La Jolla Shores board troubled by vehicle habitation

San Diego Police Department Northern Division Lt. Lisa McKean speaks to the La Jolla Shores Association.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

San Diego Police Department community relations officer Larry Hesselgesser and new Northern Division Lt. Lisa McKean attended the La Jolla Shores Association (LJSA) meeting March 13 to provide the latest on a concern that has arisen in recent months: people sleeping in cars.

In August 2018, the U.S. District Court ordered the San Diego Police Department to “immediately cease enforcement of vehicle habitation laws,” McKean said. Citing a ruling that the law was considered too vague for effective enforcement. Specifically, the court said: 1) The San Diego Police Department is enjoined from ticketing any person under San Diego Municipal Code vehicle habitation laws; 2) The San Diego Police Department is enjoined from impounding any vehicle on the basis of violating that code; and 3) The City of San Diego is enjoined from continued prosecution of, or enforcement of, any outstanding tickets issued under that section of the Municipal Code.

LJSA trustee Dave Gordon said he saw the consequences first hand. “I first found out about this in January after I saw two different cars parked in front of my house with people sleeping in them,” he said. “I called the San Diego Police Department non-emergency line and the dispatcher said: ‘We aren’t enforcing that any more.’ I asked to have a supervisor call me back and he said that the law had changed.”

Hesselgesser explained: “Based on the City’s position on vehicle habitation, our officers are hands-off now. Whereas before, back when sleeping in your car was illegal, that was enough probable cause for us to approach someone and see whether they had a criminal background or were just down on their luck and homeless. But since we don’t have that tool any more, we just have probable cause.

“If someone calls and says there has been a suspicious vehicle in their neighborhood for a while, then we have probable cause to approach the vehicle and ask for a license to find out if the occupant has a history of criminal activity.”

LJSA trustee John Sheridan opined that action was needed because “if I was homeless, the best place for me to sleep in my car would be the beach because there are showers, restrooms and other services there.” He said that makes the Shores more impacted by the problem — “It’s open season.”

Gordon added: “We’ve been asked by the police to be the eyes and ears of the community and now we’re seeing something that is obviously not right and we can’t do anything about it, the police can’t do anything about it, and we need the City Council to do something.”

Hesselgesser said the only solution would be for the City to go back and re-write the ordinance.

“It would best assist (the police) to write to your City Council representative to tell them you’d like them to re-write the ordinance in such a way that it would help (us) find out if there is criminal activity, which would give us back the toolwe need to reach out to those people,” he said.

A motion passed unanimously to write a letter to City Council member Barbara Bry outlining the board’s concerns, asking for further research and to recommend the City find a solution for where homeless people can safely sleep in their cars.

In other LJSA news

Election results: In the most recent election, six candidates ran to fill 10 seats.

All six were elected: M.O. Andi Andreae, Pam Boynton, Janie Emerson, Sharon Luscomb, Ross Rudolph and Coco Tihanyi. (Andreae was not in attendance, and will be sworn in at the next meeting)

There were also three write-in candidates, but LJSA chair Janie Emerson later told La Jolla Light they were not eligible for the board because they were not registered members at the time of the election.

To fill the remaining seats, the goal is to appoint eligible members in the next two months.

Outgoing LJSA trustee Brian Earley swears in newly elected members: Coco Tihanyi, Pam Boynton, Janie Emerson, Sharon Luscomb and Ross Rudolph. M.O. Andi Andreae was also elected, but not in attendance, and will be sworn in at the next meeting. Ashley Mackin-Solomon

Calling the police: Regarding wait times when dialing the San Diego Police Department’s non-emergency phone number — (619) 531-2000 — McKean said while dispatchers are fully staffed, confusion over which police phone number to call might be a contributing factor.

“The non-emergency number is for crimes that have already happened,” she said. “Crimes that are happening right now — someone is breaking into a house or stealing a car — that is a 9-1-1 call. On 9-1-1, the last I heard, the response time is eight seconds.”

Hesselgesser added that when calling the non-emergency phone number: “If you push the star key, you can bypass the phone tree: press 1 for this, press 5 for that. You still have to wait, but you can jump the line a bit.”

Receptions to return: Starting in June, the pre-meeting receptions will resume at 6 p.m. when Shores businesses will provide refreshments on the patio fronting the Martin Johnson House and, occasionally, speakers will make presentations. Previous speakers have included Harry Helling, executive director of Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

PRC charter cleared: La Jolla Shores Permit Review Committee charter and bylaws were approved for, presumably, the last time.

In February, LJSA approved the separation of the current PRC charter into two documents: a formal charter that would serve as an establishing document and a set of bylaws that outlines policies and procedures.

By separating the documents, changes could be made as needed to the bylaws while preserving the charter.

The revised documents were sent to the La Jolla Community Planning Association for ratification, where minor modifications were made. After the Community Planning Association approved the amended charter and bylaws, LJSA approved them one final time.

— La Jolla Shores Association next meets 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 10 at Martin Johnson House on the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 8840 Biological Grade.

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