Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear / Photo by Vito Di Stefano

The debate over whether Encinitas is the right place to host a safe parking program for homeless residents in North County continues to bring out fear and anger in many local residents.

The city earlier this year announced a plan to partner with Jewish Family Service and the Leichtag Foundation, which would lease the land for the lot to the city for $1 and allow up to 25 homeless people to park with their vehicles.

City Council members will vote on the plan Wednesday night.

Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear wrote in a newsletter over the weekend that the city has received litigation threats, a petition in opposition and dozens of emails on both sides of the issue.

“While thoughtful and compassionate residents have civilly expressed their disagreement with aspects of this Safe Parking proposal, it has also has (sic) inspired sharp, fearful and aggressive opposition,” Blakespear wrote.

A group of Encinitas residents called North County Citizens Coalition held a forum on Jan. 9 in which many attendees expressed intense fear and anger over the plan, citing its location near a local YMCA and frustration with what they said has been a lack of transparency from the Council.

The group collected more than 4,000 signatures on a petition opposing the plan.

They also argued that the lot would not be a compassionate solution to the problem.

Stew Duncan, a member of the North County Citizens Coalition, told me that’s because it doesn’t provide options for homeless people beyond continuing to live in their cars.

“We think it’s cruel to take a family that’s brave enough to come forward and ask for help and say, ‘Bring your car over here and stay in your car, you’ll get services provided to you from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and then you have to go do whatever you need to do,” Duncan said. “We think that’s cruel.” Jewish Family Service and the Leichtag Foundation would allow individuals accepted to the program to arrive with their cars between 6 and 9:30 p.m. each night and they would and be required to leave by 7 a.m.

Residents held another community meeting last week where attendees were split on the plan. Blakespear told VOSD she was advised by the Sheriff’s Department not to attend that event for her own safety.

On Jan. 15, the Encinitas Union School District board wrote the Encinitas City Council, Leichtag Foundation and Jewish Family Service in support of the lot. The district’s support was notable, given that so many of the residents at the forum opposing the plan expressed concerns about children’s safety.

“EUSD has families who are homeless and many more who are housing insecure,” the school board wrote.

In her newsletter, Blakespear pushed back at the criticisms about the process.

“I disagree that the only acceptable process is years of meetings before any action is taken. The city has not cut any corners here,” she wrote.

I’ll be at the Encinitas city council meeting tonight, where Council members will make a final decision on the safe parking program. Follow me on Twitter for immediate updates from the meeting.

County OKs Tri-City Deal

San Diego County officials agreed last week to pay an upfront $17.4 million to fund a 16-bed inpatient psychiatric health facility on Tri-City Medical Center’s Oceanside campus.

The facility is set to take up to three years to open.

Tri-City pledged to repay the county for half of the cost of construction through a series of yet-to-be detailed services and its agreement to allow the county to use district land for the new facility.

In 2018, Tri-City suspended its behavioral health unit due to a change in federal regulations plus financial and staffing challenges. The closure left Palomar Health’s ERs in Escondido and Poway and the county’s psychiatric hospital in San Diego’s Midway district to pick up many patients who would have gone to the Oceanside center.

Now, there’s a new 30-year agreement between the county and Tri-City outlining funding and operating plans for the psychiatric unit. Tri-City will operate the facility, but the county will ultimately own, build and sublease the property to the medical center.

San Diego County Board Supervisor Nathan Fletcher wrote in a statement on Jan. 13 that going forward, the county must become less reliant on reactive, crisis-focused care and move to a patient-centered care system.

“A year ago, vital mental health services at Tri-City had been shuttered with no plans to bring them back online and today we have a clear path forward to restore these services and help address our regional needs,” Fletcher wrote.

Fletcher praised Tri-City staff, County Supervisors Jim Desmond and Kristin Gaspar and Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath for their efforts on the project.

Desmond and Gaspar had for months last year met with Tri-City officials behind closed doors to try to reach a deal while Fletcher and Boerner Horvath publicly demanded action, even threatening a state audit request.

All cheered the final agreement and other progress in North County last week.

“This along with a crisis stabilization unit will make getting behavioral health services in North County easier than the path to crime and jail,” Desmond said at a Jan. 13 press conference, according to The Coast News.

Desmond was referring to a planned crisis unit at the county’s Live Well Center in Oceanside where patients can be assessed and quickly connected with psychiatric care. Desmond and county bureaucrats have also tried to persuade Vista leaders to allow the county to open a crisis unit in their city while Palomar is expanding its unit with county aid.

Carlsbad Councilwoman Eyes State Senate

Carlsbad Councilwoman Priya Bhat-Patel has filed paperwork to run for state Senate District 36, representing North County’s coastal beach communities and some parts of southern Orange County, in 2022.

The district is currently represented by Republican Sen. Patricia Bates. Bates will be termed out when Bhat-Patel, a Democrat, runs in two years.

Bhat-Patel, a 32-year-old progressive and daughter of Indian immigrants, said during the 2019 San Diego Women’s March she wants to change the narrative of North County. Bhat-Patel won a seat on the Carlsbad City Council in November 2018.

“It’s a more diverse place than people realize, and its elected governments have not always reflected that,” Bhat-Patel said. “There’s room for more women and people of color at the top.”

What We’re Working on

SANDAG’s Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata said at a recent MTS meeting that he believes the North County Transit District and the Metropolitan Transit District should combine to form one agency. I checked in with Ikhrata, who fleshed out his vision and said he eventually wants to extend the Purple Line trolley to run from the U.S.-Mexico border to Oceanside. North County Transit District Board Chair Tony Kranz and North County leaders aren’t thrilled about the idea of consolidating agencies, igniting a new tension between Ikhrata and city mayors in North County.

In Other News

  • The North County Transit District is seeking developers for a mixed-use project combining residential, retail and office use on 10.2 acres of land around the train station in Oceanside designed to take advantage of higher density around transit stations. (Union-Tribune)
  • Cal State San Marcos official Graham Oberem, who approved lavish spending like chauffeured limousine rides and $500-a-night resort stays, is still on the university’s payroll. Oberem is conducting research and preparing to return to the classroom, according to a university. (Union-Tribune)
  • The Community Resource Center will host volunteers on Jan. 24 who will take part in this year’s homeless point-in-time count in Encinitas, Del Mar, Solana Beach, Carmel Valley and Rancho Santa Fe. (Del Mar Times)
  • Encinitas residents living on Bonita Drive are asking the Encinitas City Council not to move forward with a plan to build a luxury home development on the street. The Encinitas Planning Commission already approved the project in November. It’s on the agenda for tonight’s City Council meeting. (The Coast News)
  • The California Community College’s Chancellor’s Office assigned Palomar College a fiscal monitor at this month’s board meeting following a state report that showed the college is at risk of fiscal insolvency. (The Coast News)
  • Integral Communities, the developer of a 585-home development project in the Morro Hills community of Oceanside called North River Farms, filed a lawsuit to stop a referendum that could overturn the City Council’s approval of the project. (Union-Tribune)
  • A tentative court ruling issued last week ordered the county to set aside approval of two North County developments west of Escondido, a 453-home Harmony Grove Village South development and a 326-home Valiano project. (Union-Tribune)
  • It looks like Escondido’s City Council meeting time will remain the same. Escondido Councilmen Mike Morasco and John Masson disputed that the Council’s meeting time, which used to be at 4 p.m. but changed to 6 p.m. last February, is too late and proposed moving the time up for future meetings. In the end, Mayor Paul McNamara quickly dismissed the idea. (Union-Tribune)
  • Del Mar will soon have a new city manager. Laguna Beach Assistant City Manager Christa L. Johnson will replace Scott Huth, who announced his plan to retire in February after eight years.
  • And finally, actor Scott Eastwood, son of Clint Eastwood, was accused this week of claiming to be a city worker and dismantling protest signs created by a group called Save our Bluff SD, which opposes the proposed Marisol resort development, known as Measure G, in Del Mar.

Kayla Jiminez was a staff writer for Voice of San Diego. She covered about communities, politics and regional issues in North County as well as school...

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