Following in the footsteps of neighboring Vista and Encinitas, Oceanside will soon have a safe parking lot program for unhoused residents living in their cars.
The City Council on Oct. 18 unanimously directed staff to develop a safe parking lot program. Over the next few months, staff will work to identify potential locations and seek interested service providers to operate the lot at little or no cost to the city.
The parking lot will also include access to restrooms and other similar amenities.
City Manager Jonathan Borrego said he expects staff will bring back options for a safe parking lot program in January.
Encinitas launched its safe parking lot program a few years ago, with Vista following suit earlier this year. Both parking lot programs are operated by the nonprofit Jewish Family Services of San Diego, which operates several other safe parking lots throughout the county.
Councilmember Eric Joyce first proposed the idea to Councilmember Rick Robinson, who was at first hesitant about the program until he spoke with Vista Mayor John Franklin, who said his city’s parking lot has been successful so far.
Robinson indicated to staff that the parking lot program would not serve as a “campsite”; rather, the lot would operate from evening to morning hours and would preferably serve vans and smaller vehicles, not including RVs.
Joyce said there are “many benefits” to having a safe parking program.
“It provides dignity and privacy, access to basic amenities, stability and routine that folks need to have to come out of their situation,” Joyce said, adding that the lot would be run by “well-trained service providers” who can connect unhoused individuals to more permanent housing.
The safe parking lot proposal received a significant amount of support from community members.
“We believe this is a positive step for the city, and we urge your approval of this proposal,” said Mary Thompson on behalf of the League of Women Voters. “It’s crucial that we offer compassionate solutions like this to support our most vulnerable residents.”
Oceanside resident Jimmy Figueroa, who serves as executive director of the Operation HOPE-North County homeless shelter for single women and families in Vista, said the majority of his shelter’s residents are Oceanside families who became homeless due to a lack of livable wages.
Approximately 60% of the shelter’s population served last year were children.
“One of the things we hear from many of our parents is the fear of not being safe at night living in their cars with kids. What happens when one of their kids has to use the restroom and then finds one that they can use and has to relocate parking lots hoping that no one sees them,” Figueroa said. “This (safe parking lot program) is a critical need in our community.”
While staff has yet to determine what cost, if any, the safe parking lot program will have, Mayor Esther Sanchez said she did not want the city to use its inclusionary housing in-lieu fees and prefers to save those funds to build more permanent, affordable housing in the city. She also noted speaking with Encinitas Mayor Tony Kranz, who indicated that his city did not pay anything for its safe parking lot program.