In San Diego, homeless who live in their cars see 24-hour parking as long overdue

Eric Barbar, 36, sits on a cot where he has been sleeping and living since his van was impounded.
Eric Barbar, 36, sits on his cot where he has been living since his van was impounded for vehicle violations. Barbar was among the group living out of their cars, RVs and tents on Anna Avenue when police issued violation warning notices and towed away some unattended vehicles.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The City Council unanimously agreed to fund 24-hour operations at an 86-space parking lot in Mission Valley for homeless people living in vehicles.


As police cracked down on people living in RVs, vans and cars with expired registrations last week, many of the vehicles’ occupants said they would have parked in one of the city’s lots designated for homeless people if only it were open 24 hours.

They may get their wish in a few months.

The San Diego City Council last week unanimously agreed to fund 24-hour operations at an 86-space parking lot in Mission Valley for homeless people living in vehicles.

San Diego funds three “safe parking lots” for homeless people who live in vehicles, and the Mission Valley lot on Mission Village Drive was the only one to allow recreational vehicles. The total cost of all three lots in the new fiscal year will be $1.4 million, with $444,000 from the Community Development Block Grant CARES Act going toward the expanded hours.

In an unrelated move, the Vista City Council discussed creating a 25-space safe parking lot in the city. It would be the second one in North County, with an Encinitas lot already operating.


The Mission Valley lot opened in June 2019, and it soon became apparent that RV dwellers were avoiding it. An official from Jewish Family Service of San Diego, which operates the city’s three safe parking lots, said at the time that only three RVs had used it in the first two weeks.

Jewish Family Service Chief of Staff Chris Olsen said last week that the lot has an average of 70 vehicles, including just eight RVs. The number of RVs increases to about 17 during the winter, he said.

RV dwellers have said they do not like the parking lot because they had to be out every day at 7 a.m. and could not return until 6 p.m. Having little money to operate their gas-guzzling vehicles, many opted to take their chance parking on city streets in violation of the oversized vehicle ordinance prohibiting RVs from parking on public streets from 2 to 6 a.m.

Last Monday, the San Diego City Council heard highlights of a two-year study on the three lots conducted by UC San Diego’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning.

Stacey Livingstone, a UC San Diego doctoral candidate in sociology who worked on the study, told council members that 180 people were interviewed and it was resoundingly clear that a 24-hour safe parking lot was desired.

Olsen said the conversion to 24-hour service will require adding more security and caseworkers, and he expected the transition could be complete by the end of summer.


For some RV dwellers and others living in vehicles, the transition cannot come fast enough.

In the same week as the City Council voted to expand the parking lot’s hours, the city began cracking down on encampments and oversized vehicles on Pacific Highway and Anna Avenue, which parallels the highway in an industrial area just north of Old Town.

“They towed my bus?” J.P. Palmar said as he walked up to where he had parked his 1969 Volkswagen Westfalia van Wednesday morning. “But it had handicap plates on it!”

Palmer said he had been away that morning working on an RV he parks at a lot near SeaWorld, but others on Anna Avenue told him they saw his van being towed away. Palmer was irate and didn’t want to talk much, but before catching a ride back to his RV he said he was 87 and had been homeless for eight years.

An officer on the street that morning said about four vehicles had been towed, but none would be if their owners were present.

That’s not always the case.

Eric Barber, 36, sat on a cot on Anna Avenue and recalled a night two weeks ago when he and his wife pulled into a parking lot at Dana Landing. An officer noticed the tags had expired on their 1995 Mercury Villager and approached the couple.

Barber said they were told to get out, and the van was towed to an impound yard.

“It’s too much money,” he said of the $700 impound fee, which was about what he paid for the van. Barber estimates the cost in the past week had increased to $1,000, and more costs would follow if he were to take it to a garage so it would pass a smog test.

He knew about the city’s safe lots, but said his wife had never wanted to go to one.

“You’ve got to be in at a certain time and out at a certain time,” he said about her reluctance. “If that didn’t exist, we probably would have been all right.”

Jerrod Starbird, 48, has been homeless for two years and until Wednesday had been living in a trailer attached to a 1981 Chevy Titan RV parked on Anna Avenue.

, Jerrod Starbird used a large section of cardboard to replace the glass in his RV’s window frame.
Jerrod Starbird uses a section of cardboard to replace the glass in his RV on Anna Avenue, where he has been living. He left the street Wednesday fearing his vehicle would be towed because of a lapsed registration.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

“I’m highly concerned I’ll be towed,” he said as he prepared to drive off after receiving a ticket for having a lapsed registration. Though he would not be towed that morning, he had been given a 72-hour notice to move from the street.

His car was towed a month ago, and Starbird said he just received a notice that it would be auctioned if he didn’t pay a $1,500 impound fee. He estimates outstanding tickets would cost another $1,500.

“I’d go in one of the lots, but I can’t get in because of my registration,” he said about city’s safe parking lots.

Leon Qiyam Pogue, a 65-year-old Army vet, is living in a Scion and tent on Anna Avenue and said he watched as a VW bus and RV were towed that morning.

“This is people’s lives, man,” he said. “If they would have taken this car or impounded that tent, we’d be literally on the street, my wife and I and my dog.”

Pogue said he would go to a safe lot if it were open 24 hours and he were free to come and go during the day, which he has to do twice a week to sell plasma for $120.

Maya Reynolds, 58, has been homeless for three years and has a 2003 Mercedes SUV and a 1984 Dodge van on Anna Avenue. She said she had been living in a trailer, but one day an officer forced her out so it could be impounded for a lapsed registration.

Maya Reynolds has been living out of her SUV and van on Anna Avenue in San Diego.
Maya Reynolds has been living out of her SUV and van on Anna Avenue in San Diego, but fears the vehicles may be towed. She said she had not wanted to go to a city “safe parking lot” because they are not open 24 hours.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

She has heard of safe parking lots but has not wanted to go to one.

“They do not work, she said. “Everyone needs to leave by 7 a.m. I would go to them if they were open 24 hours.”