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Santa Barbara Sleeping Ban in Parks Survives Challenge

Times Staff Writer

The Supreme Court refused Monday to hear a constitutional attack by a group of homeless people on a controversial Santa Barbara ordinance that bans sleeping overnight in public parks and on public beaches.

The court’s order, issued without comment, cleared the way for the immediate start of trials of 29 people charged with violating the ordinance in the affluent coastal community.

The justices declined to review claims by attorneys representing defendants in the case that the measure, in denying the “basic human necessity” of sleep, violated their constitutional right to travel and to equal protection of the law.

The ordinance was adopted in 1979 in response to what the City Council called an “alarming increase” in often-violent criminal behavior among transients. It bars sleeping in public parks and on beaches from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and sleeping in parking lots, streets and other public places at all times. A first offense carries a fine of $100, a second $200 and a third $250.

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An attorney for the homeless, Willard Hastings Jr. of the Legal Defense Center, expressed disappointment with the court’s action but said renewed appeals would be made if any of the defendants are convicted.

“We believe these people were singled out for prosecution because of who they were,” Hastings said. “This was a ‘victimless crime,’ if you can even call it a crime at all.”

City Atty. Steven A. Amerikaner said he was “very pleased” with the court’s order, adding that the ordinance was no different from those of many other communities.

The ban on overnight sleeping in public parks and on public beaches was among the complaints registered last month during a demonstration at Santa Barbara City Hall. Spokesmen for the homeless claimed that the city was using the anti-sleeping law to try to drive them out.

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Santa Barbara Mayor Sheila Lodge said Monday that the ordinance was intended to curb vandalism and as a safety measure.

“Sleeping overnight just isn’t safe,” she said. “Before the ordinance a couple thought it would be fun to sleep on the beach and they were murdered. Others have been killed too. . . . And during the day some homeless people hang out at parks and drink and get verbally abusive. Some parents are afraid to bring their children there. The non-homeless have some rights too.”

Thrust of Petition

At one point, the ordinance was struck down by Santa Barbara Municipal Judge Frank Ochoa as unconstitutionally vague. But it was subsequently reinstated by the appellate department of the Santa Barbara Superior Court.

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In a petition to the Supreme Court, lawyers for Harold Albert Davenport and 28 other defendants said the homeless were being prosecuted because they were poor and jobless--and that sleeping overnight in public places constituted no serious threat to the community. They estimated the number of homeless in Santa Barbara at 1,000 to 2,000.

Attorneys for the city defended the validity of the ordinance, saying it was being applied equally to tourists, residents and homeless alike. They noted also that the Supreme Court in 1984 had upheld federal regulations banning overnight sleeping and camping in national parks near the White House and Capitol (Davenport vs. California, 85-6171).

In other action, the court:

- Refused to review a challenge to the validity of a 4-year-old speeding ticket issued to a Florida lawyer. But the court majority declined to join in a sharply worded, five-page opinion by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger castigating the appeal as “utterly frivolous” and urging a $1,000 penalty on the attorney for wasted time and expense by the state.

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The ticket was issued in 1982 to Bret Clark of Miami, then a law student. Despite his protests of innocence, he was found guilty and fined $100. Clark kept the case alive with appeals in state courts, contending that the arresting officer failed to show him the digital display on his radar detection device to prove the violation. Clark, among other things, also challenged the legality of the 55-m.p.h. speed limit.

The justices were unanimous in refusing to hear Clark’s appeal (Clark vs. Florida, 85-6004), but only Burger voted to impose a penalty on the lawyer.

- Let stand a ruling by a federal appeals court in Boston ordering Massachusetts authorities to meet state standards requiring that education programs provide for the “maximum possible development” of handicapped students.

The justices refused to hear the officials’ contention that federal courts were empowered only to make them meet the lesser federal standard of ensuring the handicapped a “free appropriate public education.”

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The state argued that the ruling (Massachusetts vs. David D., 85-1469) represented an improper federal intrusion into the interpretation of state law and, if widely applied, could prove costly to states where standards differ from the federal law. However, according to court documents, only a few states--not including California--have enacted laws setting more stringent standards than those required under federal law.


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