Midway Planners Blindsided by Housing Commission’s Purchase of Ramada Inn for Homeless People

by on February 23, 2023 · 7 comments

in Ocean Beach

City Outlines Planned Destruction of Community Planning Groups

By Geoff Page

The reactions of some Midway-Pacific Highway Community Planning Group members, at its regular monthly meeting on February 15, resembled nothing less than a kick to the groin. That and the clear news that MCRD is not going anywhere anytime soon were the highlights of the Zoom meeting, but some idiocy involving the Community Planning Group changes came in a close third.

San Diego Housing Commission Surprise

The San Diego Housing Commission was there to make a presentation that clearly took the group by surprise, and not in a nice way. Lisa Jones, Executive Vice President Strategic Initiatives, and Buddy Boher, Vice President of Real Estate and Finance and Acquisitions, were the presenters.

The SDHC is purchasing the old Ramada Inn property at 3737-3747 Midway Drive and is planning to turn it into “permanent affordable housing rental units with supportive services.” In other words, it will be another facility with the sole purpose of addressing the homeless problem. In the Midway area. Once again.

The Ramada property borders the Vons shopping center on the north side. It is two stories tall and was built in 1959. It has 64 hotel rooms in 21,912 square feet of space.

Purchasing motels and hotels is one of the ways the SDHC is trying to handle the affordability and homeless problems, that is not unique to the Midway area. According to the SDHC presentation, there is a statewide program named Homekey that “is designed to rapidly produce housing for persons experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness.” This is called “permanent supportive housing.”

Homekey is administered by the California Department of Housing and Urban Development (CD) . The available funds can be used for:

  • Acquiring or rehabilitating hotels, apartments or homes and converting them into permanent or interim housing
  • Conversion of nonresidential properties into residential units
  • New construction
  • Master leasing of properties for non-congregate housing

One of the slides in the presentation was a high aerial shot intended to show some of the reasoning why this is a good location for such a facility. The shot showed it is near two freeways, a grocery store, fast food places, pharmacies, entertainment at the Pechanga Arena, and is on Bus Line #35. Hard to argue with that.

The first bullet in the “Current Status” part of the presentation stated, “SDHC is in escrow to purchase the property.”  The second bullet stated, “SDHC had completed physical inspections of the property and intends to proceed to apply for Homekey funding and close escrow.”

This was the part that set longtime board member and longtime chair Cathy Kenton off on a passionate and frustrated tirade about how Midway is being treated by the city as a dumping ground for these things. It is possible that some of her anger also resulted from a sense of betrayal.

Lisa Jones, or one of her staff, has been faithfully attending Midway meetings since the middle of 2021 when she first apprised the board of what the SHDC calls a “harm reduction shelter” at the old Pier One Store on Sports Area Blvd. That one was also an unexpected surprise.

Jones is articulate, open, and does not react negatively when confronted but rather handles it very well. She has built up trust and respect among the board members. Her very first task was to sooth the anger over the group having the Pier One harm reduction shelter sprung on them, which she did well.

But, now, the group knows her and having another homeless endeavor sprung on them, when they thought they had a friend in Jones, clearly added to the angry feelings. In her defense, Jones said that there were things she was just not able to talk about, due to disclosure issues during real estate transactions, until things were at a certain point.

The “Next Steps” part of the presentation was a timeline:

  • Homekey Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) Estimated March 2023
  • Homekey Application by SDHC – April 2023
  • Presentation to SDHC & San Diego Housing Authority for consideration – May/June 2023
  • Anticipated Funding Award – July 2023
  • Close of Escrow – September 2023
  • Construction and rehabilitation of the property- September 2023 – August 2024
  • First residents move in – September 2024

Some of this seems out of order. The SDHC is in escrow before it finds out if any money is available, before it applies for the money? And, the SDHC is making a presentation to the SDHC – itself – for consideration at this late step?

The purpose of this facility would be to provide housing for people previously experiencing homelessness that would include “individuals, veterans and Transition-Age Youth (TAY).” The TAY would be young people from 18- 25 years old.

The facility would be managed by a property management agency that would provide security, operations, and maintenance.

Residents in this new facility will sign leases like any other apartment tenant would sign. The key difference in this facility and a regular apartment building is SDHC will have a contracted “service provider” on-site that will provide host of social services designed to assist the residents. These will include:

  • Mental Health Services
  • Healthcare Services
  • Behavioral Health Care
  • Substance abuse services
  • Case management
  • Life skills training
  • Education Services
  • Employment assistance
  • Other services as determined by residents’ needs

One has to wonder what “other services” there could possibly be.

After the presentation, Kenton took the floor and voiced her complaints. She said that she did not see communities near her such as “Carmel Valley, Sorrento Hills or Torrey Hills being forced to absorb these large communities of people.” That was perhaps the telling point and the point that The OB Rag has been making about Midway, it is not a community.

Midway is mostly commercial and light industrial; there is a very tiny population of residents. A community consists of people living together in an area that they take pride in. If the city tried to do this in any of the communities Kenton mentioned, the residents would make it very difficult if not impossible. There is no one to fight in Midway, it is much easier. A few angry planning group members are all anyone has to deal with.

In the end, “it is a done deal” as Kenton said and the Midway group had no say in the matter, this presentation was to tell them what would be happening, not consult with them.


Jim Gruny, spokesperson for the Marine Corp Recruit Depo or MCRD, gave an update about the base that made it clear the Marines are not going anywhere soon. This year, they are spending $6 million to expand the clothing facility.  This is due to a big uptick in the number of women in the Marines that is expected to hit 50% in the near future. The Marines are also spending $94 million on a new mess hall.

Next year, the Marines will add a new medical and dental facility for $76 million and a new barracks for $83 million. They are also replacing the fencing around the base but no price was provided for that work, which would be expensive. The projects will total a quarter of a billion dollars, not including the fence. Although, the military has been known to dump money into facilities that it abandons later, one can probably conclude that the Marines intend to stick around.

Community Planning Group Changes

Planning Department representative Marlon Pangilinan attended the meeting at the group’s request to help explain the Community Planning Group changes and what Midway needs to do this year. The city passed major changes to the rules involving planning groups last year. In order to qualify as a planning group now each group must do four things.

#1 – Application to be recognized by city council. The application will be available by April. Pangilinan said the application will include questions like “Who are you guys, who are your members, what makes you qualified to represent the community, things like that.”

The changes are involved enough that the city is hiring a consultant to hold workshops to educate people on what needs to be done. There will also be time for individual assistance like “Office hours with the professor,” Pangilinan said. He compared the process to applying for a grant, showing why your organization is the best to represent your community.

This will be interesting because there may be competing groups vying to be recognized in some neighborhoods and the decision as to which group should represent the community will be up to the city. This is how consultants present proposals to the city and the judging process is wide open to subjectivity.

Pangilinan then said judging who would be best to represent a community “probably will be centered around, and focused around diversity and representation.” And there you have it. The biggest red herring in the push to “reform” CPGs was the nonsensical proposition that the planning groups were deliberately excluding renters and young people and people of color from their ranks.

Now, the applying group, in the case of competing groups, that does the best job of showing what it will try to do will get the nod. The reality is such plans are doomed to failure, so it will come down to who writes the most convincing proposal.

The more Pangilinan talked the clearer it became that this application will take a major effort to fill out.

#2 – New operating procedures. This means that each planning board will need to revise its by-laws to comport with all the changes. This will be a very onerous task by itself.

#3 – Guidelines for ethical standards. This was not well described but had to do with things like donations and conflicts of interest and procedures for conduct.

#4 – Participation and representation plan. This will be where the rubber will meet the road.

All the information can be found on the city council website for the meeting dated September 13, 2022.

Having been a planning board member in the past, this writer can say that, presented with all this stuff to do would have been reason enough to walk away. And, it is a whole lot of work to become something that will no longer be a planning board. The word “may” appears throughout revised Council Policy 600-24.

“A recognized CPG may make advisory recommendations…”; “Recognized CPGs may also advise…”; The word shall has disappeared.

CPGs can now be corporations:

“CPGs incorporated under the laws of the State of California are responsible for maintaining corporate documents, including articles of incorporation and corporate bylaws, and for complying with State laws and requirements.”

And, finally, this:

“Private project applicants are not required by this policy to present their application before CPGs, although the City encourages applicants to conduct robust engagement with CPGs, the community, and project neighbors.”

Land use review was the main responsibility of planning boards, it is what they were created for. Coming before the local community planning group has always been a part of the project permitting process at least since the mid-1970s. The requirement to do so is in the permitting cycle review document. Without that, the groups lose their unique purpose for being.

This was the goal of the “reforms,” to severely restrict public participation.

Why would any volunteer citizen want to go through all of this? The groups that will do it will probably be groups with people who are paid to participate, like development interests or cycling advocates. The possibilities are endless.

But then, it got even nuttier during the discussion of Zoom versus in-person meetings. The Covid state of emergency will be lifted on February 28. This means that planning groups will need to go back to in-person meetings. Many people want to continue the Zoom meetings too because it allows more people to participate. Well, it seems the city has found another way to discourage public participation.

Pangilinan said Zoom will still be fine but the group will need to have a public meeting place. Any board members who prefer to participate by Zoom, instead of attending the in-person meeting, may do so, but there is a weird catch. If a group member decides to participate by Zoom, the address of where they are calling in from must be published in the agenda 72 hours in advance as a site where the public may come to participate. Here was an example.

One group member said she took her lunch time in her apartment during the meeting time in order to participate. She asked if that meant her address would be advertised and if that meant people would have to be allowed into her apartment to join the meeting. Pangilinan said yes. He attributed this to some requirement of the Brown Act, one of the least understood laws in California.

This meant that no board member would be using Zoom, making things a little more difficult.

This is the end of the community planning board system folks, no doubt about it.

Midway Rising

Midway chair Dike Anyiwo invited Midway Rising, the city’s chosen developer for the Sports Arena site, to repeat their presentation from the February 8 public meeting for the sake of the board members who could not attend that meeting, and anyone else listening in. As reported in The Rag story about that meeting, only two members of the Midway group attended that meeting out of nine sitting members, surprisingly.

Details about the February 8 meeting can be found here, .

The one topic about the presentation that garnered discussion was the development proposing 10%, or 200 units of housing for the homeless. There was apparently a requirement from the city that a percentage be set aside this way. This, of course, raised the ire again of some group members as it will be another homeless facility in their area.

This led to a discussion of how the developers plan to keep the homeless from taking over the large grassy “zocalo” area planned as a public park space west of the new Sports Arena.  Jim Anderson, speaking for Midway Rising, freely acknowledged the problem that plagues the Midway area.

Anderson pointed out that the Midway area is now mostly commercial and industrial with very little residential presence. When business closes down in the evening, the area is left to the people of the streets, which is one reason why it attracts this population.

Anderson said the project would bring in a large residential population that would be a presence, around the clock, that Midway does not have now. The numbers of people going to restaurants and stores and entertainment at the arena will increase greatly.  While this presence may not solve the problem, it is not unrealistic to think this might help.

During the discussion, it became apparent that someone in the Midway group reads The OB Rag. Kenton said she had seen the subject of the 72-hour meeting notice raised in a news story. Only The Rag mentioned this. Anderson made it clear that because these quarterly meetings Midway Rising is holding are not public meetings, they are not subject to the 72-hour notice requirement.

Anderson made it clear, however, that they heard the message that noticing of the meetings needed improvement. He said Midway Rising would do as much as possible to spread the announcements as widely as possible.


San Diego Police Department Community Relations Officer David Surwilo explained that the SDPD was working with 37 fewer dispatchers than it needed, although the number would drop to 27 soon with some new recruits. This is why the time it takes to get through to the SDPD takes so long. The SDPD logs thousands of calls a day.

In order to qualify for a dispatcher’s position, a person would need to pass a security check that usually involves a lie detector test. Surwilo encouraged the board to let people know these positions are open. He offered to arrange a visit to sit and watch the dispatchers work to see what the job consists of.

Surwilo was also involved in a lengthy discussion of the homeless situation in the Midway area doing his best to respond to comments the group always has about this issue. He mentioned that the police cannot enforce the vehicle habitation ordinance yet because of pending litigation. Surwilo emphasized that even though the PD is the public face of the effort, they are only a part of the solution, the police are not the solution all -by themselves.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie February 23, 2023 at 11:28 am

Project Homekey is the same state program that supplied free trailers to San Diego for unhoused people. But while SD is buying up hotels, the trailers were never used and 3 years later are empty and stored on city property.


Mat Wahlstrom February 24, 2023 at 12:45 pm

Hate to say ‘I told you so,’ but I did: https://obrag.org/2021/11/another-assault-in-the-war-on-san-diegos-community-planning-groups/.

The “CPGs can now be corporations” is a new twist, but sadly not a surprise. The city wants to do to CPGs what they did with the business improvement districts: remove their independence by creating a financial self-interest, to ensure they’re complicit in freezing out authentic dissent.


Paul Webb February 26, 2023 at 11:41 am

I’ve held off on commenting on Geoff’s recounting of the Midway meeting because, honestly, I’ve had very mixed feelings.

One one hand, I sympathize with the folks in Midway because it is very clear that the city IS making Midway the dumping grounds for the homeless (of course it has been, unofficially for come time, but the city is making it official). They have every right to object to the way the city has treated their community, dropping a project to which the community is opposed on them with no recourse.

On the other hand, I’ve been working really hard not to have moments experiencing schadenfreude, the taking of pleasure in the misfortune of others. The communities surrounding the Midway area are going to have to deal with a project to which we are opposed and to which we have no recourse – Midway Rising, which, of course, the Midway group enthusiastically supports.

What goes around comes around. Ain’t karma a bitch?


kh March 9, 2023 at 3:26 pm

I felt some of the Midway planners really enjoyed their time in the sun on the 30-ft height limit removal and redevelopment plan, which not coincidentally the city and councilmember wanted to happen.

But it was only ever about what the city wanted. Now Midway planners quickly find themselves back in the usual position of their input getting ignored.


Paul Webb February 26, 2023 at 11:47 am

Oh, and by the way, thanks to Geoff for the reporting on the City’s moves to kill the planning groups. It’s really something to see the city blaming the planning groups, which have no real power and little influence, for the housing shortage! Let’s take away what little “power” (the power to recommend denial of a project which is ignored by the planning commission) the groups have and also make it more difficult for them to hold meetings, have elections and otherwise try to represent their communities.

Gosh, we’ve made it so hard for developers to make money in this city. We should be ashamed of ourselves.


kh March 9, 2023 at 3:29 pm

I’ve yet to find a single instance where a CPG recommendation of denial, or even conditions, impacted the city’s approval of a “discretionary” development project. A good percentage of the time the city didn’t even accurately convey the CPG recommendation to the decision maker.


Paul Webb March 9, 2023 at 3:44 pm

I do know of one, and only one. I’m going to be deliberately vague out of concern that legal action might ensue.

A CPG voted to deny a tentative map waiver for a four unit “apartment” complex already under construction. Projects of four rental units or less are ministerial and do not require any discretionary approvals, and, typically, do not receive CPG reviews. However, the granting of a tentative map waiver (allowing the units to be sold as condos) is a discretionary action, requiring that the project be presented to the appropriate CPG. The CPG in question noted discrepancies between the approved plans, the description of the project and the number of parking spaces provided. The units were described as two-bedroom plus den. A third bedroom would trigger additional parking under the City’s land development code.

Looking at the plans, it was fairly obvious that the only difference between the proposed “den” and a “bedroom” was the absence of a door, which could be easily added after receiving an occupancy permit. The CPG voted to deny the map waiver, and approved the filing of an appeal with the planning commission.

At the planning commission, the applicant insisted that the units would be two bedrooms plus den, and would not trigger the need for additional parking. Unfortunately for the applicant, the CPG representatives submitted the applicants’ advertising materials which described the project as having three bedroom units.

I suspect that the planning commission really did not have a great deal of concern over the design of the project and the apparent parking deficit, but they really took offense at being lied to by the applicant. The map waiver was denied at the planning commission.

I never followed up to see if the full council approved the project on appeal.


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