PB Town Council hears proposal for safe parking lot for homeless people in Mission Bay

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

Assisting art and the art of assistance were the dominant themes at the May 19 Pacific Beach Town Council meeting in presentations about a mural for the PB Recreation Center and a safe parking lot for the homeless.

Cathie Jolley asked for volunteers and donations of surfboards as well as funds for a project spearheaded by the Town Council to place murals by artist Rob Tobin on the north and south exterior walls of the 65-year old Recreation Center that will become part of the city’s Civic Art Collection.

“(The Rec Center) is a huge part of the fabric of Pacific Beach and it needs some love,” said Jolley, a Town Council member. “This is a community-based beautification process...Be a part of the process because we need you.”

Regina Sinsky-Crosby discussed the proposal to convert the Rose Marie Starns South Shores parking lot on Mission Bay into a safe parking lot at night for homeless people sleeping in their vehicles. With the doubling of the first-time homeless population during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic dislocation in 2020, as reported by the San Diego Regional Task Force on Homelessness, the time is right, she said.

The South Shores lot, near SeaWorld, which has 120 parking spots reserved exclusively for vehicles with trailers launching boats at the ramp there and the surrounding park, is described as “underused” on the city’s website, said Sinsky-Crosby, a PB resident active in numerous local organizations and one of the principal campaigners in a petition drive urging the city to allow safe overnight parking on the site.

Because of its daytime role as a boat launching pad, the parking lot is ideal. she said. It has many of the features required for a safe parking lot, including dumpsters, washrooms, lighting and a perimeter fence.

If designated a safe parking lot, the South Shore location could offer services such as basic needs, case management, employment opportunities and counseling, she said.

The boat launch itself is underemployed because it is far up the channel, which restricts vessels to a 5 m.p.h. crawl until they reach open waters, remarked Jolley, an avid boater.

“It is a beautiful ramp for boaters,” Jolley said. “But it’s very underutilized because if we have the option, we want to be closer and out of the 5 m.p.h. zone.”

Sinsky-Crosby shared statistics from the Point in Time homeless count conducted by the Regional Task Force on Homelessness. So far this year, 38,000 people received some sort of housing service, of which 2,500 individuals were veterans, 2,200 were unaccompanied minors, and 2,900 were aged 62 years and older. In addition, 880 families received homeless assistance.

One out of three people in the homeless population live in their vehicles, she estimated.

The county now has four safe parking lots, including two operated by the city.

More than 85 percent of the homeless served at safe parking lots have housing plans initiated within 72 hours of their arrival, and more than 30 percent find permanent or long-term housing upon their departure, she noted. In addition, only 5 percent return to homelessness within six months of exiting the safe lot.

The primary benefit of the South Shore location is that it would serve homeless individuals in PB and nearby beach communities where they already work and have children attending school, Sinsky-Crosby said.

“There are four other lots...but that’s a huge commute to come to and from,” she said. “So this kind of travel is really cost prohibitive to a lot of folks who are trying to make things work in their cars.”

During the question and answer session, Tracy Dezenzo, a San Diego Arts and Culture commissioner, noted an attempt in Ocean Beach to create a safe parking lot at South Shores in 2019 that failed because the area is a park.

Sinsky-Crosby replied that a pandemic-related revision to the state’s crisis shelter law last year allowed cities to override normal restrictions and bypass regulatory oversight by bodies such as the California Coastal Commission and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

“Hopefully, that 2020 update to the shelter crisis act will help us accomplish this,” she said.

The petition can be reviewed and signed at While the proposal is being supported by a number of groups including Shoreline Community Services, beautifulPB, Black and Brown PB, and the Clairemont Coalition on Homelessness among others, Sinsky-Crosby cited private reasons for her efforts.

“I am coming at this personally, as someone who is related to someone who is sheltering in their vehicle” she said. “I truly believe we’re all one tragedy away from sleeping in our cars. I take that to heart.”

Fire Station 21 Capt. Rich Marcello reported that the high number of illegal beach fires in PB and throughout the city last year was being addressed by the department’s deputy fire chief, who held a meeting with officials from the police departments and park rangers on the topic earlier in the day.

“From what I’m hearing, we will get a definitive answer as to what their solution is going to be, especially with the holidays coming up,” Marcello said. “I don’t have that answer for you yet but just to let you know that it is in the pipeline...So hopefully we can limit the pollution, the trash and all the things that go along with illegal beach fires.”

In addition, on top of last year’s historic and catastrophic wildfire season in the state, Marcello noted that the situation is already volatile following a “lousy”rainy season and low humidity being registered daily already this spring.

“I know since we’re here in Pacific Beach, we really don’t think that much of it,” he said. “But you’d be surprised what kind of urban interface (we have locally), meaning where vegetation meets housing. For example, places in northern PB, La Jolla, which we get called out to often [for] riverbeds, so on and so forth.”

Marcello said the department has increased training and updated its mutual aid agreements with other departments in preparation.

“We’re on it,” he said. “We’re training constantly and we’re getting our ducks in order and getting prepared for the season.”