Relocation of homeless parking lot in Encinitas narrowly wins approval

The parking lot at the Encinitas Community and Senior Center.
(Karen Billing)

Program to move from Leichtag Foundation property to the lower parking lot of city’s Community and Senior Center


An overnight parking lot for homeless people who are temporarily living in their vehicles can relocate from privately owned agricultural land onto the city’s Community and Senior Center property, the Encinitas City Council narrowly decided Wednesday, Sept. 29.

In a 3-2 vote, with council members Tony Kranz and Joy Lyndes opposed, the council backed the relocation proposal; directed city employees to draw up a usage agreement with the lot managers; and started an approval process for a new city ordinance to regulate the operation.

“I personally believe there is not a better site in the city of Encinitas for this,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear said, mentioning that the community center already offers a host of programs for needy people, including a senior lunch program.

Council members Kellie Shay Hinze and Joe Mosca, who also supported the proposal, said the city had limited options when it came to obtaining a new site for the Safe Parking Lot program, which is currently operating at Leichtag Foundation property under a lease agreement that ends Nov. 30.

Mosca called the community center “one of the most viable and best fits we have,” while Hinze said it was “the only place in our city that has all that we’re looking for.”

While both Kranz and Lyndes voted against the relocation proposal, they cited different reasons for doing so.

Lyndes said she strongly disagreed with the council majority’s view that the community center property, which is located near the busy intersection of Encinitas Boulevard and Balour Drive, was the best spot, saying lot users won’t feel comfortable staying in such a highly visible location. It’s nothing like the current “low profile” site, which is tucked inside the middle of the Leightag property and accessed via a private, gated roadway from Quail Gardens Drive, she noted.

“I want this program to succeed and I don’t think this is the right location,” she said.

Kranz said he might be able to support the proposed site, but not the process by which it was picked. Before putting the item up for a council vote, the city should have worked with the San Dieguito Union High School District, which operates Oak Crest Middle School next to the community center, to resolve any potential concerns the district might have, Kranz said, adding that this might have prevented the district’s board from taking a position opposing the proposal earlier this week.

“This notion of steamrolling the school district bothers me quite a bit,” he said.

At a special meeting on Sept. 27, the San Dieguito Union High School (SDUHSD) board passed a resolution in opposition to the parking lot being located across the street from the middle school without their participation in planning and due to the lack of coordination efforts by the city.

SDUHSD Interim Superintendent Lucile Lynch said the proposal took them completely by surprise and had not been discussed in liaison meetings between the district and city. The district’s resolution requested that the council pull the item from consideration until there could be a true partnership between the two.

SDUHSD Trustee Katrina Young was the sole vote opposed to the board’s resolution: “I would like a more compassionate approach,” she said, acknowledging that the district has 33 homeless students and they may be the ones who would take advantage of this type of program.

Funded primarily by state grant money, the Safe Parking Lot program aims to prevent newly homeless people from becoming permanently homeless by providing them with 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, sleep in the bushes in makeshift campsites and may have drug addiction or mental health issues.

The parking lot entrance on Balour Drive, across from Oak Crest Middle School.
The parking lot entrance on Balour Drive, across from Oak Crest Middle School.

(Karen Billing)

The Safe Parking Lot opened as a temporary pilot project on the Leichtag property in early 2020. The parking program was the result of an unusual, three-way agreement between Jewish Family Service, the Leichtag Foundation and the city of Encinitas. Under the agreement, Leichtag has leased its lot to the city for a $1 a year, and the city has contracted with JFS to manage it.

Earlier this year, Leichtag officials asked JFS and the city to find a new site, noting that they had only agreed to house the parking lot on a temporary basis and that timeframe had been unexpectedly extended because of the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic.

During Wednesday’s meeting, JFS Chief of Staff Chris Olsen told the council that the program has helped 43 households find housing since it began. Nearly everyone who has participated has reported that this is their first time being homeless, 50 percent have at least one job and nearly 50 percent are over age 60, he said.

At the community center site, the program is proposed to have the same operating rules as it did at Leichtag site, including that:

  • The site will open for business each night at 6 p.m. and everyone has to arrive before 9:30 p.m;
  • Everyone is required to leave by 7 a.m. the following day;
  • On-site security guards must be present throughout the night and case management staff will be on-site from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. each night;
  • The maximum number of permitted vehicles is no more than 25;
  • No RVs, motorcycles or camper-style vehicles are allowed;
  • People who use the lot must be pre-screened off-site before they can enter the lot and park overnight, and the screening will include a check for any outstanding warrants as well as running the names through the National Sex Offender Registry;
  • No visitors are allowed;
  • No smoking, alcohol or illegal drugs are allowed;
  • Any illegal drug use will result in immediate disqualification and site security employees will call the county Sheriff’s department to report the issue.

— Union Tribune Community Press reporter Karen Billing contributed to this report.