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New law to address proliferation of people living in unsafe conditions in vehicles on city streets

New law to address proliferation of people living in unsafe conditions in vehicles on City streets.
Photo credit:
Wikimedia Commons - Stock photo

On Wednesday Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer won City Council approval of a new emergency ordinance that will protect the quality of life in neighborhoods and address the proliferation of people living in unsafe conditions in vehicles.

The Vehicle Habitation Ordinance proposed by Mayor Faulconer aims to address behaviors that have become a by-product of the “van life” culture, including illegal dumping, public urination and drug use on city streets and in parking lots. 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goes into effect upon the City Clerk’s certification of the action, replaces a previous ordinance that the City Council repealed in response to a court ruling that deemed it too vague to enforce. The repeal left the City unable to ticket offenders.

At the same time, the City is expanding its successful Safe Parking Program to help homeless individuals and families living out of their vehicles. The program’s parking lots provide safe and secure places where people can stay at night while they work toward a permanent housing solution.

“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,” Mayor Faulconer said. “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.”

The new ordinance prohibits vehicle habitation near residences and schools. It also prohibits vehicle habitation elsewhere between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. – consistent with the operating hours of the City’s Safe Parking lots (6 p.m. to 6 a.m.).

The ordinance will be enforced using several criteria to determine vehicle habitation, including sleeping, bathing, meal preparation, grooming items, containers of human waste, and possessing or storing items such as bedding, cookware, food and water. Other factors that may establish human habitation include obscured windows and evidence of trash, temporary furnishings and human waste near the vehicle. 

In 2017, the City, in partnership with Jewish Family Service (JFS), expanded the Safe Parking program in two parking lots in Kearny Mesa. The City is in the process of opening a third lot on Mission Village Drive that will be the first to accommodate recreational vehicles.

 Every night, JFS operates a Safe Parking Program for unsheltered San Diegans living out of their vehicles, many of whom are experiencing homelessness for the first time.

The program provides parking spaces for over 100 cars, serving more than 200 adults and children. Services offered include basic needs assistance, employment, family wellness, school success, financial education, credit repair and housing navigation. Since the City expanded the program, more than 30 families have transitioned to long-term and permanent housing.