Encinitas OKs Safe Parking Lot After Marathon Meeting

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Encinitas OKs Safe Parking Lot After Marathon Meeting

Emotions ran high on both sides of the debate over a safe parking lot at the Encinitas City Council meeting Wednesday, which ran more than six hours and required overflow room.

A safe parking lot for homeless families in Chula Vista, pictured in 2016, has since closed. Plans for a similar lot in Encinitas have angered residents there. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

This post originally appeared in the Jan. 24 Morning Report. Get the Morning Report delivered to your inbox. This post has been updated to clarify a quote from Mayor Catherine Blakespear.

After midnight Thursday, the Encinitas City Council voted 4-1 to open a safe parking program to homeless residents. Councilman Tony Kranz was the lone “no” vote.

Mayor Catherine Blakespear said she supports the program — the first to be approved in North County — because she believes it’s the moral thing to do.

“I want to protect our community character and make sure that we have as high a standard of living as we are used to and expect in Encinitas,” Blakespear said. “And in order to do that we have to do more to get in front of it because the people who are struggling unsheltered are going (up), there will be more of them.”

Emotions ran high on both sides of the debate at the meeting, which ran more than six hours and required overflow rooms. Blakespear called the turnout and passion for the plan “striking.”

The decision followed more than 100 two-minute speeches from members of the public. Some opponents of the plan stormed out of the City Council chambers during the Council members’ final comments.

Opponents aired numerous concerns with the plan, including that it would pose a risk to nearby communities and attract homeless people into the town.

Supervisor Kristin Gaspar spoke during public comment, reiterating part of her statement from a previous forum. She said Jewish Family Service, the nonprofit that will run the lot, won’t be able to screen for drugs and alcohol because of “housing first” policies.  “Homelessness is an addiction crisis disguised as a housing crisis,” she said. Yet a representative from Jewish Family Service said the agency does not allow drug or alcohol use at any of its Safe Parking Program lots, and that use of either is grounds for dismissal from the program.

Proponents said the safe parking program is not just a parking lot, but an access point for people living in their cars to connect with services to get out of homelessness. They also said there’s a lack of affordable housing in town for people living in their cars to obtain housing in Encinitas immediately and that there will be accountability over the plan because the City Council plans to evaluate the program’s success every four months.

It will be funded by a $256,000 California Homeless Emergency Aid Program grant and Encinitas will lease the 67-acre land owned by the Leichtag Foundation for $1. JFS will run the program and allow up to 25 homeless people to park with their vehicles.

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