The action by the City’s Public Safety and Livable Communities Committee on April 17 followed a rally earlier in the day by the San Diego Housing Emergency Alliance. The broad-based coalition, which includes the disabled, tenants, low-wage workers and the homeless community, is seeking to have this new ordinance authored by Mayor Kevin Faulconer defeated, and housing recognized as a basic human right.
“Criminalizing and demonizing the victims of this crisis – people with disabilities, seniors and low-income families – is not the answer,” argued disability rights attorney Ann Menasche representing San Diego RV residents. “Our clients have been priced out of housing due to skyrocketing rents. They are not to blame for this crisis. Instead of continuing this war on the unhoused poor, we need to create permanent affordable housing solutions.”
The vehicle habitation ordinance, adopted in 1983, prohibited using a vehicle as a place of residence while it is parked or standing on any street. That ordinance has not been enforced since Aug. 21, 2018 following U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Battaglia’s ruling that it “was both vague on its face and being arbitrarily and discriminatorily applied.”
In arguing the need for re-introducing an ordinance banning vehicle habitation on public streets, the City said it had received “an especially voluminous number of reports” of unsanitary conditions from improper disposal of human waste and trash since the repeal occurred.
The City’s staff report said the mayor’s new proposed ordinance “avoids the characteristics of the previous ordinance that rendered it unenforceable. The issues have persisted, and some community members assert that (unsanitary conditions) are worse than before and likely to continue or worsen if not addressed, particularly as the City approaches the summer months.”
Factors constituting vehicle “habitation” under the new proposed ordinance include: sleeping, bathing, preparing meals, obscured windows and evidence of trash, temporary furnishings or human waste near the vehicle.
On April 17, committee member Barbara Bry of District 1 described the City’s policy of ticketing people living in their vehicles as “a vicious cycle.”
“Tickets go to some who can’t pay for it, and then we have the extra expense of public defenders and going to the court,” Bry said. “I can (also) understand how neighbors feel when there are people parked in front of their homes living out of their vehicles and not respecting the laws.”
Addressing fallout from vehicle habitation, Faulconer on April 16 announced the expansion of the City’s Safe Parking Program, adding a third parking lot, near SDCCU Stadium, where people can park overnight that allows RVs for the first time. Like the City’s other two existing safe parking lots, wrap-around services will be provided by case managers, housing specialists and others to help vehicle inhabitants move toward long-term stable housing.
Faulconer’s proposed ordinance, which would block people from living in their vehicles within 500 feet of a school or residence, or on city streets between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., will now go to the City Council for a final decision.