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An aerial view of Jewish Family Service’s Leichtag Commons in Encinitas, which contains an overnight parking lot for homeless residents living out of their cars. The Encinitas City Council approved the Safe Parking Program on Jan. 22. Photo via Google Earth
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Local group files lawsuit over homeless parking lot

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated to include a statement from the Jewish Family Service.

ENCINITAS — The battle over an overnight parking lot for homeless people living out of their cars in Encinitas is far from over between residents who are against the lot and the city.

North County Citizens Coalition (NC3) filed a complaint on March 2 in Superior Court against the city for violations of the Brown Act, violations of due process, declaring a false shelter crisis, placing a homeless facility in an agricultural zone, and evading CEQA and Coastal Commission requirements.

“We filed a lawsuit because it’s the only way we can get the city to stop what they’re doing,” Crista Curtis, who is part of NC3, said in a March 10 phone interview. “They rushed it through, they did things illegally, and they need to go back and do it the right way.”

The Encinitas City Council approved the Safe Parking Program on Jan. 22. The lot, located in Leichtag Commons, a 67.5-acre property in Encinitas, and run by Jewish Family Service (JFS), opened the first week of February.

NC3 said the Encinitas City Council held closed session meetings in October and November of last year and had discussions in violation of the Brown Act. The group said the city is using the shelter crisis to evade CEQA and Coastal Commission requirements, and that it violated its own ordinance by permitting a residential homeless facility in an agricultural zone.

JFS operates three other Safe Parking Program lots in the city of San Diego, which NC3 says are located in industrial zones.

The Encinitas lot allows for a maximum of 25 cars from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. and is funded with a $256,000 HEAP grant awarded to JFS.

Curtis said since the lot opened she hasn’t seen more than seven cars there overnight.

“They’re supposed to have 25 cars in there, I already thought $250,000 for 25 cars was an insane amount of money,” Curtis said. “You could do such better things for homeless people than put them in cars. For $10,000 a vehicle you could have them in an apartment for at least six months, I mean you could do better things with the money.”

According to the JFS website, the $256,000 will help cover personnel costs such as direct service staff, case managers, program supervisor and administrative staff, in addition to operational costs such as security, insurance, staff development and training, and cleaning.

Curtis pointed out that the complaint by NC3 is just one of several Superior Court cases the city is facing, as there are currently eight pending cases and one in mediation against the city since last year.

She said there have been 68 cases against the city since 2007.

“This council has demonstrated that it does not listen to its residents,” Curtis said. “We had 200 residents show up to the council meeting in January asking for the lot to be stopped and for a better solution than sleeping in cars. (Instead) the council listened to non-resident employees or members of nonprofits and other special interest groups.”

According to an NC3 news release, last month, the California Department of Housing and Community Development sent a letter to the city of Encinitas claiming that Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear’s own statements regarding the implementation of the Safe Parking Program — that it not “prioritize Encinitas residents” and that it is not for the “mentally ill” or “chronically homeless” — is unlawful discrimination against chronically homeless, disabled, and mentally ill people.

“These attempts to help people are really hurting the community and they’re not getting the homeless people out of their situation,” Curtis said. “The only people benefitting from it is JFS, because it’s not our homeless people and it’s not our community who are benefitting.”

When reached for comment, Encinitas city spokesman Paul Brencick said, “The City has no comments at this time as this matter involves open litigation.”

In response to the complaint, JFS released the following statement: “Jewish Family Service remains committed to providing vulnerable families and individuals in North County with a safe place to park and sleep, along with vital resources and tools, and a welcoming environment to help them stabilize their lives and transition back into housing.”


Theresa Beauchamp March 19, 2020 at 8:36 am

Tawny: You need to do a follow up article to address the fact that the majority of Encinitas residents supported Encinitas City Council’s approval of the JFS Safe Parking Program. Crista made many false statements that you did not challenge. For instance, our City Council meeting on January 22nd had 200 attendees AND the majority of Encinitas citizens who spoke (including myself and husband) supported the program. Just because the NIMBYS are the loudest voices and meanest spirits in the room doesn’t make them the majority. Bravo to our Mayor and City Council who still did the right thing despite being personally slandered and threatened.

Vicki Campbell March 12, 2020 at 10:05 am

Tawny, thank you for covering this important issue.

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