1 to clarify the intent behind the measure, which city officials say allows them to once again prohibit people from sleeping in their vehicles overnight on public streets. The emergency ordinance goes into effect immediately.

Councilman John Ashbaugh voted against the new ordinance.

The vote came after SLO Superior Court Judge Charles Crandall issued a preliminary injunction on July 3, telling the city to temporarily halt ticketing people sleeping in vehicles.

In his tentative ruling, Crandall said the ordinance—passed in 1995—was never designed to be applied to public streets, and that recent enforcement appeared to be selective, singling out homeless people in an apparent attempt to run them out of town.

During the often-emotional comments from about two dozen people—many of them bearing the brunt of the recent enforcement efforts—two uniformed police officers sitting in the back row of City Hall could be heard chuckling.

“This ‘happiness’ thing is just plain silly, but this is an opportunity for you to be the most intelligent city,” said resident Cheryl Larson, referring to the city’s bestowed designation as the country’s “Happiest City.”

“There is no emergency here,” said Stew Jenkins, one of the attorneys for the SLO Homeless Alliance, whose lawsuit resulted in the court order. Jenkins added that pursuing the ordinance will end up costing the city more money in litigation. “This ordinance proposed tonight does not serve the city.”

Of the people who spoke on the item, only one urged the city to stay the course. Michelle Tasseff, a SLO resident and code enforcement officer in Santa Maria, said she’s had to endure endless problems at her home near Prado Road.

“I find the people there are unfriendly and disrespectful … and this is what I have to deal with every day,” Tasseff said. She pointed toward the recent assault of a teenage girl near the downtown area as a reason to get campers off the streets. “You’re not going to tell me that was a resident.”

City councilmembers said they took issue with Crandall’s opinion because the city always intended the ordinance to apply to public streets.

“The judge, in our belief, makes various assumptions of fact that we believe are wrong,” Councilman Andrew Carter said.

“I’m concerned the city could become a magnet or a target for people who want to camp in our streets, not just in industrial areas, but in residential areas,” Mayor Jan Marx said.

City Attorney Christine Dietrick and attorneys for the SLO Homeless Alliance are scheduled to appear before Crandall again on July 24.

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