Encinitas coalition files legal complaint regarding homeless parking lot

(Charlie Neuman)

Group alleges city violated state law, should have had Coastal Commission review


The Encinitas-based North County Citizens Coalition is taking the city of Encinitas to court over its approval of an overnight parking area for people who are living in their vehicles.

In its five-page complaint filed March 2 in Superior Court, the coalition alleges that the city violated the state’s public meeting, due process and anti-discrimination laws when it took steps over a series of months to establish the new homeless parking area on the Leichtag Foundation property.

Encinitas also has “declared a false shelter crisis,” and violated both its own ordinances and state Coastal Commission requirements regarding permits, the complaint filed by attorney Karen R. Frostrom states. In addition to seeking reimbursement for attorneys’ fees, damages and “such other relief as the court deems appropriate,” the complaint asks the court to make a series of findings, including that:

--The parking lot project cannot go on agriculturally zoned land.
--The city’s shelter crisis declaration is invalid.
--The parking lot project requires both a Coastal Commission permit and a state Environmental Quality Act determination.

Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear said she could not comment Monday, March 16, on the coalition’s court filing.

Crista Curtis, a coalition member who has been handling the organization’s press releases, said the city’s attorneys have 30 days to provide a written response to the court. Once that’s submitted, the coalition plans to ask the judge to issue a temporary injunction against the parking lot, she said Monday, March 16
The coalition hopes to obtain the injunction in mid-May when the City Council is expected to review the project’s first few months of operation and decide whether to cancel it, Curtis said.

The controversial parking lot, which has space for 25 vehicles, opened for business in early February. It’s located in the center of a 67-acre agricultural property owned by the Leichtag Foundation. The agricultural property is bordered on the west by Saxony Road and on the east by Quail Gardens Drive.

Encinitas officials approved a $1-a-year lease deal with the foundation in late January to create the parking area. The city has contracted with the nonprofit Jewish Family Service agency to manage the parking lot. JFS, which has three similar lots in San Diego, has received a $256,000 grant from the state’s Homeless Emergency Aid Program to fund the project.

The parking lot project has deeply divided the community and more than 100 people turned out for the Jan. 22 council meeting when the lease agreement and JFS contract were approved.

Project proponents have included people who work in community nonprofit organizations and volunteers for area church programs that assist the needy. MiraCosta College and the Encinitas Union District also have endorsed the proposal.

Opponents have included many people who live in the Encinitas Ranch communities near the Leichtag Foundation property, as well as people who have been active in other city issues and believe the parking lot project has been very poorly handled by the city.

-- Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune