The Coast News Group
Encinitas Community and Senior Center
The Safe Parking Program is scheduled to relocate to the Encinitas Community and Senior Center at the end of December. Photo courtesy of the City of Encinitas
Cities Community Encinitas Encinitas Featured News

Encinitas council denies resident’s appeal of Safe Parking location

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated. The original story appears after the updated version. 

ENCINITAS — The Encinitas City Council on Wednesday night unanimously denied a resident’s appeal seeking to overturn a decision to relocate a homeless parking lot to the city’s Community and Senior Center.

The appellant, Steve Gerken, filed his claim with the city on Nov. 3, arguing that the community was left out of the decision-making process.

Gerken told The Coast News he is not opposed to Jewish Family Services’ Safe Parking Program but takes issue with the new site and the relocation process, which he said left out other more viable sites.

“We do not have objections to the program,” Gerken said. “We just don’t know why this site was picked.

The Safe Parking lot is currently located at the Leichtag Foundation’s property on Saxony Road through the end of the month. The program offers a safe place for those experiencing homelessness and living in their vehicles to sleep overnight.

Encinitas residents have expressed their concerns with the proximity of the safe parking lot to two schools, Oak Crest Middle School and the St. John School.

Those in the program are vetted and must agree to strict rules and guidelines to remain in the program, such as rules prohibiting the use of drugs or alcohol while in the lot.

At a meeting in September about the program, Mayor Catherine Blakespear said there is no reason for residents to be concerned about safety.

“This idea that it shouldn’t be near a middle school or near a preschool, to me, they’re not dangerous so that is an irrelevant statement,” Blakespear said in September.

Blakespear and the council voted unanimously on Wednesday night to deny the appeals.

“This program helps people and hurts no one,” Blakespear said.

Councilmember Joe Mosca made his feelings on the decision very clear.

“This is not a difficult decision for me. What is difficult for me is to sit up in this chair and do nothing,” Mosca said.

Gerken said Jewish Family Service, a nonprofit organization that operates the program in partnership with the City of Encinitas, gave the city a list of 11 potential sites for the site.

However, the city said the community center was the only viable option.

The San Dieguito Union High School District, of which Oak Crest is a member school, has already openly come out against the placement of the program so close to one of its sites.

Gerken said Trustee Mo Muir has recently sent another letter to the city opposing the decision and newly appointed superintendent Dr. Cheryl James-Ward spoke on behalf of the district Wednesday night.

“It’s not the homeless they’re worried about, it’s the people that prey on the most vulnerable members of society like the young,” Gerken said. “Dr. Ward has had to develop plans to keep children safe from horrific acts of violence they had to witness to and from school as (CEO of Saan Diego charter school e3 Civic High). So she is an expert on San Diego homelessness and our public schools.”

The school district has previously said that the city did not include them in the relocation process. However, James-Ward, who began her tenure as superintendent on Nov. 1, was not with the district when the city made its decision.

At the appeal, James-Ward urged the council to reconsider the location of the safe parking lot.

“Most of the homeless may leave, but there are other homeless who come because there is a homeless parking lot,” James-Ward, who left the meeting immediately following her comments, said. “A homeless place is a magnet for other homeless, so they will also show up.”

Sheriff’s Captain Dustin Lopez of the North Coastal Station said there is no reason for him to believe the lot would attract more crime to the area.

One resident during public comments claimed a sheriff’s deputy told him they have already found drug paraphernalia near the planned new location of the parking lot, but Captain Lopez said that is untrue.

“Part of my job every morning is to look into a log to see any crimes that have been committed or any evidence that has been logged. I saw nothing on syringes being logged from that location. I saw no crime from that location,” Lopez said.

The Leichtag Foundation agreed last month to extend the use of its property for the safe parking lot through the end of the month.

The parking lot will remain at the new site at least through June of next year.

Resident appeal questions relocation of homeless parking lot

Original story published on Dec. 8, 2021

ENCINITAS — A resident is appealing the Encinitas City Council’s recent decision to relocate a homeless parking lot to the city’s Community and Senior Center, claiming the community was left out of the decision-making process.

The appellant, Steve Gerken, filed his claim with the city on Nov. 3.

Gerken told The Coast News he is not opposed to Jewish Family Services’ Safe Parking Program but takes issue with the new site and the relocation process, which he said left out other more viable sites.

“We do not have objections to the program,” Gerken said. “We just don’t know why this site was picked.

The Safe Parking lot is currently located at the Leichtag Foundation’s property on Saxony Road through the end of the month. The program offers a safe place for those experiencing homelessness and living in their vehicles to sleep overnight.

Encinitas residents have expressed their concerns with the proximity of the safe parking lot to two schools, Oak Crest Middle School and the St. John School.

Those in the program are vetted and must agree to strict rules and guidelines to remain in the program. Mayor Catherine Blakespear at a meeting in September about the program said there is no reason for residents to be concerned about safety.

“This idea that it shouldn’t be near a middle school or near a preschool, to me, they’re not dangerous so that is an irrelevant statement,” Blakespear said in September.

City Manager Pam Antil cited “threats and disturbances” were behind Leichtag Foundation’s request to relocate a homeless parking lot to the Encinitas Community and Senior Center. But the city has no records documenting these reported threats. Photo by Bill Slane
City Manager Pam Antil cited “threats and disturbances” were behind Leichtag Foundation’s request to relocate a homeless parking lot to the Encinitas Community and Senior Center. Photo by Bill Slane

Gerken said Jewish Family Service, a nonprofit organization that operates the program in partnership with the City of Encinitas, gave the city a list of 11 potential sites for the site.

However, the city said the community center was the only viable option.

The San Dieguito Union High School District, of which Oak Crest is a member school, has already openly come out against the placement of the program so close to one of its sites.

Gerken said Trustee Mo Muir has recently sent another letter to the city opposing the decision and newly appointed superintendent Dr. Cheryl James-Ward will also be speaking as part of the appeal in opposition to the decision.

“It’s not the homeless they’re worried about, it’s the people that prey on the most vulnerable members of society like the young,” Gerken said. “Dr. Ward has had to develop plans to keep children safe from horrific acts of violence they had to witness to and from school as (CEO of San Diego charter school e3 Civic High). So she is an expert on San Diego homelessness and our public schools.”

The school district has previously said that the city did not include them in the relocation process. However, James-Ward, who began her tenure as superintendent on Nov. 1, was not with the district when the city made its decision.

City staff is recommending the council deny the appeals so a change in the decision would be unlikely. For Gerken, the appeal will allow him and others concerned with the process to more thoroughly express their concerns in an open forum.

“It’s not what we expect from our City Council. Not based on what the mayor has written about transparency of the city,” Gerken said “You can’t hide controversial and very sensitive topics, not in the city of Encinitas.”

The appeals will be heard as part of the city’s regular council meeting Wednesday night.

Leave a Comment