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Encinitas to hire manager to oversee city’s homelessness efforts

Encinitas will hire a manager to handle homelessness issues ranging from illegal campsite removals to mental health counseling services, the City Council decided last week.

Council members unanimously approved the request from Roy Sapa’u, the city’s director of development services, to add the new position. The annual cost will be $191,825, but the city won’t need to make a new budget appropriation until the next fiscal year starts in July 2023. Encinitas will cover the current year’s salary expense by using savings from several vacant city employee positions, a city staff report indicates.

It was evident during this year’s campaign season that “homelessness in Encinitas has become an increasingly visible and polarizing issue” that the city needs to better address, said Councilmember Tony Kranz, who won the mayor’s election and will be sworn into that job later this year. He added that he thinks the city needs to spend more money on homelessness solutions, mentioning that Encinitas is “far behind” Carlsbad.

Encinitas currently spends about $500,000 a year on programs that serve homeless people, including the city’s Safe Parking Lot Program, the HOPE Team, Opening Doors, and Interfaith Community Services, a city staff report states. The money comes both from the city’s General Fund and federal Community Development Block grants.

Sapa’u told the council that the new manager will take charge of the various programs the city offers, and enhance existing services and seek new sources of grant funding.

Councilmembers Kellie Hinze and Joy Lyndes said they hoped the manager would improve community education efforts when it comes to homelessness issues. For example, Hinze said, she would like residents to know more options for calling for help, rather than just dialing 911 when they see someone who appears to be homeless and is having a mental health issue.

Mayor Catherine Blakespear, who was just elected to the state Senate, said she was “completely supportive” of the proposal to hire a homeless issues manager, but warned that the area’s shortage of both low-cost housing and “detox” beds — places with in-patient treatment facilities for people addicted to drugs or alcohol — makes it difficult to solve homelessness issues.

“If we don’t actually provide help for people, we’re not solving the problem,” she said.

No one from the public commented on the hiring proposal Wednesday, though during a general public comment period for items not on the evening’s agenda, several people said they wished the city would repair the decaying backstops on its softball fields instead of spending money on homeless people. City employees told the softball supporters that the repair equipment had been ordered and was expected to arrive in a few weeks.

In other action Wednesday, the council directed city employees to start the process to install an all-way stop at La Costa Avenue’s intersection with Sheridan Road. The proposal will need to come back to the council at a later date, city traffic employees said, because it will require approval of an ordinance.

Kranz, who lives in the Leucadia region, told city employees he wanted “full engagement” by the public on the stop sign proposal at the future meeting so the installation doesn’t come as a surprise, and the council directed staff to send out meeting notices to people who live within 500 feet of the intersection.