The Coast News Group
An area at Leichtag Commons has been OK'd by council as a landing spot for homeless car dwellers. It will be the first of its kind in North County. Photo by Abraham Jewett

Encinitas to provide safe parking lot for homeless

ENCINITAS — The Encinitas City Council voted last week to move forward with a plan to create a safe parking lot for people who live out of their cars.

After the issue was discussed and debated for nearly four hours, the council voted 4-1 to start negotiating with Jewish Family Service, with the goal of opening the lot on the Leichtag Foundation property by the end of the year. Councilman Tony Kranz was opposed.

It will be the fourth lot of its kind — and the first in North County — run by Jewish Family Services. The other three lots operated by the nonprofit are in the city of San Diego.

The council expects to vote on the contract on Dec. 18, at its final meeting of the year. Members also plan to do a review of the lot, based on data, after it’s been operating for six months.

“The future is for every city to have these, and to have multiples of them, but right now this is our first and I’d like to see how it goes,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear said just before the vote.

The lot, located at 441 Saxony Road, will be a resource for the estimated 350 people who live out of their cars in North County. It will have space for 25 vehicles and be open from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. It will have overnight security, bathrooms, hand-washing stations, food and resources to help people get back into permanent housing.

Everyone is screened as to rule out anyone on the registered sex offender list or those with violent criminal convictions. Drugs and alcohol are not allowed on the lot.

Michael Hopkins, CEO of Jewish Family Service, said the lot would be funded by the state.

Dozens of people voiced their opinion on the plan, with more than 30 in support of the lot and roughly 15 opposed to it.

Among those who opposed the lot, many said that while they’d like to see a plan that helps those living in their cars they were against it being at that location.

Cardiff resident Randall Sims, who said he runs an organization in Carlsbad that feeds the homeless once a month, said it’s important to create a place for those living in their cars, but the proposed lot is “a terrible place” because it’s right next to the Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA.

“I’m just concerned about what’s going to be happening with those children, located directly across with homeless people just running out of there at 6 a.m. … I’m not sure where they’re going to go,” he said. “Not all of them are vagrants, the problem is what about the ones who we have to worry about.”

Matt Wheeler, who lives near the proposed lot, said he thinks the densely populated residential area is a “strange first place to do this.”

“There will be negative consequences, they don’t deny that there will be, and we’re going to be a guinea pig along Saxony Road for those negative consequences,” he said.

Greg Lefevre said he wanted the city to let Jewish Family Service run the lot privately, as he argues it opens Encinitas up to too many liability issues.

“Every time a municipality has been involved, bad things happen: legal problems with the city, the program gets abused, the participants don’t benefit, and the neighbors really suffer,” Lefevre said.

Many of the supporters of the proposed lot were longtime volunteers of programs that aid the homeless like Shower of Blessings, a mobile shower program, and Fill-A-Belly, a community meal program.

Randa Krakow, who said she’s volunteered at Fill-A-Belly for eight years, said most of the people she’s met living in their cars are “regular people like you and me, just going through a rough patch.”

“I think it’s a wonderful idea to have a safe place for people to park without the fear of being accosted, arrested in the middle of the night, or getting a ticket which they’re unable to pay,” she said.

Katherine Ward, a Shower of Blessings volunteer who lives near the lot, said she finds it hypocritical that her neighbors in the Saxony region say they want to help but don’t want it in their community.

“I think they’re turning a blind eye,” she said. “There’s no reason why we can’t make this a better situation for the people who are already suffering every day in our community and I think it’s our responsibility to find a way to serve them.”

Before the vote, Kranz proposed a motion to explore operating the lot at other sites, including the city’s public works yard, the city’s community center or a water district lot on Santa Fe Drive. The motion failed to get a second from the other council members.