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SLO City Council amends code to clarify tents are prohibited in public parks

Paso Robles Police Department

Tents are now officially prohibited in San Luis Obispo’s public parks after the city council voted 3-2 to amend city code and clarify tents as structures. It’s an effort to address public concerns about an increase in vandalism and drug use.

Staff say existing code language on prohibited structures in public parks has always been interpreted to include tents, but had not been specifically defined. San Luis Obispo City Attorney Christine Dietrick said city staffers were already not allowing tents in public parks. She said this amendment was purely about clarifying the city code.

“Operationally, it has been the city’s practice for decades to not allow this type of activity in the parks,” Dietrick said.

She said the city was seeing an increase in illegal activity in the public park bathrooms and an increase in police calls regarding physical and verbal assault.

“In fact, people were not going to the park spaces [and they] were having concerns about taking their children there,” Dietrick said.

Council member Andy Pease voted against the amendment. She agreed there can be issues with tents being set up in parks but said banning them entirely is not the answer to curbing vandalism and drug use.

encampment san luis creek
Courtesy of the City of San Luis Obispo
A homeless encampment near San Luis Creek

“That illegal behavior may or may not be associated with somebody who is taking a nap at a park,” Pease said.

Vice Mayor Carlyn Christianson voted in favor of the amendment, saying it makes sense to clarify the code.

“I don’t think that it’s very realistic to not be clear about what the city and the community want, which is safe parks and housed individuals,” Christianson said.

Many San Luis Obispo residents spoke at the city council meeting to express concern that this amendment could be further policing the unhoused population. City Manager Derek Johnson said amending the code isn’t meant to do that. He said the city is working to address homelessness.

“Fundamentally, I think, at the end of the day, staff does not believe that providing tents is a humane approach to addressing homeless issues,” Johnson said.

A group of non-profit legal firms filed a lawsuit back in September against the City of San Luis Obispo claiming the city is criminalizing homelessness by breaking up encampments during the pandemic and illegally seizing and destroying individuals’ property.

The city filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The motion was denied by a judge in February.

Rachel Showalter first joined KCBX as an intern from Cal Poly in 2017. During her time in college, she anchored and reported for Mustang News at Cal Poly's radio station, KCPR. After graduating, she took her first job as a Producer at KSBY-TV. She returned to the KCBX team in October 2020, reporting daily for KCBX News until she moved to the Pacific Northwest in July of 2022. Rachel spends her off-days climbing rocks, cooking artichokes and fighting crosswords with friends.
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