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La Jolla Town Council protests legalization of van-living

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More than 60 members of the public jammed the Rec Center for La Jolla Town Council’s April 11 meeting.
(COREY LEVITAN)

La Jolla Town Council (LJTC) passed a motion at its April 11 meeting protesting the San Diego City Council’s recent repeal of its ban on living inside vehicles parked on City streets. Passed with only board member Michael Dershowitz dissenting, the motion called on City Council “to recognize the public-safety issues brought forth by vehicle habitation on public streets and request that City Council enact City codes to regulate such activity.”

The action item, which was not on the meeting’s agenda, followed a forum on the state of San Diego’s homeless crisis and what’s being done to combat it. A jam-packed audience of 60-plus heard talks by Regional Task Force on the Homeless board member Karen Brailean, San Diego Mayor’s Advisory Board on Police and Community Relations member Rachael Allen, and officers from the San Diego Police Department’s (SDPD) homeless outreach team.

Efforts being undertaken to address the crisis — including the construction of 488 units of permanent supportive housing by Father Joe’s Village — were highlighted, but pats on the back were in short supply considering how much more work, and money, everyone agreed was needed to reverse the growing problem.

Helping La Jolla’s homeless people, in particular, is uniquely difficult, said Brailean. “We have to say, ‘Come with me and I’ll take you downtown,’” she explained, “and they say, ‘Downtown?’” (Brailean said that services, shelter and permanent supportive housing are required “in every district in the community.”)

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It fell to SDPD community relations officer Larry Hesselgesser to deliver the message — repeated often during community discussions about San Diego’s homeless population — that being homeless in San Diego is not a crime and that homeless people must be observed committing a crime by police in order for police to take action. (Videoing a homeless person committing a crime is not good enough.)

When a member of the audience asked what to do about a homeless person trespassing on his property, Hesselgesser recommended obtaining a letter of agency that “will allow us to go on the property and enforce the trespassing laws.”

Who are van-lifers

Panelist Glen Volk, a Sunset Cliffs resident who founded the Coalition Opposed to Vehicle Habitation on Residential Streets, presented a YouTube video introducing most people in the audience to the concept of “van-lifers,” a growing class of homeless people who live in vans parked in beach lots. (Filmed in Ocean Beach by KPBS News, the video showed people discussing how much they love living rent-free with views of the ocean. When one was asked if he would ever give up the lifestyle, he replied no.)

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Following the video, some online posts from van-lifer Facebook groups were displayed, in which the discussions included how to defecate without a bathroom nearby. (“I use a bucket with the bottom cut out,” read one post. “That way, I can sit with the stability I need but no waste to worry about. You can dig a hole but I don’t bother, I usually go out far enough.”)

Volk claimed that repealing the vehicle habitation ban was a veritable welcome mat for thousands more van-lifers, who can’t ever hope to afford coastal rents, to drive to San Diego from other parts of the U.S. and join the lifestyle.

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Homeless advocate Michael McConnell (standing) confronts La Jolla Town Council president Ann Kerr Bache about inclusivity during the April 11 meeting.
(COREY LEVITAN)

Protest

During a Q&A session following the forum, four attendees threw the meeting briefly into chaos, standing up one at a time without being called upon to loudly state their disbelief that a panel about homelessness did not include any homeless people.

“This has been the most biased presentation I have ever seen,” said homeless advocate Michael McConnell. When LJTC president Ann Kerr Bache asked him to be seated, McConnell responded: “Just keep spewing your nonsense then.”

John Brady, advocacy director for Voices of our City Choir, then stated, “I’m concerned why you don’t include people with lived (homeless) experience on your panel,” adding that “only in places like San Diego do you not practice inclusion.”

Kerr Bache replied that the purpose of the panel was not to convey how it felt to be homeless, but “what the police are doing, what the City’s doing and what Council members are doing, and how we can help.” Nevertheless, Kerr Bache added, a homeless panelist was scheduled but dropped out at the last minute due to rude and inflammatory comments made on the LJTC’s website.

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“It’s as inclusive as we can be with people who don’t want to come on the panel,” Kerr Bache said.

When one of the protestors questioned the legality of an action item being voted on without first appearing on the agenda, Kerr Bache explained that LJTC is not subject to Brown Act requirements. Then she made a self-deprecatory joke that broke the tension and placed her back in control of the proceedings.

“The good thing about us is that we have no power,” Kerr Bache said of Town Council, laughing along with most members of the audience.

The aforementioned motion was eventually crafted with input from Brady, who apologized to Kerr Bache for his outburst. (After the meeting, Kerr Bache said that an apology during Town Council was “unheard of.”)In other Town Council news...

La Jolla resident Treger Strasberg explained her company, Humble Design, which decorates homes with donated furniture for people who have recently emerged from homelessness.

— La Jolla Town Council next meets 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 9 at the La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St. lajollatowncouncil.org


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