San Diego Repeal of Vehicle Habitation Ordinance Signals Change on Homelessness Criminalization

The San Diego City Council’s vote to repeal its ordinance making it illegal to live in vehicles may represent a changing tide in the way cities approach homelessness.

On Tuesday, the San Diego City Council voted unanimously to repeal its vehicle habitation ordinance, which a federal judge blocked the city from enforcing last year because it likely violates the Constitution and “is both vague on its face and is being arbitrarily enforced.”

U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia ordered the city last year to stop ticketing people or impounding their vehicles under the ordinance, as well as prosecuting outstanding tickets. The city complied last fall, dismissing 195 parking tickets and canceling 863 delinquent accounts.

A class action filed on behalf of hundreds of disabled homeless San Diegans living in vehicles and RVs challenged the ordinance in 2017.

Tuesday’s vote marked the city’s acknowledgement that “living in vehicles is a necessary survival strategy for San Diego’s large and diverse homeless population,” Tristia Bauman, senior attorney for the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, said in an interview.