Encinitas delays vote on homeless parking lot until mid-January


Extra time needed to work out the details, mayor reports


Debate on a proposal to create a safe, overnight parking lot for people who are living in their cars has been rescheduled from this week to next month’s City Council meeting.

“Basically, the three parties have not quite worked out the details,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear said.

The three parties are the Jewish Family Service, the Leichtag Foundation and the city of Encinitas. Jewish Family Service, which operates three homeless parking lots in San Diego, is seeking to create a new overnight parking area for 25 vehicles in Encinitas. The Leichtag Foundation plans to provide the lot, a paved area on its property along Saxony Road near the Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA .

And, the city of Encinitas is proposed to be the link between the two organizations, leasing the land from the foundation for a $1 year and contracting with Jewish Family Service to manage the operation each night.

The proposed contract between the three parties now won’t come before the City Council until Wednesday, Jan. 22, because the council isn’t scheduled to have any meetings in late December or early January.

The parking lot proposal was publicly unveiled at the Nov. 20 council meeting. At that session, the council voted to direct city employees to put together a contract in time for the council’s final meeting of the year on Dec. 18. That didn’t happen.

Trying to nail down an agreement that’s satisfactory to three different entities, which all have their own attorneys, is going to take a little bit more time, the mayor said. Issues that they’re working on include program viability and neighborhood security concerns, Blakespear said.

“It does seem like the three parties are working diligently to come up with an agreement that works out for all three,” she added, saying that she was very hopeful about the prospects.

Michael Hopkins, chief executive officer of Jewish Family Service, said Tuesday, Dec. 17, that his organization now can wait until January for a council vote on the proposed contract. Jewish Family Service sought an extension on its project grant funding after the November council meeting where many residents turned out to voice concerns about the organization’s plans.

The Regional Task Force on the Homeless has agreed to a one-month extension on the grant money so Jewish Family Service can “evaluate and address community concerns” about the proposed parking lot, Hopkins said. However, he said, the grant extension only gives the organization until the end of January to get approval for its proposal and start the launch process.

Encinitas residents have been split over the proposal. At the November council meeting, nearly 50 people provided public comment on the parking lot plan, with roughly two-thirds of them in favor and a third opposed.

Proponents, who included many volunteers for nonprofit programs that help the needy, said the parking lot would provide a safe place for people who are temporarily homeless due to a financial crisis. They said housing in San Diego County is extremely costly and that puts many people living paycheck-to-paycheck at risk of homelessness.

Opponents, who primarily live near the proposed Saxony Road site, said they weren’t opposed to helping homeless people, but said the site wasn’t an appropriate spot because it is located near many homes. The parking lot proposal will likely add traffic to an already congested roadway, increase criminal activity in the area and reduce the value of their homes, they said.

Jewish Family Service representatives told the council that their proposed parking lot will serve a different population than the homeless people that Encinitas residents likely see sleeping in the bushes or meandering about town with big bags. In order to use the lot, participants need to have a functioning vehicle that they’re sleeping in, Hopkins told the council, adding that these typically are newly homeless people who want to get back into housing.

Lot participants will need to call in advance and be pre-screened before they can stay in the lot. The lot’s operating hours will be 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. and people will be required to sleep in their cars; they can’t set up tents. Portable toilets will be provided, but not showers. At their three San Diego lots, about a third of the participants are senior citizens and more than 50 percent are people who have a job, Hopkins said.

— Barbara Henry is a freelancer for The San Diego Union-Tribune