Midway Planners Frustrated with Zapf and City’s Responses to Homeless Issues

by on April 27, 2017 · 0 comments

in Ocean Beach

Stacie Spector, Mayor Faulconer’s homeless “czar”. Photo by Geoff Page

By Geoff Page

The Midway Community Planning Board devoted its regular Wednesday monthly meeting April 19th to the topic that is most on the minds of its members: the homeless and the problems they are causing in the Midway area.

Council member Lori Zapf was at the meeting as was the Mayor’s so called “homeless czar” Stacie Spector. There were about 40 people in attendance.  The meeting was held at the new EF Language School on Kenyon Street.

Zapf arrived at 3:30 and was the first to speak. She began by talking about the unexpected $50 million pension hit the city just experienced that has required a three and one half percent budget cut from city departments. Zapf said certain essential services would not be touched such as the life services, libraries, and rec centers.

However, Zapf said the city needed tourist revenues and that the homeless problem was detrimental to that goal. (Interestingly, she did not mention wooing business and manufacturing to San Diego to increase revenues.)

The Councilwoman talked about how recently passed Proposition 47 had hamstrung the efforts of the city and the police in dealing with the homeless population. Prop 47  required misdemeanor filings instead of felonies for shoplifting, grand theft, receiving stolen property, forgery, fraud, and writing bad checks if the value of these crimes does not exceed $950.  Personal use of most illegal drugs was also included.  The reason for this was to reduce the jail population of people who were there for “non-serious and nonviolent property and drug crimes.”

Zapf maintained that all the SDPD could do now was write tickets and could not use the law to deal with the homeless. Audience member Brian Pease, an attorney who is running next year for the District 2 seat, said the ticket issue is a policy of the SDPD, instead of charging misdemeanors. He said the PD could still arrest these people but preferred to write the tickets instead.

Zapf said the city attorney’s office was swamped with misdemeanor cases as a result of Prop 47 but did not offer any facts to support that allegation. Zapf talked at length about the rise in petty theft since the homeless learned about the dollar limit on petty theft. She said there had been a big increase in petty theft as a result of Prop 47 and said the thieves are tallying up their take to be sure it was under $950; she even claimed that the thieves were carrying calculators for this purpose. Zapf did not provide any facts to back up these assertions ether.  One proposed solution to this, Zapf said, could be to make the thefts cumulative instead of each theft having the whole $950 threshold.

According to Zapf, Prop 47 was supposed to save the state $200 million a year that was to go to mental health treatment and other services but apparently the savings have not materialized in those numbers.  The projected savings have been downgraded to $110 million over three years and the cities in California have to apply for those funds. Zapf said “we were lied to or deceived at best” and San Diego could expect to get would from as little as nothing to $6 million.  As with her other statements, Zapf did not provide anything to substantiate her figures.

Zapf mentioned bicycle thefts that have risen dramatically and mentioned bicycle “chop shops” that operate in the open. Judging by various posts on local Facebook pages, there does appear to be some truth to this allegation, but Zapf had no numbers to support this allegation.

One of the biggest problems in dealing with the homelessness in the area, according to Zapf and others, is that people feed homeless and give them money on the streets.  By doing this, the public has made panhandling lucrative – according to Zapf’s narrative. Instead of seeking assistance at established facilities, many prefer to be, and can afford to be, on the streets.

Several members on the Midway board advocated for Public Service Announcements to educate the community and get them to donate to established agencies and private organizations instead.  They said the problem would improve on the streets if people stopped these handouts.

Zapf maintained that she spent six months researching the possibility of an ordinance prohibiting panhandling on medians but was unsuccessful and she finally gave up. Apparently, personal rights trump certain laws, Zapf said, and the ACLU was always in the way of these efforts.  Members of the audience suggested re-configuring median areas making it difficult to sit or stand but Zapf’s response was that it would cost money and the city has none.

Zapf talked about going on SDPD ride-alongs and witnessing the problem firsthand. She said the amount of trash in the river area was staggering. She said she saw the PD make a larger number of contacts with its Quality of Life team offering support services and no one took them up on any of it, preferring to remain on the streets.  On a personal note, Zapf said her own mother was homeless and an alcoholic and that experience showed her how difficult it was to get people to accept help if they didn’t want any.

There appeared to be some frustration among the board members as Zapf spoke and one finally asked what she could do for the Midway area specifically, which was why the meeting was set up. Zapf had talked about the problem as a whole and did not focus on Midway.

In an answer notable for its candor, Zapf said “not much.” She said what was needed was a grassroots effort, that she was only one person and the city had no money. Zapf was asked if the city could at least put together some PSAs about not feeding the homeless but her answer was noncommittal. Zapf said the mayor had hired someone to head up the city’s efforts, the aforementioned Stacie Spector.

A board member asked if there was any discretionary money available and the answer was, not really. Her office had some money but only a small amount. An audience member who was a business owner asked who was responsible for removing the trash left behind by the homeless after they were made to move out of an area. If the area was public property, a citizen could call Environmental Services but if the trash was on private property, there was no good answer. Zapf suggested trying the city’s website for Get It Done .

Another audience member complained about the lack of leadership and said a review of  the Next Door website would show a lot of people complaining about this. Zapf, understandably, appeared to get a little defensive and repeated that she was only one person, the city has no money, and officials are handcuffed by various laws that protect individual rights.  It seemed that everything Zapf had said to that point was meant to lay the groundwork for this response.

At this point, Zapf punted the discussion to Stacie Spector who arrived at 4:30, a half hour before the meeting was to end. Spector explained that she had been called into an unexpected meeting at the mayor’s office that had interfered. It was later learned that Spector had another appointment at 5:00, meaning her appearance would only be for a half hour.

Spector explained that her job was to perform a support service assessment with a goal of organizing a central effort, bringing the many various independent efforts out there into a centralized group.  Like Zapf, Spector focused on the larger issue and did not have any specific ideas for the Midway area. She mentioned Isaiah’s law that basically said the city could not take someone off the street unless it had a bed for them. She also talked about the effect of Prop 47.

Spector talked about the county’s Regional Task Force for Homeless chaired by Supervisor Ron Roberts that would include city council member Chris Cate and Mayor Kevin Falconer. She said this group would have a steady leadership of at least three and a half years considering the terms of the politicians involved.

Spector talked a bit about drugs and how much more potent they were than they were years ago, which is exacerbating the problems.

Spector said organizing everyone would result in a big data base they could use in decision making, knowing the personal histories of the people they encountered on the street, such as arrest records and mental history.

Spector took questions from the audience and the board. She was asked what could be done about all the homeless coming here from elsewhere. Spector acknowledged this was part of the problem but that there was no good answer to the question.

Spector emphasized the need for beds.  She said if beds are available the city can get people off the street but finding beds is a problem.  She said she personally has looked at over forty sites for such facilities with little luck.  She was asked if the old Midway Post site was in consideration and said it was looked at but that no one knew the status of the building.  A few of the board members appeared to know that the structure was sold to a private entity but they also did not know what the plans were.

One of the board members suggested that the city use the Midway area as a test case for educating the public about how to deal with the panhandlers using PSAs and other media.  Spector thought it was a good idea and said she wrote it down but there was no solid support for the idea.

The ultimate result of Zapf’s and Spector’s visits was bad news for the Midway planners – no money to do anything and – according to Zapf – laws that have hog-tied people trying to do something.

The Midway planning group is trying to do something though, that was discussed during the business portion of the meeting: they are hiring a private security firm.  Apparently, there is a fund of $140,000 left over from the defunct Midway Business Improvement District collected from businesses in the area.  The money has been sitting at the city for years and Midway has been told to use it or lose it.

They have decided to engage the same G4S security firm that the Ocean Beach Merchants Association brought into Ocean Beach. One armed person will patrol from six in the evening to six in the morning.  The only difficulty is how to engage in a contract since the planning boards cannot do that.  They said they are working with the city to find a mechanism to do this.

The chair mentioned the proposal from a local businessman to create an area in Otay Mesa to house the homeless and said she would be asking the board for an endorsement of the idea at the May meeting.  For more information on this idea go here to this San Diego U-T oped piece.





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