Yesue v. Sebastopol
In October 2022, DRA, ACLU Foundation of Northern California, Legal Aid of Sonoma County, and California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. filed suit against the city of Sebastopol for enacting an ordinance that prohibits vehicles “used for human habitation” from parking anywhere within city limits during the day.
This action, aimed at driving the city’s most vulnerable residents out of town, follows a decades-long local and state failure to build affordable housing. Studio apartments in Sebastopol are currently renting for more than $2,000 per month – roughly equivalent to 100% of the monthly net income for a full-time worker making California’s minimum wage.
As a result, many long-time Sebastopol residents have been priced out of fixed housing, even though they may need to remain in the city to be near their families, jobs, schools, healthcare providers, and support networks. Read the complaint.
Unlike similar bans in other cities, the Sebastopol ordinance isn’t based on concerns about traffic safety or vehicle size. Instead, the ordinance explicitly targets vehicles “designed or altered for human habitation.” This allows police to enforce the ordinance in a discriminatory manner.
Although the ordinance prohibits parking any vehicle in which a person could sleep, the city has made it clear that they intend to enforce the ordinance only against people who are living in their vehicles or are otherwise considered “undesirable.”
In addition to being discriminatory, Sebastopol’s ordinance is uniquely punitive and enacts a “one strike, you’re out” policy that calls for confiscating and impounding people’s only means of shelter with the first citation. The threat of suddenly losing one’s shelter is immensely stressful to people already struggling to maintain stability in their lives.
Sebastopol officials’ actions have made clear that they are more concerned with driving unhoused residents out of the city than providing meaningful solutions. In 2021, the city council passed a resolution declaring the existence of a “homeless emergency.” According to the council, the “emergency” was not the human tragedy of community members being forced to live in vehicles. Rather, it was that the existence of these vehicularly-housed residents was “impacting adjacent property owners, neighborhood [sic], businesses… and the general public.”
Illustrating this is the fact that Sebastopol provides almost no shelters for residents experiencing homelessness. Options are even more limited for unhoused Sebastopol residents with disabilities because the city has failed to provide accessible facilities. Many people who have lost their homes have only one alternative to sleeping unsheltered on the street: living in their vehicles.