View of parking lot at Balboa Park's Inspiration Point next to the 5 Freeway on Feb. 3, 2023.
View of parking lot at Balboa Park's Inspiration Point next to the 5 Freeway on Feb. 3, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

I guarantee that you’ve never had a picnic here. You’ve probably seen it driving by – or if you’re like me practiced your parallel parking at some point in this often-overlooked parking lot. But overall, it’s not a space most people know about. Still, it has been in the news as of late, so here’s what’s going on.  

There is a parking lot on the edge of Balboa Park in an area known as Inspiration Point. The lot is along Park Boulevard and bordered by Interstate-5.  

The proposal: City of San Diego staff are assessing the parking lot’s suitability for a safe camping site, though nothing is set in stone. The idea is to offer a safe space where homeless people can stay.  

The mayor’s staff estimates that if the city moves forward with opening the site at Inspiration Point, it could set up 200 to 300 camp sites.  

As Lisa Halverstadt reported recently, “The campground is a central piece” of City Councilman Stephen Whitburn’s broader proposal to ban encampments on public property when shelter options are available. If the proposed ordinance is approved, it would also ban homeless people from camping within two blocks of schools and shelters, certain parks and along trolley tracks.  

Orgs dedicated to the city’s “crown jewel” are not happy: Here’s how the leader of the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership, a group of made up of about 25 park institutions, put it:  

“Inspiration Point is really the front door to Balboa Park, and we always want to make sure that Balboa Park is a safe and welcoming environment for the guests who come to the park, for the volunteers and the paid staff and the schoolchildren who visit the park every day,” Peter Comiskey, the Cultural Partnership’s executive director, told Halverstadt. “I think that’s a really good reason that Inspiration Point is a site we would not be able to support for this opportunity specifically.”   

Here’s a picture of the parking lot at Inspiration Point, if you’re curious to see what the site looks like.   

View of parking lot at Balboa Park's Inspiration Point on Feb. 3, 2023.
View of parking lot at Balboa Park’s Inspiration Point on Feb. 3, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Others aren’t stoked either: Reactions to the story have varied. We asked some readers to text us their thoughts on the proposal. Here’s how some people put it: 

  • “Think unwise … no costs mentioned in plan. Why import to the jewel of SD? This seems reactionary due to political pressures without long term thought…”  
  • “Why the fuck would I want the balboa park to be a homeless camp so fuck me and my family picnics and dog walks.”  

Some were worried about how tourists might react.  

Others were more open to the idea: “I believe a safe campsite coupled with $ motivation to keep it clean would provide purpose and safety to one that needed the help…”  

And others didn’t know where it was. 

Here’s the thing: A lot of homeless residents already call Balboa Park home. Last year, Scott Lewis reported on basketball legend Bill Walton’s emails to the mayor that laid out a grim view of homelessness in Balboa Park.  

Just a month ago, I was walking in Balboa Park on evening, and there were tents along some of the park’s most popular museums. So, tourists are already seeing San Diego’s homeless crisis, and the numbers continue to show it’s the worst it has ever been.  

In response to push back from the park institutions, and if the site is selected, Whitburn said this: “If we move forward with safe sleeping at Inspiration Point, I would want to examine ways in which we could visually screen that site so that there was privacy for the people staying there and that there was not a significant visual impact on the park.”   

Read our latest story on the proposal here.   

Sign up to get texts from us here or text “VOSD” to (619) 374-5382 to get the latest updates from our reporters.  

The 101 Ash Scandal  

101 Ash St. / File photo by Adriana Heldiz

Halverstadt also reported this week that former city real estate adviser Jason Hughes pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor conflict-of-interest charge after agreeing to pay back the city $9.4 million he got from the city’s ex-landlord for his work on two city lease deals.  

Want a trip down memory lane? The story of how we got here is pretty complex, but luckily, our editors broke down the scandal on the VOSD Podcast. Listen to the episode here or wherever you get your podcasts.  

Halverstadt has covered this story for years and was the first reporter to uncover that the city couldn’t account for $14 million in 101 Ash transaction costs. She revealed that millions of dollars went to Hughes from the two city lease deals. He was publicly considered a volunteer at the time. Read our extensive coverage of the scandal here.   

Plus, the latest: The plea deal could put Hughes’ real estate license in peril. Click here to read that story. 

More Chisme to Start Your Week 

  • Last week I shared a story with you that hit close to home. Many schools in my ZIP code are dealing with a chronic absenteeism crisis. Now, Jakob McWhinney has a new story about how this crisis is worst in lower grades. That means younger kids are missing more school than ever, and this worries experts because it means big learning losses. Read his latest story here. 
  • Associate editor Jesse Marx reports that the feds want to expand their autonomous surveillance capabilities along the border. U.S. Customs and Border Protection plans to add 22 new surveillance towers to its stations in Imperial Beach, Chula Vista and El Cajon. Read that story here. 
  • And Escondido could be the next city in North County to regulate street vending. Tigist Layne unpacks how restrictions in other cities have played out among small entrepreneurs. Read Layne’s story here.   

Andrea Lopez-Villafaña, Managing Editor, Daily News Andrea oversees the production of daily news stories for Voice of San Diego. She...

Join the Conversation


  1. regarding this absurd comment: “Inspiration Point is really the front door to Balboa Park…”
    first, the Prado bridge, and 5th Avenue at Laurel Street has been the actual front door to Balboa Park since 1915 – or earlier.
    second, if Presidents Way is the most-used entry to the park, then Inspiration Point lot is OPPOSITE to the front door.
    Mr. Comiskey should not sacrifice truth in pursuit of a goal.

    1. oh, btw, i HAVE had a picnic here. summer before last, i ate lunch in my car beneath the solar panels. 😉

    2. The recognition of extremenumbers of unsheltled people is a strat. But the solution is not to offer a place to camp in your car. The exordinary lack of of humanity in addressing this issue is staggering. I can only think of of my how I would feel if this were my grandfather living on the street.

  2. For some reason Mayor Gloria, Councilmember Whitburn, and city staff believe downtown city streets should be considered public property but Inspiration Point–a free, public parking lot used to access the city’s largest public park, Balboa Park (including the park’s offices and Activity Center), and San Diego City College, etc.–should NOT be considered public property when it comes to homeless encampments.

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