Encinitas grants 6-month extension to homeless parking lot operators

The downtown Encinitas sign.
(Charlie Neuman / San Diego Union-Tribune)

City Council unanimously approves request from Jewish Family Service


Jewish Family Service will receive a contract extension allowing it to keep operating an overnight parking lot for homeless people on Leichtag Foundation property for six more months, the City Council decided Wednesday, May 26.

“This has been a huge success for our city in a time when we most needed it,” Councilman Joe Mosca said as he explained why he supported the proposal.

Noting that a state moratorium on evicting renters with financial troubles is scheduled to end in late June, Councilwoman Joy Lyndes said, “Now’s not the time to not move forward with this successful program.”

The contract extension will allow the program to continue using a small parking lot within the Leichtag Foundation’s farmland property until Nov. 30. Foundation officials have asked JFS, the operators of the parking lot program, to relocate after that date, noting they originally only agreed to host the program as a pilot project and not on a permanent basis.

JFS officials said last week that they’re already on the hunt for a new location and expect to have resolved the issue before the November deadline.

Leichtag Foundation, JFS and the city of Encinitas entered into their unusual three-way arrangement to launch the parking lot project in early 2020. Under the deal, Leichtag leases the lot to the city for a $1 a year, and the city then contracts with JFS to manage the operation each night.

The mostly state-grant-funded program seeks to help newly homeless people who are temporarily living in their cars find housing. It’s not aimed at helping long-term, vehicle-less people who may have mental health or drug addiction issues and are sleeping in improvised campsites near city roadways, organizers have stressed.

The Leichtag lot, which has space for up to 25 vehicles, is accessed from Quail Gardens Drive via a private roadway behind a locked gate. In order to park in the lot, users must be pre-screened at an off-site location. They are only allowed on site after 6 p.m. each night and they must leave the following morning by 7 a.m.

In the months before the lot opened in February 2020 and in its early weeks of operation, it was extremely controversial, but opposition became much more subdued after the global coronavirus pandemic hit. Council members themselves pivoted and gave the program a one-year contract instead of a four-month renewal last May.

At the Wednesday night, May 26, hearing on the six-month contract extension, two of the five public speakers opposed the parking lot project. Julie Thunder, a Cardiff resident who made an unsuccessful run for mayor last year, said the patience of the city’s residents is being tried because Encinitas isn’t enforcing its laws related to sleeping in vehicles. She said police should be directing people who are discovered camping in the cars along the city’s coastal corridor to use the lot or leave town.

Thunder also said the lot appears to be a regional facility, rather than a place for Encinitas homeless people, and the city ought to do more to make it city-resident specific by checking people’s driver’s licenses, utility bills or even yearbook photos to find out where they lived before they ended up sleeping in their cars.

Councilwoman Kellie Shay Hinze said Thunder’s view that the lot should focus only on former Encinitas residents was misguided. It’s also targeted toward people who work in Encinitas, but have become homeless, she stressed, adding that 50 percent of the people who’ve been staying there recently have jobs.

The other person who spoke in opposition to the lot, Cindy Cremona, said neighbors have raised legitimate concerns about the project and said it “should never have gone into a residential neighborhood.” It might be better housed in another town, she said.

Instead of running a parking lot project for just a few homeless people, Encinitas needs to address its growing drug and theft problems, she said, adding, “Downtown has become increasing uncomfortable to visit.”

Asked by Councilman Mosca to respond to opponents’ comments about increasing crime and homelessness, North Coastal Sheriff’s Station Capt. Herb Taft confirmed that the crime rate has increased, but said that was true countywide and wasn’t related to the parking lot. Taft added that he’s been monitoring the parking lot operation since it opened, and there’s been “no impact that I can see as far as any crime increase.”

Councilman Tony Kranz, who initially opposed the Leichtag Foundation site but later made the motion to approve the one-year contract, said foundation officials ought to be profusely thanked for stepping up to host the program amid strong community opposition.

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