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City Council rejects detox relocation proposal

San Diego City Council voted no last night on a proposal to relocate a drug and alcohol treatment center from Downtown to Pacific Beach. The question remains where will the city find a location for the facility, now that downtown is being developed into upscale residential condos. KPBS reporter Alison St John was at the hearing at city hall.

The Treatment Center, which is run by Volunteers of America, offers long and short term programs for thousands of people from around San Diego County. Its director Gerald McFadden, stands for the community service it provides.

MCFADDEN: "In the past 26 years Volunteers of America has helped more than 300,000 husbands wives, doctors and lawyers and maybe even someone you know that is struggling with the effects of drug or alcohol abuse."

But last night's decision not to grant the Detox Center a permit to relocate in Pacific Beach leaves the future of the facility uncertain. The current lease on Island Avenue has been extended three times and the owners, Barrett Urban, informed the city council in no uncertain terms that the end of June is the drop dead date by which the Detox Center has to be out.

There was plenty of political pressure to vote no on the Pacific Beach site, even though city staff recommended approval. More than 80 people signed up to speak against the move to PB, including resident Sean Evans.

EVANS: "Pacific Beach is opposed on the basis that there are no resources there's no transportation, no shelters, no mental health services and we have no meal programs to care for this population of delicate individuals it violates the community plan."

The proposed site was to be next to Interstate 5, close to Mission Bay Avenue, and several auto dealerships. Ron Houston of Pacific Nissan added more than his two cents to the argument.

HOUSTON: "We've spent over $6 million in improvements. As stakeholders in this community we have many concerns about this proposal. The location is in a mixed residential area with commercial use, the project would have a devastating effect on the businesses and the residence in the area."

Even County Supervisor Pam Slater Price, whose district includes Pacific Beach, made an appearance before the council.

SLATER PRICE: "Although the VOA provides an important and much needed service to the region it is an org that is well respected in its field However the Detox Center is just the wrong project in the wrong place."

City Attorney Mike Aguirre said in his opinion the project needs an environmental impact report before it can go forward. He said alternative sites should be considered before a decision is reached.

But Volunteers of America say they and city staff have considered more than 50 sites over the past 15 months. The agency has spent several hundred thousand dollars on the process that resulted in the recommendation of the Pacific Beach site.

Rosemary Johnson, coordinator of San Diego County's Interfaith Shelter, was one of many people who spoke passionately in favor of moving the Detox Center to the new site.

JOHNSON: "No matter where this project is located no matter what zone there will be community opposition yet this is an essential service and saves the region untold millions of dollars in unnecessary and costly incarceration. If you do not approve this site today it could be forced to close and have no place to relocate in June. You do not have the luxury of the paralysis of analysis."

San Diegans told many stories of the value of the work of the Treatment Center A La Jolla doctor challenged the stereotype of the kind of people who go for treatment and said he refers up to 60 of the clients a year, many of them from upscale neighborhoods. Another resident warned that relocating the Detox center might turn out to be as difficult as citing a new airport.

When it came time for the council members to weigh in, Tony Young dismissed the objections to the center as pure nimbyism.

YOUNG: "The arguments that I'm hearing. Let's be real, you just don't want the people that you think will be using this facility, why don't you just say that and I believe that this center should be here at this site."

But there were six council votes in favor of denying the permit request, and postponing a decision. The council members were swayed by the argument of their new colleague Keven Faulconer, who was elected just last month to represent both Pacific Beach and Downtown.

FAULCONER: "It's is my problem now and I take responsibility for trying to find a solution and solution that works within council district 2. I don't want there to be any ambiguity about that. This district represents the majority of the urban core of our city and I believe we carry an obligation that we are providing for that."

Faulconer pointed out the relocation efforts happened in a political vacuum, after former Councilman Michael Zucchet resigned under a cloud of corruption charges last summer. Since his election, Faulconer has managed to get the downtown lease on the Detox Center extended one more time and he's confident he'll find an alternative site.

But Gerald McFadden, Director of Volunteers of America is loath to hang his hopes on a freshman councilman who may have to run for his seat again in June, since he was only elected to fill out the remaining months of Zucchet's term.

MCFADDEN: "That individual has till tomorrow to fill for reelection and has 180 days in office there is no guarantee that he will be the elected representative we may be in exactly the same situation at the end of 5 months.

Finding a location for the Detox Center could be a make or break challenge for Faulconer.

He will either have to face another irate residential community, or convince his council colleagues to rezone valuable industrial land for the purpose. Alison St John, KPBS News.

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