Ocean Beach Town Council is urged to support use of Mission Bay lot as parking area for homeless people
Members of the Ocean Beach Town Council were approached seeking their support for a proposal to repurpose a beach parking lot at Mission Bay as a nightly safe parking area for homeless people living out of their vehicles.
Regina Sinsky-Crosby, chairwoman of the Pacific Beach Parking District Advisory Board, presented the concept at the Town Council’s June meeting.
If the Town Council lends its support, it would join a roster of groups already backing the Mission Bay safe lot concept, among them Shoreline Community Services, Blackbrownpb, Clairemont Coalition on Homelessness and BeautifulPB, of which Sinsky-Crosby is a board member.
The location could offer services such as basic needs, case management and employment opportunities, advocates say.
The city of San Diego’s vehicle habitation ban, approved in 2019, makes it illegal for people to stay in their cars overnight while parked on city streets or in other places where overnight sleeping is not permitted. Sinsky-Crosby said that approach to homelessness does more harm than good.
“Criminalization doesn’t work,” she said. “It creates a revolving door that circulates individuals from the street into the criminal justice system and back. A lot of these folks who are criminalized for being unsheltered will later lose housing opportunities because they have a record. They lose employment opportunities, their public benefits are suspended, and without an address it’s almost impossible to navigate the criminal justice system.”
At the time the city’s law was approved, Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell, whose District 2 includes Ocean Beach, Point Loma, Pacific Beach and Mission Bay, said, “This law is not Draconian and it’s not made to criminalize.”
She said the goal was to encourage homeless people living in cars to use existing safe parking lots, where there are restrooms and social services such as employment, housing and DMV support and where they are likely to be much safer.
San Diego has four safe parking lots across the city, run by Jewish Family Services and Dreams for Change.
The Mission Bay location proposed to be repurposed is the Rose Marie Starns South Shores parking lot, currently used as a boat launch. The lot, where overnight camping is currently prohibited, features a fenced perimeter, trash bins, lighting and washrooms maintained by the city Parks & Recreation Department, making it a desirable spot for people to stay overnight.
“As a mother of four children, a public bathroom with soap in it is a gold standard,” Sinsky-Crosby said at the Town Council meeting, which was broadcast live online. “These bathrooms always have soap, and it is well-cleaned.”
Crosby said the lot also is convenient for its proximity to Interstates 5 and 8, making access to work and schools easier for people sheltering in cars.
The lot, which has 120 spaces reserved for boat trailers, reportedly is underused most of the year. Californiabeaches.com describes it as a “little-used beach.”
When asked whether the proposed safe lot also would allow public access to the beach, Sinsky-Crosby said hours could be established for overnight sleeping and public use.
A petition launched on change.org by Sinsky-Crosby and three other Pacific Beach residents to gather support for the concept had collected nearly 270 signatures by the end of June.
“We are hoping the state’s shelter crisis law ... will override the California Coastal Commission and San Diego Parks & Recreation rules preventing the lot from being used,” the petition states.
Tracy Dezenzo, a member of the Ocean Beach Planning Board, asked how the concept of a safe lot would be communicated to the homeless community, citing reports of vehicle break-ins at safe lots and a lack of security.
“There has to be better marketing to our unhoused population,” Dezenzo said during the Town Council meeting. “We hear this all the time [from homeless people]: ‘I don’t feel safe. I don’t want to go to a shelter or a safe lot. Nothing I do feels safe.’ If we could figure out some way to fix that breakdown, I think these lots would be very successful.”
Dezenzo suggested including storage facilities on the site for people staying there to safely keep their belongings when they leave during the day.
Isaac Darby, community enhancement director for the Town Council, cited his own experience living in a vehicle and said there already is knowledge among homeless people of which lots are safe.
“Safe lots have existed, at least unorganized and not city-sponsored,” Darby said. “I wanted to share that with the community but also keep it a secret, because what 49 other states might see on the internet is free camping in San Diego.”
Darby said he at first was in support of the South Shores lot being designated as a safe zone but has changed his stance. He voiced concern that tourists would take advantage of the free parking and leave others with pricier options.
“I think places like that should be reserved for families and residents,” Darby said. “We don’t need to cater to free camping on Mission Bay when it’s $500 across at Campland for a family to experience a vacation on the bay.”
Gary Gartner, the Town Council’s local government advocacy liaison, asked the rest of the council to consider supporting the concept. The item is to be discussed in July.
“If we as a community stand up and say we want this, I think it will be done in a way that the city knows we’re watching,” Sinsky-Crosby said. “Approaching it with that sensitivity will go a long way.”
Town Council President Mark Winkie said the council should seek community input about the safe lot should the members move toward supporting the proposal.
During the non-agenda comment segment of the Town Council meeting, the council explained there would be no Fourth of July fireworks display this year in Ocean Beach because there currently is no access to the end of the pier, where fireworks are usually launched.
The city recently repaired the pier, which had been closed since January after high surf caused railing boards to break, for a partial reopening May 28 up to the bait shop and cafe.