San Diego City Council approves ban on homeless encampment in 5-4 vote

SAN DIEGO, CA. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

OAN’s Brooke Mallory
12:19 PM – Wednesday, June 14, 2023

The San Diego City Council voted 5-4 late Tuesday night in support of the “Unsafe Camping Ordinance,” which would prohibit tent encampments in all public locations around the city if shelter beds are available.


Mayor Todd Gloria pushed for support of the law proposed by City Councilman Stephen Whitburn, by requesting the public to sign a petition and speaking at press conferences about the topic.

Tent encampments would also be prohibited at all times in parks, canyons, areas near schools, transportation stops, and outside homeless shelters, regardless of capacity.

The “Yes” votes were cast by City Council members Jennifer Campbell, Raul Campillo, Joe LaCava, and Marni Von Wilpert, in addition to Whitburn.

“It takes a lot of bravery to do this,” Campbell said, referring to Gloria’s and Whitburn’s proposal. “This is a win-win ordinance,” she continued, since the homeless will have access to services.

The proposal prompted Council President Sean Elo-Rivera and colleagues Kent Lee, Monica Montgomery Steppe, and Vivian Moreno to vote against it.

Moreno, who suggested deferring the vote on the law until September, expressed fear that police officers would lack the resources needed to implement any new regulation, giving locals who are excited about the news false optimism.

Moreno expressed that her constituents feel that the number of homeless “would never be tolerated in other parts of this city, and they’re right.” Passing new legislation with no detailed plan “would achieve very little,” she continued.

The legislation was revised based on the proposals of three council members to add a working committee to oversee how the code is implemented, as well as particular enforcement for parks, beaches, and open spaces.

According to Von Wilpert’s amendment, the rule will not go into effect until 30 days after the first safe sleeping lot opens on 20th and B streets, allowing non-law enforcement social workers to be the initial point of contact with homeless individuals.

Gloria thanked the five people who voted “Yes” in a statement.

Many people spoke out against the proposal during the four-hour public comment period during Tuesday’s council meeting, saying it was harsh and wouldn’t fix the broader problem.

A member of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, Barbara Pinto, compared the idea to “pouring water on a drowning man.”

Pinto encouraged the council to prioritize the creation of additional affordable homes. Others advised the council to either table the idea or discard it entirely and create a new one. Many opponents asked the council to stick with the 2019 community action plan to combat homelessness.

Gloria told the council that it was acceptable to expect sidewalks to be usable, public parks to be safe and accessible, and natural canyons to be free of wildfires or trash.

“This ordinance is a call to action, and a call to uphold the principals of compassion, fairness and personal responsibility,” Gloria added.

“Those living in encampments are in constant danger of disease spread amid unsanitary conditions, violence and exploitation by dealers of deadly drugs… Encampments also frequently ignite fires that put the public and our first responders at great risk. The City Council must pass the Unsafe Camping Ordinance to protect the health and safety of all San Diegans.”

Opponents argue that the proposed law would not alleviate the problem and will effectively make being homeless illegal in San Diego, driving persons suffering homelessness to other areas or towns.

“This commonsense ordinance will be paired with a robust shelter strategy, which includes two new Safe Sleeping sites where more than 500 people stay in tents in secure areas with access to hygiene and services that will help them get on the path to permanent housing,” Gloria said. “Letting people continue to live in squalor on our sidewalks is not showing compassion; it’s showing indifference. We won’t let that be the case in our city.”

San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava backed the proposed rule, but said he wanted to see proof that it was benefiting people once it was implemented before he would be pleased with the decision.

“Implementation is key to the success of the Unauthorized Camping Ordinance, and I will measure its success on shelter placements and connecting homeless San Diegans to support systems,” LaCava said. “Accomplishing this lies in the implementation and our ability to equally protect unsheltered individuals and families, surrounding communities, and city staff.”

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