City Council moves closer to once again banning sleeping in vehicles

SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego City Council took one step closer Wednesday to once again limiting the ways people can live and sleep overnight in their vehicles.

The council's Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee voted 3-1 to put a measure instating a limited ban on residents living in their cars before the full council.

The proposed ordinance would ban residents from sleeping in their vehicles from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. within 500 feet of a school, excluding colleges and universities, or a place of residence.

Under the measure, evidence of living in a vehicle includes using it for sleeping, bathing, preparing meals or having items not normally associated with vehicle use like cookware, bedding or furniture.

The committee voted to send the proposal to the full council without recommendations or amendments, giving the council some leeway to tweak it when it gets put on the docket. Councilwoman Barbara Bry said it would be an opportunity to further discuss the proposal with stakeholders like residents who live or have lived in their vehicle.

"I'm concerned that one solution doesn't fit everybody and I want to make sure in whatever ordinance comes to the full council that we address these issues appropriately," Bry said. "I don't have the answer today on what that looks like, but I think communicating with the appropriate individuals who have that expertise would help us."

According to last year's countywide point-in-time homeless count, 1,262 residents live in their vehicles throughout the county, although that figure does not include recreational vehicles.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer proposed the new ban last month after the city said it received hundreds of complaints about residents living in their vehicles and illegal activity related to vehicle habitation. If passed, it would replace a similar, nearly 36-year-old vehicle habitation ban that the council unanimously voted to repeal in February.

The city had not enforced the old ban since last year, when a federal judge issued an injunction because the ordinance was unconstitutionally vague. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a similar Los Angeles law in 2014 for the same reason.

Opponents of the ordinance characterized it as similarly unconstitutional and an attack on some of the city's most vulnerable residents. Prior to the meeting, a group of homeless advocates rallied outside the City Administration Building to protest the proposed ban.

City Councilwoman Monica Montgomery, the committee's chair, cast the lone dissenting vote, suggesting city staff should redraft the proposal to consider the interests of homeless residents and add elements from Los Angeles' new vehicle habitation ordinance like an interactive online map that allows residents to view where they can park.

"It's something that I've commented on with regard to other items and how we do business here: we are extremely reactive and in that, we leave folks out," Montgomery said. "We have to vet through some things that maybe need more work and I understand that is what committee is for and that's why I agreed to bring this to committee, to vet it out."

Concurrently, the city is expanding a program that provides parking lots where residents who live in their vehicle can sleep for the night and gain access to services like job training and housing assistance. Faulconer and City Councilman Scott Sherman on Tuesday announced the city's plan to open a third such parking lot in Mission Valley within the next 45 days.

The committee did not determine when the vehicle habitation measure will be docketed for the full council.

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