Palo Alto Vehicle Habitation Law suspended; 9th Circuit Spanks L.A. City Attorney

NOTES BY NORSE:  The audio of the 9th Circuit Court hearing which punches the L.A. City attorney in the chops in the case of Cheyenne Desertrain, et al v. City of Los Angeles, et al,   can be heard at  It’s a rare opportunity to hear the slitherings, slippings, and slidings of a city attorney directly challenged–not by the defense lawyer Carol Sobel, but by the actual judges themselves who pin the tail squarely on the donkey by clarifying the specifically anti-homeless focus on the enforcement actions.

                Santa Cruz has used a variety of devices to muffle, buffer, and mask the anti-homeless intent–in the process creating potential criminalization for everyone in the interests of appearing impartial.  So it’s not just panhandlers, but anyone with a sign who faces a ticket and potentially jail for standing on a median or roundabout with any kind of sign (including a constitutionally protected sign).  The night-time curfews in the parks, around the library, at the City Hall complex, and around the police station are designed to frighten homeless people away, but also impact everyone, particularly political protesters.    The infamous only-in-Santa-Cruz (at the time of passage in 2003) “Move Along-Every-Hour” law targeted seated panhandlers, but had to be framed more generally so that it took in political protesters, voter registrars, musicians, performers, and anyone with a “display device.”
This year, the cover for homeless-o-phobia is “public safety” with anyone who challenges security thugs in the parks (1 day stay away or up to 1 year in jail).  The notorious Sidewalk Shrinkage law which expanded the 14′ forbidden-to-sit zones “protecting” benches, buildings, crosswalks, kiosks, phone  booths, sculptures, trash compactors, and trash cans (to name only some of the new sacred items) does seem to be a broader aesthetic attack on performers of all sorts (Morgami the colorful accordionist and Mr. Twister the balloon clown excepted–though that’s not written into the law).  However since many of those performing, displaying artwork, or showing crafts are unhoused or poor people struggling to make it, the intent of the law is pretty clear.
The expansion of smoking bans this year and in prior years to cover situations when people aren’t complaining is another example–homeless people smoke at about 3 to 4 times the rate of housed people.  Most recently, the new Public Assembly Constriction laws, requiring costs for street closures and permits for smaller numbers of people, makes it more difficult for poor people and spontaneous protests.   Many of which have been homeless-themed in the past, considering the City’s abhorrent Sleeping and Blanket Bans (as well as its other laws and practices targeting the visible poor outside).
Meanwhile Palo Alto activists are rightly celebrating the City’s delay in enforcing the “live in van, go on the lam” law, but the majority of those outside there have no such luxury.  Laws passed shortly after the vehicle habitation ban criminalized being around community centers at night–the traditional sleeping spots of many ground sleepers.  When I asked Palo Alto activist Chuck Jagoda if action against that law was on the activist agenda, he said no.
In Santa Cruz, some are organizing to address the lack of warming centers on cold weather winter days–and good for them for doing so!–but the broader and deeper issue is the destruction of homeless campsites, the seizure and trashing of homeless property, and the reduction of homeless people to the status of trash–that goes on 365 days a year here.

Car-camping ban suspended for a year

Legal concerns prompt Palo Alto to delay enforcement of controversial law

by Gennady Sheyner / Palo Alto Weekly


Faced with citizen anxieties, threatened lawsuits and a pending court case in southern California, Palo Alto officials agreed on Monday to delay for a year the city’s deeply controversial ban on vehicle habitation.



The City Council voted unanimously to approve a staff recommendation to delay enforcement of the ban, which the council officially adopted on Sept. 19 and which was scheduled to kick off in February.



The ban, which was prompted by a swell of car campers at Cubberley Community Center and in a section of College Terrace, was adopted despite heated opposition from homeless advocates and members from the faith community. Last month, a coalition of attorneys led by Carrie LeRoy announced its intention to sue the city over the ban and requested a meeting with City Attorney Molly Stump to discuss their concerns. LeRoy argued in a Nov. 15 letter to the city that the ban is too broad and too punitive, that it violates the U.S. Constitution and that it would effectively criminalize homelessness.



“Enforcement of the VHO (vehicle habitation ordinance) will exacerbate serious health issues and disabilities prevalent among Plaintiffs, who will be forced out of their vehicles or Palo Alto altogether to avoid criminal liability,” LeRoy wrote.



The council’s decision on Monday to delay the ban squashes the controversy for at least a year. In a memo released last week, City Manager James Keene pointed to a case currently going through the Ninth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals. That case, Cheyenne Destertrain v. City of Los Angeles, revolves around the issue of vehicle habitation. The appeals court has recently heard the arguments in this case and staff believes its decision “may provide further clarification regarding legal requirements governing ordinances prohibiting vehicle habitation.”



The letter also noted that the council has already taken another step to address the transformation of Cubberley into what officials often refer to as an “ad hoc homeless shelter.” In August, the council adopted a new law ordering that all community centers, including Cubberley, be closed between 10:30 p.m. and sunrise. Thus, the lawyers contended, the new law serves no legitimate purpose.



In the memo, Keene pointed to the Los Angeles case and noted “some members of the public have questions regarding the scope of the ordinance, which suggests that an additional period of outreach and review would be beneficial.”



The council approved the delay unanimously as part of its “consent calendar,” with no discussion or argument. The only people who spoke out on the issue were a handful of public speakers who opposed the ban. One speaker, Lois Salo, urged officials to go a step further and rescind the ban. Others said they were pleased to see the prohibition delayed, even if it’s just for a year. Edie Keating from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto was among them.



“Many members of the community appreciate your willingness to keep this open for up to a year,” Keating told the council. “There will be a need to find a solution so that we aren’t in the same place at some future point in time. Many people are already talking about what the possible solutions could be.”

One thought on “Palo Alto Vehicle Habitation Law suspended; 9th Circuit Spanks L.A. City Attorney

  1. Desertrain spells the end of of one idiot trying to oppress another.

    Just because one person has a house & another does not does not give the right of the one with the house to oppress the one wwithout.

    In-fact the one without the house will end up with the house because he/she has the right to sue the one with the house for oppressing he/she without the house.

    Here in The United States of America a poor man has the same rights as a rich man.

    For all you morons that think because you in your glorified welfare delusional thinking that you can harrass this ruthless litigator for living in his vehicle & believing that he is homeless when in-fact he is just lying in wait for the opportunity to sue the crap out of you, think twice in your little pea brain.

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