Monday, November 18, 2019     Volume: 20, Issue: 37
Signup

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on October 15th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 33 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 20, Issue 33

Lompoc puts off safe parking program, citing funding shortage, future court case

By ZAC EZZONE

Cars, RVs, and vans line the streets in parts of Lompoc. They can serve as both a means of transportation and a place to sleep.

As a participant in the last Point-In-Time homelessness count, Lompoc Mayor Jenelle Osborne told the Sun that her group found between 30 to 40 people living in their cars in just one part of the city. 

“In our community, with how compact we are, people are living in areas that are unsafe for them to gather,” Osborne said. “Or, sadly, some neighborhoods feel unsafe about vehicles on their street.” 

Lompoc, like many cities throughout California, declared a housing shelter crisis in October 2018. The city has one 56-bed emergency shelter serving as a place for people experiencing homelessness to rest. During the city’s latest homelessness count, 249 people were identified as homeless on one night in January 2019.

Lompoc City Council first discussed ways to address this issue at a meeting in June 2018. The council passed an ordinance requiring people living in their cars to do so in a “safe parking area,” which the city has yet to designate.

In December 2018, the council members attempted to identify a safe parking area location, but they couldn’t agree on a spot. About 10 months later, City Council tried again at its Oct. 1 meeting, only to again postpone making a decision on the program. 

After Community Development Director Christie Alarcon presented potential locations and costs, Councilmember Jim Mosby motioned to continue to the item on a later date. He cited a lack of funding as well as a potential case that could reach the U.S. Supreme Court and make the program unnecessary.

In her presentation, Alarcon said a stripped-down approach could cost $55,000, while a more complete version—which would include providing services beyond just a parking area—could cost up to $360,000.

Councilmember Dirk Starbuck also said the city can’t afford the program, adding that if the city does start a program, it could bring more homeless people to the city looking for assistance. 

“We don’t have the $5,000 a month … we certainly don’t have the $360,000 of taxpayer money to go ahead and put into a program like this,” Starbuck said. “And if we’re doing good at it, guess what? We’re going to have caravans of these people showing up, looking for the benefit that we can provide the few that are here.”

Osborne told the Sun that funding concerns aren’t reasons not to move forward. First, she said, the city wouldn’t foot the bill; it would look for a nonprofit partner to seek grant funding. 

Also, it’s an issue that the city can’t ignore.

“We can’t afford not to do this,” Osborne said. “It’s causing a burden on our community by not addressing it.”

Before finding a nonprofit partner to apply for grant funding and manage the program, the city needs to identify a location and a template for how it’ll work, Osborne said. It’s not just about a place to park at night. These types of programs are intended to connect people who are living in their vehicles with the services they need to find a more secure and sustainable place to live. 

Last fall, Osborne said, a nonprofit interested in applying for Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP) grant funding to help start a safe-parking program reached out to Lompoc, but the plan fell through after City Council couldn’t decide on a location. Eventually that nonprofit moved on and secured HEAP funding in partnership with the county for a different project in Lompoc.

At the Oct. 1 meeting, Brian Halterman, a pastor at Micah Mission and manager at Bridge House Homeless Shelter, said that the city’s faith-based organizations are on board with addressing this problem, but they need the city to be invested as well. He also responded to concerns about a potential program attracting additional homeless people to the city.

“The statement that I hear over and over again is the statement that says, ‘If we build it, they will come,’” Halterman said. “Do we realize that they’re here? And do we realize that ‘they’ is a person, not a motorhome and not a car.”

The potential U.S. Supreme Court case Mosby referred to could affect whether the city needs a designated safe parking area. In the case Martin v. City of Boise, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that cities cannot prosecute people for sleeping outside on public property without providing an adequate alternative.

Under this ruling, Lompoc can only prohibit people from sleeping in their vehicles on the side of the road if the city provides an alternate location to direct them to instead, such as a safe parking area. The city of Boise appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. If the court takes up the case and overturns the ruling, Lompoc could have the ability to prohibit people from sleeping in their vehicles on streets without a designated safe parking area.

Lompoc, along with more than 30 other cities and counties across the state, signed a brief supporting the city of Boise’s appeal. Osborne said that while she’s in favor of the parking program, Lompoc supports Boise’s appeal because the city believes the court’s decision goes too far in limiting local control. 

The U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t decided whether to add the case to its docket yet, but if it does, it would appear before the court sometime before spring 2020. 

At the Oct. 1 meeting, Mosby made the motion for council to pick up the item again either after the Supreme Court’s ruling or once the city finds funding for the program. 

Councilmembers Victor Vega and Starbuck voted in favor of the motion, with Osborne and Councilmember Gilda Cordova voting against it. Osborne said that next spring is too long to wait to implement a safe parking program within the city.

Halterman said delaying taking action on this program is a mistake.

“The thought that we’re going to delay this until July 2020,” Halterman said, “it’s just going to get a whole lot worse.” 

Reach Staff Writer Zac Ezzone at zezzone@santamariasun.com.




Weekly Poll
Should school districts invest more into vocational and career technical programs?

Yes. Students need to get on a career path as soon as possible.
No. It's more important for students to learn study skills than specific disciplines.
No. District should save money by partnering with businesses to offer more internships.
Yes, but only if these programs also count for college credit.

| Poll Results