Glendale's City Attorney is reviewing the city's ban on living in vehicles, which advocates say unfairly targets the homeless, following a federal appellate court decision that struck down a similar ordinance in Los Angeles.
At first glance, City Atty. Mike Garcia said Glendale's law is more clear than that of Los Angeles, a key factor for the 9th Circuit Court's June 19 decision, but he still planned to review the issue further.
Other legal experts disagreed though, describing Glendale's ban on living in vehicles as "unconstitutionally vague," the same language the three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court used in its unanimous decision.
One of the most troubling parts is that the ban, which is packaged with overall restrictions on camping, includes the phrase "in light of all of the circumstances," said Eric Tars, senior attorney for the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.
"This sort of 'all the circumstances' language sets up a situation which promotes arbitrary discriminatory enforcement: one person's beach blanket, cooler, and mini-grill on the back seat could be targeted as prohibited "camping paraphernalia," while another's could simply be seen as preparations for a picnic," Tars said in an email.
The "ruling made it clear that this type of law could not be enforced in an arbitrary and discriminatory fashion that targets poor and homeless people."
While much of Glendale's anticamping ordinance is very specific, the portion banning "living in a parked trailer, camper shell, motor home, or any motor vehicle" at "any public park, street, sidewalk or other public property" mirrors Los Angeles' prohibition on using a vehicle "as living quarters either overnight, day-by-day, or otherwise," legal experts said.
The three-judge panel in its decision stated that the Los Angeles "statute does not define 'living quarters,' or specify how long — or when — is 'otherwise.'"
"It's hard to see how the Glendale ordinance isn't at least as vague and it's probably more vague even than the Los Angeles ordinance," Gary Blasi, law professor emeritus at UCLA, said by phone.
For example, he said, one may be sleeping in their car after too many drinks to avoid driving under the influence, while another may be doing the same activity because they don't have a place to go. The law would have to apply to both equally, but it likely does not, Blasi said.
"It's pretty clear from the context of the ordinance it is directed at people who specifically don't have choices," Blasi said. "There are not a lot of people spending their vacations in RVs on the streets of Glendale."
The number of homeless in Los Angeles far exceeds that of Glendale — tens of thousands compared to hundreds — but ordinances in all cities should be clear regardless of the population, experts said. Tars called on Glendale to rescind its ban on living in cars until it clarified the ordinance so that it does not violate the appellate court's ruling.
The city of Los Angeles plans to write a new ordinance, and Blasi said he expects other cities to take note of the appellate court's opinion.
"Few people would choose to live in their cars if they had adequate alternatives," Tars said. "The fact that they are forced to do so says more about our choices as a society not to ensure the right to adequate housing than it does about the choices of the individuals simply trying to survive."
Follow Brittany Levine on Twitter: @brittanylevine