Roundtable: Housing Commission, El Cajon Gets Tough, Child Sex Trafficking, Sex Workers' Lawsuit
November 3, 2017 3:12 p.m.
Housing Commission, El Cajon Homeless, Child Sex Trafficking, Sex Worker Lawsuit
James DeHaven, Watchdog & data reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune
Susan Murphy, reporter, KPBS News
Kristina Davis, crime & public safety reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune
Dana Littlefield, editor, crime and courts, The San Diego Union-Tribune
Related Story: Roundtable: Housing Commission, El Cajon Gets Tough, Child Sex Trafficking, Sex Workers' Lawsuit
MS: The housing crisis in San Diego but the commission has 300 million and unspent funds. They say there is a reason for that. El Cajon is cracking down on the homeless living on city streets and Mexican authorities are working with the FBI to hold sex trafficking of children in Tijuana. A lawsuit challenging the prostitution law has reached federal court. I am Mark Sauer. The KPBS Roundtable starts right now. Welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories. Joining me at the roundtable today is James DeHaven, Susan Murphy, Christina Davis, and Dana Littlefield. San Diego's twin test lack of affordable housing were brought into relief by the hepatitis a outbreak this year. Is the job of the housing commission to help provide low-cost housing. Critics say they are sitting on a pile of cash even as rent continues to sore in the housing crisis worsens but they say there's a good reason for that. Here is Rick gentry a few months ago talking about the number of people in need of housing.
[Clip] You have 75,000 applicants for the turnover rate of 100 a month. You can do the mouth. -- Math. I don't know how to calculate the growth of the problem.
MS: So the situation is bad in the future could be worse. It's a very complicated story.
JD: They have roughly 279 million as of fiscal year 2016. If the total at 299 or 300 million.
MS: It sounds like a ton of money. Will get into the details but how does this agency accumulate funds?
JD: They get money from the Fed's. They put a lot of that money into housing vouchers. They have lengthy waiting list to use them because of the housing shortage.The way that it piles up his they don't manage to spend all the money that they taken every year. Something like 27 million is what goes into the reserves.
MS: What are they supposed to do to spend that money that they collect?
JD: Depends on who you ask. They could use it to build a bunch a affordable housing units, offer new incentives to developers, new loans new crayons.
MS: You mentioned a typical year 27 million so if you collect that last year, let's say that's enough -- we had this temporary housing shelter situation.
JD: By my calculations to house about 8000 people.
SM: We got an email from Councilman Alvarez and said that it's going to cost for family of four $5000 per month for these temporary structures. That seems pretty pricey.
JD: I believe that is what the housing commission is saying. I remember when the idea came around they said it was going to be something like $200,000 so that is a number that I used as far as how many people you can staff. It could be much higher.
SM: Initially they said it would be about 100 people protect another sing 400.
MS: The commission report are funded fewer than 20% of the low income rental units and hope to finance over the past year.
JD: The funding source for that is developer fees that are collected from builders who are going to add affordable housing units to the project. The commission collects those so they themselves can use them to build more units but over the past five or six fiscal years they fallen short of meeting their goal for new rental housing construction.
MS: That is due to the difficulty of building in this market? Finding space and all the cost?
JD: I think that has a lot to do with it. The housing commission is saying that project delays due to financing complications. Sometimes they involve private financing from banks and then you combine that with state financing. It's very complicated. They say that is a primary reason why these things tend to take longer than they would like him to.
MS: You've got pushback from the agency. They say it is misleading to say that there sitting on a pile of cash. What is the explanation?
JD: They say that all the money that they have is already in some form dedicated or committed to a development project or is going to be used for a project in the future. They say a lot of the stuff is loans and unrestricted possessions. They have not been able to show me where the loans are but they say all this money is tied up.
MS: What's been the position of Mayor Kevin Faulconer and Council leaders about the housing commission and how they're addressing the goals?
JD: Silence as far as I know.
MS: There has not been any great critics thing we have to spend more and get more?
JD: Alvarez has criticized the approach, but the housing commission goes up and present the facts and figures and they don't go really thoroughly questioned by the city Council.
SM: With all this extra money it seems I remember when it rained and when it was called they had to meet a certain threshold they oversee the shelters so it seems like a drop in the bucket to be able to put people into a shelter for one night in here they have's money.
MS: Part of the mission if you look at the statement is to react to emergencies such as your describing and it would seem like they had cash to jump in on it.
JD: I would think so, yes.
MS: We had these stories last year during the stormy winter why it takes so long to get these things up and going when there's people out there in the weathers bad. So since 2005 the money owed to the agency increase 180%. It seems like they're going to the wrong direction.
JD: When you look close to reports, they're making fewer loans and not collecting all the money that they are owed on the loans. They been docked for that by the city auditor in the past two was questioning them. They said you guys are have all this interest that you could collect but it doesn't seem like you are collecting it and perhaps you should. They contended that as well the time.
MS: Let's talk about what was their response? It is a very complicated situation. There's a whole ton about the story and the bureaucratic hurdles.
JD: I think the key thing they mention is something I mentioned, which is they claim that little over half of the fund balance is out in the form of loans to developers who are using the money, which is great, but the of not identified for me on the reports which loans they are. They just say here's a number. This is how much we have out on the street. If you take that in face value, then, yes, the numbers a lot smaller.
MS: There are loans and grants here. What is the difference?
JD: That is another point that they've made is the housing commission makes all these loans. They could just throw the money at developers but they wouldn't be able to keep the property. They would have no further claim to the property. Rick gentry said that he would like to see them create a legacy with the loans. I'm not sure what he means by that, but so far that's meant a huge amount of money that they owe them in exchange for not all that many housing units being built.
MS: Do you see this coming up with the housing crisis in the homelessness and the hepatitis A situation, to see this coming up in getting more attention?
JD: I do. I think the moment is right politically for certain folks on the city Council to start taking a hard look at these issues. I noticed that since the story has came out.
MS: We will follow up and see what happens. I appreciate that. As in San Diego and other areas of the homeless population is soaring in El Cajon but the suburb is taking a tough approach. Here is El Cajon mayor Frank Wells with what the city is doing.
[Clip] Were not going to let people have tents on the streets or let tent cities grow or let people just sleep were really want to sleep. We will maintain rules and discipline.
MS: Susan, start with the measures.
SM: A measure is this anti-panhandling role. They have posted these permanent signs in intersections and it discourages people from getting money directly to people holding cardboard signs and instead encourages people to donate to nonprofit and homeless outreach nonprofits in the city where the money could be used to help them in a broader way. The reason behind that is because city leaders and the mayor say that it's fueling drug addictions. Many of the people who are living on the streets of El Cajon have drug problems. He says that is a big reason for homelessness rising in the city. We do have a cut from him explaining that.
[Clip] If you're giving somebody $10 and you're hoping they're going to use it for food, I understand that. That makes a lot of sense, but the reality is you're not using it for food, they're using it for alcohol, opiates, methamphetamines. All these things perpetuate diseases.
MS: Some churches have been giving the homeless handouts offering free food. That is going to change also, right?
SM: Yes, last week they introduced the ordinance prohibiting churches from serving meals to groups of homeless people on city property like parks and Wells park was an area where they would serve upwards of 30 meals a week. They would come and set up these potluck style picnics. But they're not allowed to do that anymore. They say that hepatitis A has spread from fecal matter from the hand to the mouth and they say that food need to be prepared and served in a more sanitary way. They cut that off and I did talk to some church organizations with her dissipated in this and the try to look for new solutions and creative ways to reach out to homeless people. Last Saturday, they handed out some gift cards and they gave clothing. They see the one big thing that is missing is kind of the Fellowship and the interaction with these people finding out who they are and what their story is so they can better help them.
JD: Were the church as opposed to this?
SM: They're disappointed because they feel that it's not right for them to be told that they can't do this. It is a public space and they should be able to help their neighbors who are in need. They do understand some of the reasons behind it. They do want to have -- a pastor said he wants to sit down at a table and have a conversation because they need to be heard and they need to share their perspective on this issue.
MS: This is a different philosophy and approach that other places have taken, right?
SM: The note 10th in the police we've seen that Downtown San Diego especially recently. We had our city streets covered in tents in some areas. We've seen caravans of police 12 long clearing out homeless encampments. We have seen that enforcement. That's happening in El Cajon also. The thing we haven't seen is the anti-panhandling signs and I've been down there recently and I have seen outreach groups serving meals. That is still happening.
MS: They've also got some restrictions tougher rules to comply with for those who want to have services.
SM: They say that people on the streets because they are drug addicts and because it can't break the cycle of being addicted to opioids and other drugs. So the restrictions are we want to get you off the streets, but you have to adhere to our rules and regulations. They do have programs to help people get clean. They have to be willing to get into these programs. The mayor said they are pouring money into lots of services and resources. They have and after people can find homeless services easily. They have money pouring into housing and shelter. The biggest shelter is a two story hotel in the East county. There are about 300 people who live there. I was there earlier this year and the list is about 120 names long. I don't know how easy it is for someone in El Cajon to get into a shelter.
KD: It seems to me like those are really good goals to have, but you're gonna have a large segment of the population that is not ready for those services yet. What do you do with them?
MS: San Diego tend to recognize what Christine is saying.
SM: Right. They go to the trolley to go different areas of people say they are very angry. Many broke down crying when they were talking about like the meals for instance. Something they really depend on. Person said he's been homeless since he was a child. He said this is just digging him into a deeper hole. He's never felt so hopeless. They just go on and on. A woman I was talking to in the middle of our interview was telling me that she was feeling black sheet from the community. She said a police officer rolled up and broke out their group and told them to move along so she wasn't able to finish a thought because police were pushing them away.
MS: We will follow up and see how this works and what happens going forward in that city. We will move on. It's a grim story involving middle age American men working through Tijuana sex brokers or traffic young girls. The FBI has renewed the efforts to stop the trafficking of children and working with next get authorities. Kristina, your story opens with a chilling email from a man wanted to hook up with a child. What was the story?
KD: I found two cases recently they were completely chilling to me. They were linked together by the same sex broker and I thought it was really important to use these words in a story as much as I could and they're basically Southern California men who travel down frequently to Tijuana to have sex with children as young as eight years old, nine years old, 10 years old.
MS: That was shocking.
KD: Yes, human trafficking has become such a big issue especially in San Diego county and across the nation. A lot of times were talking about teenagers being sold online by gangs and Craigslist type things, which is horrifying and then when you start to look deeper into these young children and what's going on and what's being allowed to happen in Tijuana is shocking.
MS: How are the FBI and Mexican authorities cooperating now?
KD: Those are great questions. They did not want to answer when I interviewed them. Both the specific cases are very early on in the stages in court. Hopefully that will come to light more. From my understanding, it's an American who tipped off the FBI that there was the sex broker in Tijuana it was setting up these meetings. I'm not sure how you find him or how the customers are finding him. A lot of times these are through word-of-mouth. You can find anything you want on the web. It sounds like with help from the Mexican authorities of the FBI. The FBI has agents around the world. They were able to find and talk to this man it looks like they got his black book. You might see more cases from him.
MS: The young girls according to authorities who are the? Where do they come from?
KD: They come from all over Mexico. They could be stolen. Some text messages in the cases the broker indicates that he has brand-new girls, fresh girls, recently stolen. Really terrible things to think about. There are towns in central Mexico that actually focused on human trafficking as the industry and its these organizations and they will bring about to the border regions or other vacation spots like Cancun.
MS: There was a know about this new program in accordance try to help the victims?
KD: Right. That shifting more towards what's happening in some Eagle County. There's a court called Rice court that just started. As intervention court in homeless court and things like that where they have the same group of caseworkers who are very experienced in this area and one judge who hears the cases and it's kind of like we will dismiss your criminal charges and help you move on and start fresh, but there's also some programs that you need to complete and get your education and get job training and make sure you are in counseling. This is going to be for juveniles right now.
MS: It will be interesting to see how this works out . We will turn out to a different aspect of the sex trade. Prostitution on this side of the border involving consenting adults. Your story involves a push to legalize prostitution. Who was behind this?
DL: There is an advocacy group out of San Francisco. The erotic service providers legal education and research project. It's a very long name. They filed a lawsuit back in 2015 essentially saying that it was filed in Northern California. Saying that they are being denied their constitutional right to work as prostitutes. My understanding is the lawsuit was filed on behalf of of two people who identify as prostitutes and a third person who would be a customer. So what is being argued here is that their free speech rights are being infringed upon because solicitation thing that you are prostitute is a crime. Basically there's think that the due process rights are being stepped on and they have a right to freedom of association.
MS: This law goes back a long way in California. The attorney says there some president here that he is citing.
DL: Basically he was making the argument to the ninth circuit Court of Appeals that the conduct itself is protected. Essentially he was arguing that the act between two people is essentially a relationship for the time that that occurs, that is a relationship. That is protected and it had to do with Lawrence who was a Supreme Court decision
MS: So the backers are trying to be clear this is not talking about sex with minors in trafficking. How convincing is that argument. Is that a state counter argument?
DL: Yes, that is part of their argument. There are doing on behalf of this advocacy group for the prostitutes is basically saying that she said that from the offset in front of the court. He said that this is not about children. This is not about groping somebody into this work children or adults who are not willing to go into this type of profession. This is about people who want to do this and this is how they choose to make their living and should be able to do so. The state is basically saying well, there are a number of evils that come from prostitution. So there seems to be no willingness to strike down a law that's been on the books for 145 years because of what other things can come out of it.
MS: Chances of this prevailing?
DL: I think they might be pretty slim.
MS: We will take a look and see what happens. That does wrap up another week of stories at the KPBS Roundtable. I would like to say thank you to my guests, Susan Murphy, Christina Davis and Dana Littlefield. A reminder all the stories we discussed are available on our website at KPBS.org. I am Mark Sauer in thank you for joining us today on the Roundtable.