Sacramento park along American River eyed for new homeless Safe Ground parking lot

·4 min read

Sacramento City Councilwoman Katie Valenzuela is exploring the possibility of opening a Safe Ground parking lot for homeless individuals living in vehicles at Sutter’s Landing Park.

The site would be located at the parking lot with the solar panels off 28th Street, across from the basketball courts and dog park. On the weekdays, there are often just a few vehicles there. Another parking lot is available by the skate park, closer to the river.

Safe Ground parking lots provide unhoused individuals and families living in vehicles a place to park where they do not need to worry about being towed, and also have access to bathrooms, showers, running water and rehousing services. The need for safe parking lots is especially pressing since the council last month voted to continue towing vehicles used by unhoused individuals, Valenzuela has said.

The idea is far from a done deal, however. Due to its proximity to the dump and previous easements on the site, it would require approvals from multiple agencies, Valenzuela said.

“Our office is looking into any and all options that will help provide people experiencing homelessness a place to go, which will provide relief for everyone affected by this crisis,” Valenzuela said. “We are in very early stages of exploring a referral-only small safe parking site for folks currently parking around the nearby community, and still have a lot of work to do to explore feasibility. We appreciate everyone who has reached out to us with thoughts and concerns.”

The site is located on the western border of the affluent East Sacramento neighborhood, where the city has never opened a homeless shelter or Safe Ground. The East Sacramento Improvement Association is raising concerns.

Sacramento City Councilwoman Katie Valenzuela is exploring the possibility of using a solar panel-covered parking lot, seen Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, at Sutters Landing Park as a safe parking site for homeless individuals living in vehicles.
Sacramento City Councilwoman Katie Valenzuela is exploring the possibility of using a solar panel-covered parking lot, seen Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, at Sutters Landing Park as a safe parking site for homeless individuals living in vehicles.

“ESIA has not yet taken a formal position, but we are certainly concerned about opening a safe ground site at a park in close proximity to the dog park that families use and the skate park that youth use regularly,” vice president Nick Kufasimes said in an email. “We are also concerned about the camps that form outside of sanctioned safe grounds, such as the W-X facility. We hope that the City can find safe ground sites that don’t impact the community to the degree this proposal does.”

The city last year opened a Safe Ground for individuals living in tents and in vehicles under the W-X freeway near Southside Park. It quickly filled up, and then people started parking RVs nearby, around O’Neil Field.

Crystal Sanchez, president of the Sacramento Homeless Union, said many of the people parked around O’Neil Field were living in South Sacramento off Stockton Boulevard but then city staff told them they would get a spot. When they got there, some did not, so they parked near it, she said. Others are parked near it because they were kicked out of the Safe Ground, she said.

Former Safe Ground guest Telicia Graze, 45, died in her vehicle parked just outside the site Wednesday evening.

Valenzuela said there would be better site control at Sutter’s Landing than there was at the W-X site, which is preparing to close.

“We have learned that we need to have a strategy for preventing camps from springing up outside of our safe sites, and are working to implement those strategies moving forward, including at Sutter’s Landing, if that site moves forward,” Valenzuela said.

Valenzuela last year also opened a safe parking site at another city park, Miller Park, which has appeared to run smoothly.

The council in August approved a $100 million homeless siting plan with 20 new sites for Safe Grounds, shelters and tiny homes. But none of the 20 sites have yet opened. Roughly 105 tiny homes and trailers intended for the homeless have been sitting unused in city storage for at least seven months.

The city earlier this month purchased a 100-acre Meadowview property to use partly for a safe parking site, though it’s unclear when it will open.

It’s possible the Sutter’s Landing site could open before that one. City staff is currently doing site assessments to determine scope and site needs, then will reach out to the agencies to start the review process, Valenzuela said.

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