If you build it they will come.
Residents in a coastal beach town in North San Diego County are fighting to prevent a regional program for the homeless from anchoring itself inside a dense residential neighborhood, zoned agricultural and directly next to a YMCA and pre-school.
Two forums were held this month where the public voiced their outrage and concerns over the homeless situation. A proposed parking lot for the homeless to sleep in their cars has created tension and distrust between the constituents, non-profit and city officials. The residents are angry about the lack of transparency with the proposed lot, are demanding answers and better solutions. Encinitas residents want to protect their city from becoming another haven for chronic homeless vagrants that are creating havoc throughout the state.
Constituents erupted in anger when they heard about the program near the end of December on the NextDoor app instead of through the city.
San Diego County Supervisor Kristin Gasper discovered the mayor, city council, and city attorney held closed door sessions to discuss the project. Gaspar discussed her findings during the Jan. 9 public meeting held at the at local library. The public had no advanced warning, public notification or community forums. Thus, the residents in Encinitas formed an online coalition to fight back against the city.
Attorney Julie Hamilton sent a letter on Jan. 16 to the city claiming these meetings violated the Brown Act.
“The nature of the violation of Brown Act is as follows: The City Council held two closed sessions to discuss issues and solutions related to the safe parking program under the auspices of the real estate negotiations exception to the Brown Act. The closed session agenda for October 30, 2019 and November 13, 2019 identified the discussion as “Real Estate Negotiations” and did not describe a discussion of the legal real property issues and solutions associated with the safe parking program,” wrote Hamilton (Letter below).
In November a proposal for a Safe Parking program was presented to city council with a 4-1 vote to move forward. Residents however, claim they were unaware of the additional meetings Gasper exposed.
The proposed parking lot came about from a grant by California Homeless Emergency Assistance Program or HEAP that was obtained by the Jewish Family Services in Encinitas for $250,000. The grant is to open a safe parking program lot in North County. The reasoning was many homeless families need safe places to park and sleep.
Jewish Family Services then partnered with the Leichtag Foundation which owns the 67.5 acre Paul Ecke Ranch. The ranch located at 441 Saxony Road is in an area zoned for agriculture and next to the Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA.
The deal made said the city would lease the land for $1 and allow up to 25 homeless people to park their vehicles in a parking lot on the ranch that sits in the middle of residential neighborhoods. The residents are concerned this arrangement could open the door to changing the zoning of this property.
Resident Crista Curtis said, “We should be very concerned for our freedom if the city uses its police powers to abandon zoning at Leichtag in order to place this lot there.”
The city is accused by Gaspar and residents of Encinitas of misusing a homeless crisis resolution.
“The city declared there was a shelter crisis using a 2017 Point in Time count. The city also deceived the public by saying it was prioritized for veterans and families,“ said Gaspar. “Encinitas city officials used the 2017 PIT count resolution to declare a crisis but they needed 125 homeless in the city to declare an official crisis. The last official count had the city with only 84 homeless. Declaring a shelter crisis allows the city to thwart the zoning laws, sidestep voter approval and skip environmental reviews.“
Gaspar also spoke out against the HEAP Grant and sided with the residents who were concerned the program will be a magnet to homeless from out of the area.
Gasper said it was in the city’s best interest to help the homeless and find solutions that are not tied to HEAP.
“We can do better than offering our homeless a parking spot to sleep in their cars. Is that the best we can do?” Gasper asked.
Although the grant from HEAP is $256, 369 only 5% of that will go to the homeless.
• $159,287 of Heap grant goes towards salaries.
• $84,874 of Heap grant goes towards operating costs.
• $12, 208. of Heap grant goes towards homeless.
The public also raised concerns that JFS is an out of town organization and there would be no local accountability. Gaspar pointed out that JFS’s CEO makes $345, 455 and considers itself a non-profit.
One resident who spoke out at the Jan. 9 meeting asked, “If this is just a great program why is every other city in North County rejecting it?’
Jewish Family Services runs three other Safe Parking Lots in San Diego but this would be the first in North County.
The city organized a neighborhood forum at a senior community center on Jan. 14 to address questions about the program. During the presentation, city officials told the audience people with registered cars and valid insurance can spend the night from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. It will have bathrooms and over night security, hand washing tools, food and resources to help people get back on their feet. The city also also said those parking overnight would be screened under Megans laws and violent criminal convictions.
Although city officials told the audience drugs and alcohol will not allowed on the lot, according to California Housing First Laws the city can not demand anything of the homeless.
Residents also pointed out to city officials the intake form doesn’t ask for the social security number of the homeless so residents are asking how will JFS know who they are screening?
“This is a scam,” said Encinitas resident Crista Curtis. “We know this will be a magnet for other homeless to come. They are already coming to our town.”
Residents are accusing the city of using the Shelter Crisis and the Safe Parking program as an excuse to abandon the agriculture zoning that the Eke family designated for perpetuity.
The Mayor of Encinitas, Catherine Blakespear, who supports the Safe Parking program said, “Many who are living in their cars 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 in many cities – including affluent, coastal cities like Encinitas.“
“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,” said Blakespear.
At the Jan. 14 public meeting residents lined up to speak for two minutes each about their support or opposition of the program.
Everyone agreed they want to help the homeless, but the difference was in how to help them and the location of the parking lot being proposed.
A city official also told the crowd that Leichtag is not married to the location at Ecke Ranch. Resident Nick Hedges suggested the city should use the San Elijo Camp Ground that has parking spaces, public bathrooms, and showers, “Don‘t create another problem when the dignified solution is obvious.”
The next city council meeting addressing the Safe Parking is on Jan. 22 at Encinitas City Hall.
Letter from Attorney Julie Hamilton:HAMILTON 2020-01-16 Letter to Mayor