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Council Playing Politics With Winter Homeless Shelter?


Over the last month, the San Diego City Council has delayed its decision on where to locate the winter homeless shelter three different times. Why is it taking so long for the council to decide on where to locate the 220-bed shelter? And, how are the councilmembers' various political ties affecting their votes on this issue?

Over the last month, the San Diego City Council has delayed its decision on where to locate the winter homeless shelter three different times. Why is it taking so long for the council to decide on where to locate the 220-bed shelter? And, how are the councilmembers' various political ties affecting their votes on this issue?


David Rolland, editor of San Diego CityBeat.

Kent Davy, editor of the North County Times.

Andrew Donohue, editor of

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ALISON ST. JOHN: The governor signs a law opening the door to a new chargers stadium, San Diego City fails to find a site for the homeless, and the county wrestles with how to handle growth. I'm Alison St. John, coming up on the Editors' Roundtable, we'll talk about why, after years of discussion, the city's still unable to agree for a site for a temporary winter homeless shelter. And will a permanent shelter make this old chestnut any easier to digest. Then this region's going to grow by more than a million people by 2050, and the county has begun to grapple with the authority question of where to put its share. And expressions of shock and outrage continue to follow the secret deal of getting a chargers stadium downtown. The governor has given his signature, what role is left for the public? That's all coming up on the Editors' Roundtable. First the news.

I'm Alison St. John, sitting in for Gloria Penner, and I'm joined by the editors of the round table, these days, in San Diego. Surprise, surprise, the San Diego city council can't agree on the location for the winter homeless shelter. Hundreds of hundreds of extra people will be living in the unincorporated areas by 2050. The proposed changes have got a lot of people up in arms. And what motivated Mayor Jerry Sanders and assemblyman Nathan Fletcher to orchestrate a secret deal that could open the doors for a new Chargers stadium downtown and does this leave any room for the public's opinion on a stadium? So the editors with me today are Dave Rolland, editor of San Diego City beat. Great to see you Dave.

DAVE ROLLAND: It's good to see you Alison.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And ANDREW DONOHUE, editor of Voice of San Thanks for being here, Andrew.

ANDREW DONOHUE: Always good to see you Alison.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And Kent Davy, editor of the North County Times, and we are especially grateful to you, Kent for making that commute.

KENT DAVY: Thanks, Alison.

ALISON ST. JOHN: So let's start here with this annual ritual to see how long the city council can delay a decision on are to put the winter homeless shelter. Instead of holding a meeting earlier this week to pick a site, they failed to reach an agreement, and there's another meeting due again in the next hour I believe to talk about it. Dave, one of the things that's different this year, is the housing commission has been pulled into the mix to make things easier. Has that made and difference?

DAVE ROLLAND: Well, no, that didn't really work, did it? There's a weekly paper in Washington, called the Washington city paper, they would each week do something called the NIMBY tribunal, and they would list a few hot button issues for neighborhoods around the city and have sort of a graphic representation of what the battle is over. Well, this is San Diego's prime grade A, grade AAA number one NIMBY tribunal in action every year trying to find a place for this gigantic tent that holds some 220 mostly single men every year when the weather gets cold and rainy. In the past, over the past ten years or so, it's been in the barrio Logan or east village area downtown. Kevin Faulkner who represents the downtown area, and Ben Hueso who represents district eight, barrio Logan, they've put up a good enough defense this time and seem to be successfully pushing it out of their districts.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And I meant to say, if you have any thoughts on this issue, we'd love to hear from you at 1-888-895-5727. You can join the editors at the Roundtable here at KPBS. So yes, it was in Hueso's eighth district for the last few years, then fall faller in's district for a few years. Where does it seem to be perhaps moving towards this year?

DAVE ROLLAND: The housing commission, you said who's been put in charge of facilitating this process, found their preferred site was still in the east village area on about thirteenth and F in east village, but unfortunately, it's right next to the new school of design and architecture. And there was quite a fight put up by the administrators. So despite the housing commissioner's first choice, it couldn't get the votes. It was a 44 vote, and I thought that was really interesting. It was three women and a gay liberal on one side, and three men and a gay conservative on the other side of that issue. Listeners can do with that what they want. But it didn't get enough votes. And now they're going back today, they're gonna have another meeting today. This will be their third, I think. And I think largely they're gonna focus on an area of Balboa -- southern Balboa park, a plays called inspiration point. I think it's a parking lot that would be -- that's used for the naval hospital.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Is that the only viable option that's on the table right now?

DAVE ROLLAND: Well, I looked at a list, the housing commission came up with a long list of both publicly owned and privately owned sites that they're showing the city council that they did research on. From what I understand, they're really gonna -- there are a lot of problems -- actually a lot of the privately owned sites, the bell line was no, it is not available. So there is a short list of publicly owned sites, I think they're really gonna zone in on Balboa park.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Andrew, is it a bit of a sad reflection that every year you've got a whole year to figure this one out, and every year, we end up with a last minute crisis on our hands.

ANDREW DONOHUE: It is, and it's highlighted by the fact that the sort of other main option besides Balboa park was Qualcom Stadium. Probably the one place that has no homeless people even living within miles of it. The fact that we would even consider putting a homeless shelter in the middle of mission valley so far from the centers of where our homeless population is sort of shows you how badly people are trying to get this away from their neighborhood. Now, hopefully this is one of the last years we have to deal with this. There's a plan on the table right now to actually have a permanent shelter built downtown at the world trade center. Within the next couple years.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And kent, I mean, North County has its own kind of solution to the homeless problem, do you think the city of San Diego could learn anything from the way it's handled in North County.

KENT DAVY: Maybe in the sense that North County came together finally a few years ago with a coalition, to try and attack and discuss the issue. And ended up with various cities having pieces of a solution. So that right now, there are about 1200 beds on an annual basis. 200 of those seasonal. So they've got about a thousand permanent beds. There have been developments in the last year or so, the interfaith out of Escondido has opened new veterans homeless shelter in Oceanside. The city of Carlsbad funded a migrant farm worker expansion of shelter there.

ALISON ST. JOHN: That's been pretty controversial.

KENT DAVY: No, all of these things get controversial. But the point is, they've actually found solutions and moved ahead. Vista's solutions for change is undertaking a massive capital combine to try a different model of addressing homeless families and that has to do with raising money to go out and buy a foreclosed property, rehabit, and make it available for homeless people. In North County, there's been this kind of distribution of the problem across the board. So if there's a lesson, maybe the city should think about trying to split it up into pieces and accommodate people without necessarily saying we've gotta have a single great big place.

ALISON ST. JOHN: 1-888-895-5727 if you've got any suggestions or ideas on this topic. And, I mean, Dave, the funny thing is that the veterans' shelter doesn't seem to have a problem, the tent goes up in the same site every year. Why do you think that is?

DAVE ROLLAND: Well, they're veterans for one thing, so I think people don't feel the same way about homeless veterans that they do about other types of homeless people. You know, this is -- it's so interesting. This is when we really find out how people generally feel about homeless people. And who they think they are. I spent some time with Tony young yesterday, actually.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Who's the one who voted against this.

DAVE ROLLAND: He voted against the site across from new school. Largely because it was across from new school, and he said flat out, he was honest about it, he said I have an 18-year-old daughter, I wouldn't want her going to school at that place with 220 men across the street in a tent. So at least he was honest about it, he really does sort of embody this idea that homeless people are either criminals or they're, you know, sexual deviants or something, that aim to attack young women. He said that he wouldn't want it across from where anywhere riffs, across from where anybody does business, across from where anybody does anything, really.

ALISON ST. JOHN: A lot of different opinions on this. Let's see who our listeners think. Here's Daniel from Clairemont. Thanks for calling the Editors' Roundtable. Go ahead.

NEW SPEAKER: Yes, thank you very much for this, Alison. It's a needed thing that we come up again and again. I ran for city council in 1999, and a lot of the small businesses were having problems in north park with homeless business, but, I think that's been kind of moved out because of the new people that live there. I do believe there's another concerning issue that they never really talk about. There are a lot of home little people who are riffing in vehicles and RVs, many of these being veterans. And I think they need to put aside a place where people, especially veterans can go and live in their car and RV as their temporary shelter, that's gonna be a safe zone. Some place that's gonna be a commercial area, I think the end of Balboa park near the sixth street side and the freeway would be a good place, there's a turn around there, and you can kind of, like, just really monitor the things over there at that area because there's a big need of that. And that might be able to help a lot of people out.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Daniel, I haven't heard that suggestion before. Kent, you've got a comment.

ANDREW DONOHUE: Just something.

KENT DAVY: Just something that I pulled. Every year there is a survey done in January where there is an account done, and they try to go out and find all the homeless that they can. And I can't speak to the assistant district attorney's gentleman, but with regard to North County's, they found in this study, they found this were 2070 homeless people on that date in January. Of those a hundred -- or 1000, 118 were in shelters, 436 were day laborers, 370 were on the street, and 140 lived in a tent or a car.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And that number, I think with families, I've heard made the number of people who were actually living in a car, people who did have a house, an apartment, a car, a life, and it's fallen apart, and they've ended up in the car, I've heard that number is growing. Possibly that might affect -- it probably would not affect, I guess, David, the site they choose for a tent. But it is a whole new element of the problem.

DAVE ROLLAND: I can comment a little bit. There was a recent count where a lot of high profile politicians, city, county, a lot of people, a lot of big wigs went out early in the morning, four in the morning, and talked to homeless people, assessed their vulnerability and counted them, and they came up with a little bit over a thousand people in the downtown area. Now, the reason that's important is because we're talking about a site in Balboa park, I don't know however it is from places like the Neal good day center in east village, and father Joe's. Father Joe provides lunch for people in the tent every winter, and Neal good day center provides a place where they can come in, hang out, watch a little TV, I think take a shower. There are some activities for them and services and help. Moving the -- the further away you get from those things, the more difficult it is for people who are particularly vulnerable, people in wheel chairs, people who have a hard time getting around. That's for me, you know, I can get easily from the southern end of Balboa park to east village without too much trouble. But I'm not vulnerable in the way that a lot of these people that they found are.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Has there been any talk about providing transport for people to the actual service where is they're being provided for the site?

DAVE ROLLAND: I'm not sure. I was not at the last two meetings about this. I'm not sure if that came up. Of.

KENT DAVY: Plates, like, say interfaith that runs places out of Escondido and ocean, they will have bus pass and things like that. How much is available, I don't know.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Joe from downtown, thanks for calling the editors. Go ahead.

NEW SPEAKER: Yes, thank you, I just wanted to make a comment. I live in Cortez hill, and from the time we moved there, we have supported the Cortez hill family shelter there. And we have bordering us in Cortez hill section eight housing, affordable housing, and this whole plan about putting the world trade center, dumping all the homeless there, is just an abomination. I can't walk anywhere from my home downtown without walking through some sort of homeless shelters or affordable housing. I am not against helping people. But this thought that the east village can just move its masses of population, you never hear anything from the marina, God forbid you say gas lamp. Since when do we have to be dumped on? Balboa Park is to our north, and I believe me, I know the homeless there, now you're gonna make it even concentrated of there's gotta be better answers.

ALISON ST. JOHN: That's Joe from Cortez hill with his perspective and I know a lot of people feel the same way. Andrew, you're the one who brought up that the city is gonna face an even bigger and significant problem of where to put the permanent shelter. And it is up in that area right now.

ANDREW DONOHUE: It is, and this is the problem when we're talking about NIMBYism, these are real legitimate concerns that property ownerships and business owners have to deal with, is that nobody wants this in front of their house or their business. But the fact of the matter is, I think, this is part of urban living, when you choose to live downtown, when you choose to sort of make your life in the big urban core, these are part of the negatives that you're gonna have to deal with.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Okay, we gotta take a break here but we'll be right back here on the Editors Roundtable with Dave Rolland of City Beat, ANDREW DONOHUE of Voice of San Diego, and Kent Davy with the North County Times.

And you're back on the Editors' Roundtable, I'm Alison St. John, in for Gloria Penner, we've got Ken Davy of the North County times, Dave Rolland of City Beat, and ANDREW DONOHUE of Voice San Diego. We're talking about this whole issue of what to do about the growing home little population, in this case specifically downtown. Dave, you had a response to the person who really felt strongly against putting a permanent shelter up there in the Cortez hill neighborhood.

DAVE ROLLAND: Yeah, I've got a number of responses. What's happening is not dumping a bunch of people from the east village into that area around sixth area, where the permanent facility might go. There are tons of homeless people in that area right now, already. They did a study, and they found let's of people in that immediate area. Now, this will also be a neighborhood covenant signed, as part of this agreement for this facility where they will have to do all kinds of security measures. The idea is that they are going to take people from this immediate area, hundreds of them, in that general, you know, about quarter mile --

ALISON ST. JOHN: Few blocks.

DAVE ROLLAND: Exactly. Near that facility and move them inside. So I think it's very possible that that situation for this guy will get better. Not worse.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And the organization that is planning to do it has a similar strategy going in LA where there's a lot of local business people who seem to think it's helped.

ANDREW DONOHUE: Correctly if I'm wrong, in my knowledge of the area, a lot of the spaces directly around there are offices 678 correct? It doesn't seem like there's a whole lot of residential towers.

DAVE ROLLAND: This guy's over in Cortez hill, the caller, and that's over to the east.

ANDREW DONOHUE: It's close, but if you're tacking about the direct blocks, they're not popping this down in the middle of a residential neighborhood or anything. There's basically office towers and that sort of stuff around there.

ALISON ST. JOHN: We had a caller, is we should ask the new school of architecture to help design, come up with ideas with a new permanent shelter. Rather than just saying we don't want the shelter right here. Sherry from Carmel valley. Go ahead.

NEW SPEAKER: Good morning. It's been a question of mine for such a long time. We do have so many churches and we do have a lot of space, and we do have, you know, all the buildings are built, and why not using churches for this matter, and of course, because the season, I do believe it's quite appropriate. What do you think?

ALISON ST. JOHN: Well, kent, can I throw that to you? I think some of that may be happening more in the North County model.

KENT DAVY: In two different ways that I can think of, one, the interfaith itself, interfaith is a coalition, a nonprofit coalition that was founded by churches banding together to try and provide solutions for hunger and homelessness. And some associated problems. Additionally, there are many charges and I can't tell you how many, but -- that do a rotational shelter where, for instance, that the church that I attend every January they take we -- I don't know, 12 or 16 homeless people into our facility and they live there for several weeks and then they move on to the next church of so there are things like that that go on.

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