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Pacific Beach residents urge city to allow homeless people to park overnight in Mission Bay lot

Katheryn Rhodes, Regina Sinsky-Crosby, Paige Hernandez, and Caryn Blanton
Citizen activists (from left) Katheryn Rhodes, Regina Sinsky-Crosby, Paige Hernandez, and Caryn Blanton pose for photos near Rose Marie Starns South Shores Park in South Mission Bay. The group is asking the city of San Diego to open a safe parking lot on this site.
(Eduardo Contreras/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Opening Rose Marie Starns South Shores Park to overnight camping would help protect vulnerable, activists say

A group of Pacific Beach residents wants the city to open a parking lot in Mission Bay that will allow homeless people who live in their cars to legally park overnight.

Proponents say the parking lot at Rose Marie Starns South Shores Park, a small green space near SeaWorld mostly used for boating, is a good location for people to rest at night because it has room for more than 250 cars and access to public restrooms.

The park is currently open from 4 a.m. to 2 a.m. but overnight camping is not allowed.

“We have to start coming up with creative solutions to the problem because what we have considered in the past isn’t working and it’s not enough,” said Caryn Blanton, acting executive director for Shoreline Community Services, a nonprofit that works to eliminate homelessness in San Diego’s central beach neighborhoods.

Blanton and three other women recently launched an online petition for the overnight parking lot. The petition on Change.org had gathered more than 246 signatures as of May 21.

Nearly two years ago, the city adopted a prohibition against vehicle habitation. Supporters argued that a crackdown on people living in their cars on city streets was necessary after a federal judge ruled a 1983 version of the law was too vague to enforce, which contributed to more people parking and sleeping in beach communities.

“Safe” parking lots became locations where families and individuals living in their vehicles could park overnight, and in most cases receive resources from nonprofit groups. There are two safe lots funded by the city — one in Kearny Mesa and the other in Mission Valley.

San Diego’s law prohibits people who live in a car or RV to park within 500 feet of a home or school at any time during the day. It also prohibits people from sleeping in their vehicles on a public street between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

“The thing about living in your vehicle is you are constantly living in fear of getting a citation,” said Pacific Beach resident Regina Sinsky-Crosby.

Mario Gonzalez was recently diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease and bought an RV five months ago to save money. He has gotten eight parking citations since then.

This is the parking lot area near the Rose Marie Starns Boat Launch in South Mission Bay on Wednesday, May 12 in San Diego.
The parking lot area near the Rose Marie Starns Boat Launch in South Mission Bay on Wednesday, May 12, 2021 in San Diego, CA.
(Eduardo Contreras/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Gonzalez said it’s difficult to find work because he has to constantly move his RV to different locations. He’s gotten tickets while washing clothes, sleeping and working construction jobs, he said.

“You’re a prisoner to your RV,” he said.

San Diego City Council President Jennifer Campbell proposed using the lot for people living in their cars two years ago. The lot was evaluated but it was not one of the sites selected by the previous city administration, Campbell said Wednesday in a statement.

Campbell said her office continues to work with the county and city to assess the need for safe parking lots.

Sinsky-Crosby said opening Rose Marie Starns South Shores Park to overnight campers would help people in need.

“The vehicle habitation ordinance didn’t solve a problem,” she said. “This is an opportunity to solve a problem.”

According to a 2020 report by the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, the number of first-time homeless people in the county increased from 2,326 in 2019 to 4,152 in 2020.

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Authors of the report said the increase could be a result of a different method of collecting data because the task force relied on the number of people who seek homeless services and not its annual point-in-time count, where volunteers catalog specific people on the street during one night in January.

Residents in favor of the safe-parking proposal are currently seeking support from community groups in nearby neighborhoods.

Blanton said the lot doesn’t have to serve as a safe space for years; it’s just something the city and community can do to meet the immediate needs of people who are vulnerable.

“Do I want this in my neighborhood necessarily? No,” Blanton said. “I’d rather have a park and a boat ramp. But right now it needs to serve another purpose, it needs a greater purpose.”


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