Encinitas residents debate homeless parking proposal

Encinitas city staff hosted a public forum on a proposed Safe Parking program that would give North County residents experiencing homelessness a place to stay in their cars overnight.
(Luke Harold )

Safety and security were among the top concerns Encinitas residents expressed to city staff at a Jan. 14 public forum about a proposed parking area for North County residents who are experiencing homelessness and living in their cars.

“You’re putting us as a community at risk,” Encinitas resident Cyndi Darlington said.

If approved by the City Council, which is expected to vote later this month, a portion of the parking lot at the Leichtag Commons on Saxony Road would be reserved for up to 25 vehicles with homeless individuals or families from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. every day. The program would be evaluated after three months, and a series of four-month extensions could keep it going for another year.

Motorcycles, RVs and any camper-style vehicles would be prohibited. Anyone who wants to stay in the lot goes through a screening process, including checks with the Megan’s Law database and National Sex Offender Registry. Drugs and alcohol would not be allowed.

Through a state grant, the site would have security and outreach workers to help find housing for individuals and families who use the parking lot. The county sheriff would also provide law enforcement at the site.

About two thirds of approximately 50 residents who spoke during the public forum were in opposition to the proposal, which was first presented to the City Council for consideration last fall.

“This is making the city a magnet for the homeless population,” Encinitas resident Crista Curtis said.

Jennifer Gates, principal planner for the city of Encinitas, and Roy Sapa’u, city planner, moderated the event and recorded residents’ comments to help guide the discussion at the next council meeting.

Other speakers thought it would provide the type of “loving, compassionate, innovative” solution Encinitas needs for its homeless population, as one resident said. Many supporters said it’s the least the city can do.

“This is an opportunity to step up and do what I feel like is the right thing,” Encinitas resident Louise Julig said.

The idea would be implemented at no cost to Encinitas residents. Jewish Family Service of San Diego received a $256,000 grant through the California Homeless Emergency Aid Program to open a Safe Parking Program lot in North County.

If approved by the City Council, the Leichtag Foundation would lease a portion of its parking lot to the city of Encinitas for $1, and JFS would lease that section of the property from the city for $1. The leasing arrangement is required for the site to qualify as a public facility under the state’s Shelter Crisis Law, which allows cities to designate public facilities for use by people experiencing homelessness. The Encinitas City Council declared a shelter crisis in the city in October 2018.

By a 4-1 vote, council members decided in November to direct city staff to work out the details and put together a contract for consideration at their Dec. 18 meeting, which was then pushed back to Jan. 22. City Councilman Tony Kranz, the lone no vote, thought the city should find a different site, such as the city’s public works yard, the community center or a water district property on Santa Fe Drive.

According to JFS, which operates a few other Safe Parking locations in San Diego, the people who enter the program are often college students, veterans, adults 55 and older, and families with children. Last year’s homeless count tallied 764 homeless individuals in North County’s coastal cities, including 120 throughout Encinitas, Solana Beach and Del Mar.

Rebecca Palmer, chief program officer at the nonprofit Community Resource Center in Encinitas, said the center has been meeting with prospective candidates for the parking lot.

“It takes many solutions, and this is only one of those,” Palmer said.