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Quality of Life

Memorial benches return to Swami's Beach — with addition

More than two weeks after Encinitas removed the memorial benches at Swami’s Beach, about half are now back with a new addition.

The city has added a concrete block in the middle that it is calling an “armrest.”

“Arm rests (sic) were installed to some of the benches to match current preferred standards of City benches, such as the existing benches at Swami’s already, Coastal Rail Trail, and Leucadia streetscape,” the city said in an email statement to KPBS.

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The city removed the 13 memorial benches Nov. 17 for “routine maintenance,” and seven were brought back Nov. 30.

Some locals, however, think the concrete block was added for another reason.

“They had a problem with homeless people sleeping here and leaving trash all over,” said Robert Stine, who’s lived in Encinitas for 25 years.

Residents have complained about the unsheltered population and Swami’s Beach for years. They say some unsheltered individuals get drunk and become belligerent.

“I’ve actually had one of them come up to my friend ... and just get right on our face and just start spitting off and yelling where I had to push him back and told him to get out of my space,” said Larry Day, another local who’s been coming to Swami’s to surf for nearly 25 years.

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Day and Stine both support the city adding the concrete blocks. They say it has helped. Homeless advocates, however, have criticized such moves from cities as “hostile architecture” because the design is not essential to the function of the space.

Hostile architecture is designed to stop unwanted behavior, such as skateboarding, loitering or sleeping in public spaces.

“We don’t want anybody sleeping outside,” Interfaith CEO Greg Anglea said in a statement to KPBS. “(With city shelters) operating at capacity, we need more safe alternatives for people who are unsheltered.”

While the city didn’t outright say it was why the concrete blocks were installed.

In a Facebook post, Encinitas Deputy Mayor Joy Lyndes said, “the city is encouraging sitting” and that many benches around the region are designed to “discourage sleeping.”

The city said it is aware of the homeless issues at Swami’s and is working with many agencies to “provide resources to those experiencing homelessness.”

Surfer Ty Fitzpatrick said while some of his neighbors are glad for changes the city made to the benches, he doesn’t think it will prevent the issue from coming back.

“I think the bigger issue would be addressing the homelessness as opposed to doing that,” he said, referring to the concrete blocks. “It’s pretty bad. You used to be able to put three people on a bench comfortably and now it’s two.”

The city says the rest of the benches will be returned after they are power-washed, resealed with anti-graffiti coating and the armrest is installed.

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