If passed, a new county proposal would permit the Santa Barbara homeless to legally count sheep in their cars within designated areas.

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors is considering the proposal, intended to reduce the strain on the county’s homeless population. The proposal, initiated by 3rd District Supervisor Gail Marshall, would allow people with cars but no place to live to park legally and rent-free in designated overnight areas. The board will hear the finalized proposal April 17.

“This will provide folks somewhere to park where it will be legal and safe,” said Mark Chaconas, Marshall’s executive assistant. “We want to establish some reasonable locations, such as church parking lots, for people to camp in their cars when they have nowhere else to go at night.”

The proposal is based on a similar program in Eugene, Ore., which allows three cars per night to park in designated locations equipped with sanitary facilities. Richie Weinman, housing and neighborhood manager in Eugene, said the program has worked well since it began in July 1998.

“The program has been very good so far. Allowing three cars per site is not too many – it’s a manageable number, and efficient as far as sanitary facilities and regulation are concerned,” he said. “It gives a chance for people to help each other. Churches, neighbors and the rest of the community have been involved in making this work. But we still don’t have enough space.”

While residents in both Santa Barbara and Eugene have said they are concerned the proposal could act as a magnet for transient populations and the lower the aesthetic value of the designated spaces, Weinman said Eugene’s program has not seen either problem materialize.

“We’ve always been known to have a large homeless population in Eugene, but this hasn’t made it any worse,” he said. “The program gives people with a job and a car but no home an option while they’re getting back on their feet.”

Peter Marin, founder of the Committee for Social Justice in Santa Barbara, said while he supports the current plan, an alternative proposal could be more beneficial to the homeless population of Isla Vista.

“There are actually two proposals – the one that allows three cars, and another that would set up an experimental site where up to 20 cars could park,” he said. “This would essentially set up a place where anyone could come sleep and get a shower. The problem with the Eugene ordinance is that churches have to volunteer to participate, and they haven’t gotten as many participants as expected.”

However, Isla Vista Recreation and Parks District Director Diane Conn said the proposal of a large facility in I.V. may be unrealistic.

“They’re asking to turn a park into a trailer park, essentially. Perfect Park on Estero Road is to some extent already used as a parking/living area, and we have people living in parks and in their cars all over I.V.,” she said. “IVRPD’s concern is that we really don’t want to have to manage this ourselves. We want to get social services into I.V., but we don’t have the staff to make a project like this work by ourselves. Waste management is also an issue – we just don’t have the staff to do it.”

The proposal allowing 20 cars and regulated facilities has not received as much public support as the original proposal, but it remains an option, Chaconas said.

“Some locations might be bigger, but this proposal won’t necessarily help Isla Vista’s homeless population,” he said. “This is a first step, and there will definitely be a couple of public hearings before anything is decided.”

Gail Marshall will discuss the proposals at the I.V. Town Hall meeting at 6:30 tonight at the University Religious Center.