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Judge Holds City's "No RV Parking Laws" at Bay Injunction Will Protect "Homes on Wheels" in Santa Barbara Until March

Fighting bad laws with good lawyers, The Committee for Social Justice's Legal Project won another victory in Santa Barbara in late October, confounding the City's latest stratagem to drive homeless vehicle dwellers out of town.
(Story for January 2005 Street Spirit)
Fighting bad laws with good lawyers, The Committee for Social Justice's Legal Project won another victory in Santa Barbara in late October, confounding the City's latest stratagem to drive homeless vehicle dwellers out of town.
Victorious in more than 135 of the 145 cases, he's undertaken pro bono for homeless people, former head Public Defender Glen Mowrer successfully established the necessity defense, virtually ending sleeping and camping tickets against vehicularly-housed Santa Barbarans [see “Santa Barbara's Sleeping Ban Stumbles in the Courts� Street Spirit 6-01, “New Blows Against the Santa Barbara Sleeping Ban� Street Spirit 9-01, “Defender of Homeless Rights Wins Important Court Ruling� Street Spirit 2-02)] Of the 145 cases Mowrer has taken,, Mower has won 135 of them.

Mower has also won the far-reaching Cooper/Mobley decision in appeals court. The court ruled that folks living in vehicles cannot be forced to use shelter that requires religious exercises. Secondly they not be expected to go to a shelter abandoning their property, pets, and privacy, if they already have their own reasonable vehicular housing.
This decision, though unpublished, has had significant consequences in Santa Barbara, prompting the city to shift from sleeping/camping ban criminal law enforcement to new administrative “no parking� laws—which Mowrer is also successfully challenging.

Mowrer won a Temporary Restraining Order in March 2003 from Judge James Brown putting on hold two “no parking for the homeless� laws until adequate warning signage was posted. [See “Taking Bigoted City Laws to Court in Santa Barbara� Street Spirit 4-03] The first law bans parking an recreational vehicle [RV] for more than 2 hours anywhere in the city; the second bans parking RV vehicles at all on city streets from 2 AM to 6 AM.
In a subsequent court appearance the Santa Barbara city attorney declared the city had designed and was posting adequate signage. Judge Brown took the unsupported declaration under submission and shortly there after lifted the TRO without an open evidentiary hearing. Not so fast, responded Mowrer, who then appealed Brown’s back chambers decision.

More than a year later, in October 2004, the appeals court agreed with Mowrer and additionally awarded him $2700 in court costs. The appeals court remanded the case back to Santa Barbara for a hearing on whether the “No RV parking� signs were comprehensible, whether they were posted visibly in enough spots, and whether, as Mowrer argued, they had to be posted on each individual street and not just on city entrances, as the city attorney argued.
Though the appeals court rejected Mowrer's argument that the city cannot selectively ban a type of vehicle, like an RV, it did intimate it would consider argument down the road that the law was designed to ban a class of people. This “equal protection� concern was the basis on which a Carmel “keep off the grass� law was thrown out in the late 60's: Specifically designed to remove hippies, the law against “undesirable types� was found to be unconstitutional.

After the appeals court victory, Mowrer got Judge Brown to disqualify himself, and approached a new Judge--Denise Debellefeuill. Debellefueille held the hearing Brown wouldn't, and rejected the modified signage proposal brought forward by the City. She ruled that the signs were confusing in their wording, looked like general “no parking� signs, were hard to read, and were not placed in enough spots to give adequate notice.
While the case was on appeal, the City continued to give out the suspect “no-RVs� tickets, forcing houseless folks whose vehicles are their homes outside city limits into the county, which has a “no camping� but not a “no parking� law.

Peter Marin is a long-time local writer and social activist around homeless issues. After Mowrer's victory in Debellefueille's court, Marin says, “They've suspended all ticketing. However they've already broken up the large communities of RV's, which had collected in a few places. These [RV's] may have constituted a real problem. But the City could have dealt with them by local signage or permits on problem streets--without such a draconian law which drove all RV dwellers out of the city.�
Mower summed up: “The city passed a law and started enforcing it without any signs. Then the Court of Appeals found those signs inadequate. The City proposed new signs. Judge Debellefueille found the modified signage insufficient. Now the city wants to come back into court again with a third version. How many times are we going to have to go through this? We're asking that they wait [and the Preliminary Injunction stay in force] until the trial in February or March.�

The problem, Maurer, adds is a selectively enforced ban. “I know of 3 RV's parked on the street. I see them when I walk my dog. These are 'respectable' vans used by families for temporary housing when they visit relatives.�
The case hasn't been cheap. Funded most recently by a Grant from the Fund for Santa Barbara, it's expected to cost over $30,000, with expert witness testimony about the adequacy of signage taking up a chunk of the change.

At the December 16 case management hearing, Mowrer argued that the City's repeated attempts to lift the Preliminary Injunction with yet another “signage� proposal had to wait until the actual trial for the Permanent Injunction in March. Judge Debellefeuill agreed. Mowrer further amended the complaint against the city alleging the city acting in bad faith and for malicious purposes. The city attorney said he may appeal Debellefueill’s ruling--which could delay the final resolution of the case another year, leaving the anti-homeless RV suspended and the homeless in vehicles protected. If the City doesn’t appeal, Mowrer and the city “RV terminators� are due back in court February 3rd for an update (case management) prior to the actual trial.
Nancy McCradie of Homes on Wheels is a homeless mom and grandmom who’s been fighting for civil rights for over a quarter century. “A lot of people in their Rvs are pretty disabled. I’m so glad that we have a judge that understands that this is an economic situation and needs to be addressed as such.�

At trial, encouraged by the Appeals Court ruling, Mowrer will argue that the City is motivated by malice towards the group of people identified as occupants of those RV’s. This is the equal protection concern successfully raised in the Carmel 'hippies off the grass' case.
Mowrer will also argue that the impact of the law unconstitutionally restricts freedom of intrastate travel for RV owners, guaranteed by the California constitution. The City's ban on RV parking makes travel problematic or impossible for a targeted group.

Says Mowrer, “Travelers can’t park on the streets. If they want to spend a night in a motel and have to park on the street, they can’t do it.“ The maze of ordinances prohibiting camping, sleeping, parking, parking at certain hours makes up a net. � That net, Mowrer argues, has the effect of systematic discrimination and that appears to be intentional discrimination.
Since the city had trouble evicting RV dwellers under other codes, the City Council put together this latest law against the advice of their own city commission. It ignores the state law requiring posting and was enforced against a targeted list of more than one hundred RV dwellers, “The list was created ahead of time and those on the list were specifically warned even before the signs were posted.�

Mower will also argue that the RV laws make RV’s unusable for the purpose for which they were designed. “It will end up taking the property of these poor people since they’ll get tickets and not be able to pay them. The City knows their vehicles will be towed.�
Concludes Mowrer, "We're still fighting and pushing on....[O]ur arguments are correct...The court is going to have [to have] the courage to risk offending the powers that be, the Santa Barbara city council, and those who support this law...�

The Committee for Social Justice's Legal Project can be reached at (805) 560-6062. Homes on Wheels can be reached at (805) 866-4895.

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Publish on Santa Barbara IMC too!

hey robert you can also publish this article on Santa Barbara Indymedia.


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