The new ordinance recriminalizes residents living out of their vehicles from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. in neighborhoods, or at any time within 500 feet of a residence or school excluding colleges and universities. A vehicle is considered inhabited if there is evidence of sleeping, bathing or meal preparation there.
The new law, which goes into effect upon the City Clerk’s certification of the action, replaces a previous ordinance that the City Council repealed in response to a court ruling that deemed it too vague to enforce.
Those favoring the new revised ban said the goal is to encourage people inhabiting their vehicles to use monitored parking lots where they can safely sleep overnight while accessing job training and housing assistance services.
In February 2018, the City Council repealed its 36-year-old Vehicle Habitation Ordinance after a federal judge found it unconstitutional and halted its enforcement.
“We are creating a balance that provides opportunities to those in need while protecting our neighborhoods from behavior that creates unsanitary conditions and hurts quality of life,” said Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who introduced the ordinance. “If you want to work toward finding a permanent home, we have programs that can help. We will not allow the proliferation of ‘van life’ culture that takes advantage of San Diego’s generosity and destroys community character.”
“I was pleased to make the motion moving our new vehicle habitation ordinance forward,” said District 2 Councilmember Dr. Jennifer Campbell. “During public testimony I heard two things: compassion for those who have nowhere else to live except in their vehicles, and the need for enforcement to keep our residents healthy and safe. This ordinance is a first step toward finding a balance between these two sentiments.”
Added Campbell: “I’m glad that the City has increased the number of safe parking lots available for those seeking services. I hope anyone living in their vehicle as a last resort will take advantage of these resources. This ordinance also addresses the people who are living in their RVs, who should be parking in an RV campground. Urban camping and the activities associated with it belong in a campground with bathroom facilities, not on our streets.”
Prior to the May 14 Council meeting, San Diegans – the disabled, seniors, parents, military veterans, low-income, the unemployed – forced to live in their vehicles met May 8 for a “speak out” in Ocean Beach to share their stories and frustrations.
“We are on a wait list for affordable housing but it will take an estimated 10 to 12 years before our names come up,” said retired attorney Steve Chatzky, 71, who parks his RV in industrial areas or by vacant lots away from other RVs, not in front of active businesses.
Carolyn Vargas, 71, was a homeless outreach worker at a crisis house until funding ran out and she lost her job. “I couldn't afford rent so I bought a used motorhome,” Vargas said. “I have no choice but to park on the street and keep getting tickets I can't pay … if I lose my motorhome I will lose everything.”
In 2011 Valerie Grischy was disabled from a car accident which forced her to quit work. “I’m now living on less than $900 disability a month … the best option available to me was to live in an RV on the streets. As a human being I deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, not a pariah of society by the constant harassment of ticketing that I can't afford … This is a terrifying thought that the end result is that they could take away my home.”
The language of the new ordinance is available at sandiego.gov.