Mayor’s Office Put on the Hot-Seat at Midway Planners’ Meeting

by on January 24, 2017 · 2 comments

in Culture, Economy, Environment, History, Homelessness, Ocean Beach, San Diego

Issue of Homelessness in Midway Area Dominates Monthly Meeting

By Geoff Page

The Mayor’s Office was put on the proverbial hot-seat during the recent Midway/Pacific Highway Community Planning Group (Midway) monthly meeting – held on Thursday, January  19, 2017 at the San Diego City College – West City Campus on Fordham Street Room 208.  (The meeting is ordinarily held the third Wednesday of the month, the Thursday meeting was a one time occurrence.)

The meeting started at 3:00 in the afternoon and continued until 5:00.  There were not enough board members present to constitute a quorum but this was not  a serious problem because no action items, requiring a board vote, were on the agenda.

Anthony Theodore from Coldwell Banker spoke during non-agenda public comment on a subject he described in detail at the previous meeting, a project he is trying to develop involving properties on Lytton Street across from the entrance to Liberty Station.  He is looking for a zoning change to reduce the required habitable square footage of a unit from 1,500 to 1,000 square feet. This same area was mentioned later in the meeting when the City Planning Department provided an update on the Midway Community Plan.

Anthony George, the representative for Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s office, gave a report that was basically a recap of the Mayor’s State of the City address.  Of particular interest was what the Mayor wants to do regarding the TOT (Transit Occupancy Tax).  The mayor wants to increase it and use it for three things: provide homeless housing, expand the Convention Center, and repair roads.

George explained that people should not give food and money to the homeless but should instead give the money to established organizations.  He said he spoke with a man who spent a great deal of time with the homeless and learned that if they get free food from people, they spend the money they had on drugs and overdose and die since they did not have to spend money on food.  In other words, kindness is killing them.

George said the Mayor is doing a number of things to deal with the homeless problem.  He said the Mayor wants to save taxpayer money spent on emergency services by providing permanent housing for the homeless.  He spoke about an effort called First Connection Center that is a sort of clearinghouse of services for people in need that works in conjunction with the 211 service.  He said the Mayor wants to increase the number of available beds by identifying new facilities for those. He then mentioned a partnership with the 211 service to provide government issued cell phones to the homeless so they could locate available beds.

When George finished, the chair took the Mayor’s office to task saying that the Mayor is saying a lot and doing very little about the homeless problem.  This kicked off a discussion of the homeless problem in the Midway area that went on to dominate the meeting.  The Midway Planning Board is largely made up of business owners as there are very few residents of the area.  The board members are seriously frustrated by this problem for both personal and business reasons.  They did not hear anything from the Mayor’s report that encouraged them.

One board member asked what the City planned to do with the $12.7 million the Chargers have to pay the City when they leave.  George did not have a specific answer but reminded the members the City has other bills to pay.  George said the council offices are now preparing memos to send to the Mayor’s office regarding budget priorities and encouraged people to contact their councilperson.

Another person asked George why the City didn’t get out a Public Service Announcement (PSA), telling people not to feed the homeless.  George described the difficulties – read political liability – of putting out such an announcement.

One board member asked if the Mayor ever got out and drove the area and saw the homeless problem firsthand.  They said the Mayor was all talk and no action.  George defended the Mayor saying he was just like all San Diegans.

Another board member asked about using the old downtown library as a place for homeless housing.  George said it had been looked at but that the building required so much maintenance that it was not “cost effective.”  George did not explain what kind of “cost effectiveness” would be expected from a non-profit venture such as providing housing for the homeless.

George repeated several times “I’ll have to take that back with me” on several points made by the board.  George did not take any notes during these comments, apparently having the ability to memorize the various topics he planned to carry back with him.  The chair’s final point was that that the Mayor stop talking and actually do something.

The meeting moved on to SDPd Community Relations Officer David Surwilo and his partner Ricardo representing the police department.  Surwilo explained that there had been a shift change.  He spoke a little and fielded questions about the homeless problem. He explained that, because of changes in the law, the police could not put people in jail as easily as they had once been able to, something that deprived the police of an effective tool.

Adrianna Martinez, representing Assemblyman Todd Gloria, spoke next also on the subject of homelessness. She said they were looking for volunteers for the annual homeless count to be held Friday, January 27th that determines how much Federal money can be obtained to address the issue.  Goria’s representative said that San Diego had the country’s 4th highest homeless population but was 26th in Federal funding, something they are working to correct. She reiterated the don’t-feed-the-homeless theme and mentioned that some churches have put out PSAs on  the subject.

James McGuirk representing Councilmember Lori Zapf’s office was next and his main topic was the Community Projects, Programs, and Services (CPPS).  McGuirk explained that the program disburses money in the form of what sounded like small grants.  There is a city website for this program: https://www.sandiego.gov/citycouncil/cpps

Before McGuirk could begin his explanation, a board member recounted her experience applying for some of this money.  She said she spent about 40 hours filling out the paperwork to get $5,000 and then 20 more hours to actually get the reimbursement.  She said it was a “phenomenal amount of work” and the she “would never do it again.”  She said her time was worth more than what she managed to get from this fund.

McGuirk said the money that Zapf had available was “left over” from last year’s budget and it was meted out in small amounts from $2,500 to $5,000. He described several things that they had “boughten” for people with the fund and said there were successes and it wasn’t all negative as described by the board member. He said applications for the money had to be in by December so there is time to apply for next year’s funds.

The rest of the meeting was taken up with an update of the Midway Community Plan.  Vickie White, representing the Planning Department, presented the update using a colored map of the Midway Planning District annotated with  a series of boxes providing details on the potential plans for various parts of the district. For all of the details, go to https://www.sandiego.gov/planning/community/cpu/oldtownmidway.

White said that the first draft of the new plan was done in 2013 and that the plan needed to be finished by the end of 2017, indicating that this was at least a five year effort. The next draft is due by the end of this month. The theme of the update was increasing density by changing zoning allowing for more mixed use areas. Some areas were only density changes such as in the area on Lytton Street described previously by Anthony Theodore from Coldwell Banker. In this particular area, the recommendation is to increase the density from the existing 44 dwelling units (du) per acre to 54/du per acre.

The chair expressed great concern about the industrial area behind the sports area saying that area was under utilized, that it would be a good area for residential development. The impression was that this area might be characterized as blighted to some degree.

The Sports Arena was discussed and there were several options for the area but the future plan included keeping some kind of entertainment facility.  Part of the current site was marked as a possible location for a homeless facility that was of concern.

 

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

William Nawn January 25, 2017 at 3:51 pm

Excellent objective article.

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Geoff Page Geoff Page January 27, 2017 at 1:51 pm

Thank you, that was the goal, I’m happy to see the comment.

Reply

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