Encinitas City Council OK’s homeless parking lot move to community center

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

Lower area of community and senior center lot to be used for overnight parking by homeless people 


Encinitas City Council has approved a usage agreement that allows Jewish Family Services to move forward with plans to relocate an overnight parking lot for homeless people to the city’s Community & Senior Center lot.

The council’s vote on Wednesday night, Oct. 13, was 4-1, with Councilman Tony Kranz opposed, to sign the agreement and give final approval to a new ordinance that will regulate the parking lot operation. In late September, when the council gave its initial approval to the proposal, the vote was 3-2, with both Kranz and Councilwoman Joy Lyndes opposed, but Lyndes voted with the council majority on Wednesday, Oct. 13.

Lyndes said she still had questions about whether the new site was the best relocation spot for JFS’s Safe Parking Lot program, but said she would vote in favor because both the new use agreement and the program were generally good concepts.

“I think (the lot) is a sanctuary for people who are very fragile,” she said.

JFS opened its Safe Parking Lot program in early 2020 on a paved area in the middle of the vast Leichtag Foundation agricultural property. It’s accessed via a private, gated roadway from Quail Gardens Drive.

The lot, which can house up to 25 vehicles, provides a safe, overnight parking space for newly homeless people to sleep in their vehicles while they resolve their housing issues. Program caseworkers help them find housing and provide financial advice, among other services. The goal is to prevent people who are in what is often termed a community’s “invisible homeless population” from spiraling downward into permanent homelessness.

Leichtag’s parking lot was to be a short-term temporary location for the program, but its use was extended by many months due to the arrival of the COVID pandemic.

The new agreement with the city will allow JFS to relocate the program to the lower parking lot of the Community & Senior Center property at 1140 Oakcrest Park Drive, starting in early December. The agreement is scheduled to terminate on June 30, 2022, but the two parties could later reach a new agreement.

The community center site is near a number of youth-serving facilities, including Oakcrest Middle School and several preschools. Its selection as the overnight homeless parking lot site has generated controversy, with many parents saying the city should have chosen a different location.

On Wednesday night, Oct. 13, City Manager Pamela Antil said that JFS did consider other city-owned sites, including City Hall, the city’s public works property and the former Pacific View School site that’s slated to become a city arts center.

“In the end, there was only one site that worked,” she said, mentioning that the Community and Senior Center’s mission aligns with the parking lot program’s goals.

Mayor Catherine Blakespear said that nearly 50 percent of the parking lot program users are over age 60 and the community center serves many needy seniors already through its lunch program.

At the community center site, the program will operate under the same rules that it had at the Leichtag Foundation, including that the site will open for business each night at 6 p.m. and everyone is required to leave by 7 a.m. the following day. The maximum number of permitted vehicles is no more than 25, and no RVs, motorcycles or camper-style vehicles are allowed.

In order to use the lot, people must be pre-screened off-site, and the screening includes a check for any outstanding warrants, as well as running the participants’ names through the National Sex Offender Registry.