San Diego’s homeless population may no longer have to fear tickets or citations for placing their items down on a sidewalk or in a public park.
The city of San Diego will build a new storage facility for homeless people and adopt new written procedures for training its police force on how to enforce encroachment violations, according to a proposed settlement agreement obtained by NBC 7 Investigates.
This after a class-action lawsuit was filed by Eric Arundel and others who received tickets for encroachment, or, blocking the public right of way with personal belongings.
In June, NBC 7 Investigates found the number of tickets issued by police officers in San Diego increased dramatically over the past five years.
Police wrote 1,413 tickets in 2013 for “unauthorized encroachment” violations. In 2018 that number rose to 3,744.
In 2017 attorney Scott Dreher sued the city on behalf of Arundel and others, alleging the city violated the constitutional rights of those ticketed.
Now, two years after filing, the city has agreed to terms to settle the case. The settlement still needs final approval from the city council in open session.
According to the terms of the proposed settlement, the city will “open a new storage facility in the city of San Diego for use by homeless persons to store their personal belongings.”
NBC 7 asked the city if the new facility will be in addition to the one planned for City Heights but a spokesperson did not respond.
NBC 7 Investigates Producers Dorian Hargrove and Paul Krueger sat down to discuss their reporting on these encroachment tickets in Episode Three of INSIGHT. Listen to the episode below or click here.
In addition, the city agrees to retrain officers on the enforcement of encroachment violations.
Internal emails from the San Diego Police Department show the city used the enforcement of encroachment and illegal lodging as a way to address homelessness in city parks and city streets.
“It is a bookable offense,” reads a June 2014 email from police officers in the Western Division. “...so when you see someone’s tent, backpack, shelter, or stuff sprawled in the park, making the space unusable to the normal citizenry, you can use this section.”
The tickets, read the email, was the final option for police officers in case a homeless person refused to leave the area or pick up their items.
However, advocates, as well as homeless people, say some police officers abused that discretion.
“It’s carte blanche to do anything to anybody, anytime somebody sets something down,” said Dreher.
Lastly, if approved, the city will pay $49,000 in attorney’s fees to the associate law firm handling the case. Lead attorney Scott Dreher agreed to waive attorney’s fees.
The data shows that a vast majority of citations and arrests occurred in San Diego’s East Village neighborhood. However, the highest increase in citations and arrests from 2013 to 2018 happened along Sports Arena Boulevard.
In 2013, only five arrests and citations were issued on Sports Arena Boulevard. In 2018, that number ballooned to 133 arrests and citations.
To see where those citations were handed out each year, look at the map below.
The city of San Diego said it could not comment on the settlement until final approval from the city council is granted.
Michael McConnell is a homeless advocate in San Diego. McConnell is skeptical the proposed settlement will result in real change.
“The city has been sued numerous times for criminalizing homelssneess, but it always seems to come up with another way to target the homeless. I am looking for the day when it will stop for good and I am not sure this will achieve that.”