11/24/19: Safe Parking Lot Coming to Encinitas

Sometimes doing the right thing can be complicated, and not everyone agrees it’s the right thing.

Last week, I believe Encinitas did the right thing. We took a leadership role in North County by approving a Safe Parking proposal to give 25 families who have lost their homes, but still have a car, a safe place to sleep at night. The Leichtag Foundation on Saxony Road in Encinitas has generously offered space on their property for the program.

At least 51 people or families already sleep in their cars in Encinitas, according to the annual homeless Point-in-Time count. This number is considered on the low side. The proposed parking lot – at only 25 spots – will serve people already in Encinitas and provide them with services and counseling to help them get back into traditional housing.

Considering how many Encinitas residents already live in cars, I don’t believe this parking lot will be a magnet for homeless people from outside the area; it will serve our residents.   

Additionally, participants have to interview and qualify to be registered with the program – it’s not first come, first served. No drugs or alcohol are allowed, as it’s unlawful to drive and be impaired. 

Jewish Family Services, a reputable and highly regarded organization, will run the program. They have been instrumental in helping legal asylum seekers in the United States, and together with the ACLU and other partners, led the legal effort to end the inhumane family separation policy at the border.

It’s fortunate that Encinitas has the opportunity to benefit from this program, and that the ever-benevolent Leichtag Foundation is willing to open their arms and hearts a little wider to allow this use on their property. 

While homelessness continues to grow even now, during a time of record high employment, I worry about the inevitable downturn in the economy when a whole new wave of people lose their jobs and lack the income to pay their rent or mortgage. 

When people lose their homes for any reason – a large medical bill, job loss, death or injury of a family wage earner; you name it – many still have a vehicle. If we don’t want them to fall further down into actual street homelessness, it’s critical that help be provided at this stage.

The Safe Parking program offering overnight parking for up to 25 cars is proposed for part of a parking lot, indicated in red in the top photo, on the Leichtag Foundation property, formerly the Ecke poinsettia ranch. The tentative location on the Leichtag Commons shown here may be changed to another location on the property. (Top photo from Google Earth, bottom photo from KUSI News video.)

Many who are living in their cars don’t even consider themselves homeless, and most exit from the Safe Parking lot within four months. Assisting them at this pivotal stage will help us avoid the creation of the tent cities that have sprung up many cities – including affluent, coastal cities like Encinitas.

Of course we don’t want that in Encinitas, and I know that no city welcomes people to live in places that are not fit for human habitation. Encinitas should do everything it can to provide alternatives for those who may otherwise end up creating encampments in canyons, parks, under freeway bridges, and on city streets. 

The reality that underlies the homeless epidemic is daunting. For example, for every 100 households in the minimum-wage earning category, there are only 37 homes that are priced at a cost that they can afford. I see the housing market as a game of musical chairs. When the music stops, someone is left without a home because of the scarcity. The need for Safe Parking programs is a reflection of this. 

I’m incredibly grateful that private philanthropic money is also being dedicated to help those in this Safe Parking program. Encinitas’ Coastal Community Foundation has awarded $30,000 in flex funds that people can use for things like security deposits, first month’s rent, car repairs, and storage fees. Many who lose their homes put their belongings in storage because they plan on getting new places to live soon. 

I predict that nearly every city will eventually have Safe Parking lots. As the housing crisis deepens, and the homeless population continues to grow, we are going to need even more places for people to live – cars, shelters, mental health facilities, and actual housing. 

The Safe Parking program here will be closely regulated, will include 24-hour security, and will be monitored to prevent negative consequences for the adjacent neighborhood. Based on my tour of one of the other Safe Parking lots run by JFS in San Diego, and the profiles of the people who park there overnight, I’m confident that very few people will even know that they are there.

Based on information provided about people living in their cars, I expect the population to include car-bound students attending Mira Costa college, families of local elementary school children, elderly people, especially women, and referrals from the YMCA and the Community Resource Center. 

Here’s more information on this Safe Parking plan from the Encinitas AdvocateKPBSKUSI News, and 10 News.

More housing news…

Addressing California’s housing crisis is one of today’s greatest challenges. Every piece of this housing puzzle is fraught, controversial, difficult and divisive. My concern is that we’ll continue to struggle to plan and build more housing, and the result will be more multi-generational households (which has positive aspects), more housing overcrowding, more homeless, less mobility from one city to another, and more community division as YIMBY’s (Yes in My Backyard) and NIMBY’s (No in My Backyard) clash. 

The profound difficulties around building more housing were illuminated this week when, at the same time that we were considering the Safe Parking proposal, we also received the first application for housing on the only site upzoned in Olivenhain as part of the housing element update that was required to become compliant with state housing laws. The site is located on the corner of Rancho Santa Fe Road and Encinitas Blvd., and we’ve received  a large number of emails from those concerned and upset about the project.

There are still a lot of serious issues to work out. The city’s priority is to make sure that the project provides a high degree of quality in the design, materials, function and aesthetic. 

On a related note, last week the SANDAG board finalized the methodology and numbers for the next housing cycle. The approval happened only after five previous votes on alternate proposals failed.

I’m impressed by the City of San Diego’s steady leadership on this topic. They are accepting a larger portion of the housing than their current population would dictate; more than the last housing cycle. They were assigned 107,901 housing units, versus 88,096 in the previous cycle, out of the county total of 171,685 housing units.

Encinitas was assigned 1,554 housing units, after the previous housing cycle assigned us 2,353. The methodology of distribution was entirely based on the number of jobs and the amount of transit, without any carve-outs or exceptions. Solana Beach was assigned 875 housing units, up from 340 in the previous cycle, and was particularly unhappy, along with several other cities.  

As the mayor of a city that spent years in a losing legal and regulatory battle with the state over our housing plan, I’m relieved that the SANDAG board didn’t go down the path of proposing a methodology that the state was sure to reject.  

You might be interested in this lively take on the current SANDAG saga from the Voice of San Diego. Scroll down to “This Week’s SANDAG Squabble.”

Encinitas granny flat program lauded

In more pleasant housing news, Encinitas was recently honored to receive a prestigious state accolade, the Helen Putnam award, for our “Housing for Generations” accessory dwelling unit or granny flat program. Granny flats are the easiest type of housing to say “yes” to, and we’re continuing to go all-in on getting them built here in Encinitas. Here’s the Coast News article.

And finally, our esteemed colleague Councilmember Joe Mosca was chosen as the chair of our newly formed Community Choice Energy organization, officially renamed San Diego Community Power. He’s a great choice for this given his professional background with utilities, his deep knowledge base and his regional collaborative approach. Go, Joe!

In service,

P.S. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your loved ones! I hope you celebrate it surrounded by those you treasure.