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Homeless parking lot could relocate to Encinitas community center 

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

The operators of an overnight parking lot for homeless people will seek permission from the Encinitas City Council on Wednesday, Sept. 29, to relocate their operation from a privately owned, agricultural site to the city’s Community and Senior Center.

Jewish Family Service’s agreement for its current site — a small parking lot in the center of the Leichtag Foundation’s agricultural property and accessed via Quail Gardens Drive — is set to expire Nov. 30.

JFS is proposing as a replacement to relocate the program onto the lower portion of the community center’s parking lot, where it would operate under the same restrictions as it has on the Leichtag site, council agenda paperwork indicates. Among other things, the maximum number of vehicles using the new site would remain at no more than 25; on-site security guards would be present during lot operating hours; and the lot would open for business each night at 6 p.m. and everyone would be required to leave by 7 a.m. the next day.

Eligible participants must have a functioning vehicle and be pre-screened off-site before they can enter the lot and park overnight.

Funded primarily by state grant money, the Safe Parking Lot program aims to prevent newly homeless people from becoming permanently homeless by providing them a safe space to sleep in their vehicles while they look for permanent housing and gain assistance from social service organizations. Organizers stress that their program serves people with vehicles, or people they describe as the “invisible” homeless population. It doesn’t serve the people that the general public most often associates with homelessness — people who’ve been homeless for years, don’t own vehicles, sleep in the bushes in makeshift campsites and may have drug addiction or mental health issues.

Earlier this year, Leichtag officials asked JFS to start taking steps to relocate the Safe Parking Lot program, noting they originally only agreed to host the program as a pilot project and not on a permanent basis. The city of Encinitas is involved because it leases the parking lot property from Leichtag and then contracts with JFS to operate the lot.

During Wednesday’s meeting, the City Council will consider the new relocation proposal, decide whether to direct city employees to create a new agreement and consider a city ordinance setting standards and procedures for lot operations.

The meeting, which is being conducted online, starts at 6 p.m., but in order to provide public comment on the agenda item, people need to register by 4 p.m. that day. To register, visit: https://encinitas.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_JlKE2KRLRLKGB9wgPsx-6Q

People who register will not be shown on video; their comments will be audio only. Typically, the standard public speaking time limit for most agenda items is three minutes per person, but for controversial topics where dozens of speakers may participate, individual speaking times may be reduced — often to two minutes each.

There’s also the option of submitting comments in advance via email. Those emails will be distributed to City Council members and put into the official meeting record, but will not be read aloud during the meeting, city agenda information states. To participate in this manner, people must submit their emails by 3 p.m. on the day of the meeting.

Public comment on the item is forecasted to be lengthy. By late last week, more than 20 people already had emailed in comments. All of them opposed the proposal and said the community center site was an extremely poor choice for a homeless parking lot.

Located at the busy intersection of Balour Drive and Encinitas Boulevard, the community center is next to Oak Crest Middle School, the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito and a city park. It’s also within a short walking distance of several preschools. It’s a far different location than the current site, which is in the middle of the Leichtag agricultural property, is accessed via a private, gated road and can’t be seen from the public roadways, opponents stressed.

“Please tell me that our city has not gone crazy,” wrote Encinitas resident Karlyn Bornholdt in her emailed comments. “It is not a good idea to put drug addicted, mentally unstable homeless people in a lot next to Oak Crest Middle School and the community center where kids play sports. I cannot believe this is even contemplated.”

Lucile Lynch, the interim superintendent of San Dieguito Union High School District, wrote that she wanted city officials to pull the item off the council agenda and meet with district officials to discuss the proposal’s impact to the adjacent middle school.

Others said the parking lot should remain where it is now on the Leichtag property, or relocate to various other locations — everything from gas station sites to City Hall was suggested.

To view Wednesday meeting either live or later as a recording, visit: https://encinitasca.gov/Government/Agendas-Webcasts


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