City officials assess San Diego's old Central Library as a potential homeless shelter
Speaker 1: (00:00)
San Diego's rainy season is starting. It's a relief for those concerned about California's drought, but a misery for people living on the streets, some homeless housing advocates say that misery could be relieved by using government buildings like the old downtown library as shelters. It's an idea that's been kicked a around for several years and there are apparently many obstacles, but the proposal has surfaced again just before the December reigns joining me as voice of San Diego reporter, Lisa Halstadt and Lisa welcome.
Speaker 2: (00:33)
Thanks for having me.
Speaker 1: (00:35)
Why is the old downtown library building mentioned over and over again as a good site for a homeless shelter?
Speaker 2: (00:42)
So back in 2013, the city moved its downtown library out of the long term headquarters that it had on E street and into a new location on park Boulevard. Now this area, even before the library moved, um, had long been home to some homeless camps, but over the past eight years, homelessness has become even more visible downtown, especially in the east village neighborhood that the old library is in. And this library has been vacant now for many years, uh, more than eight years at this point. So many people are seeing these camps and homeless people gathering in the area, and they're seeing this vacant building and they say, why not consider a shelter there?
Speaker 1: (01:21)
Is there any estimate on how many people, the old library building might be able to house?
Speaker 2: (01:26)
Not yet. So the city is in really early stages of considering whether this property that it's looked at before and several other city own sites could potentially have shelters. So mayor Gloria wanted to take a look at this because mayor Todd Gloria wants to expand the city's shelter capacity. And you know, I would emphasize that there's a chance that the city could decide not to move forward, um, as it's decided not to move forward before and potentially put new shelter beds somewhere else.
Speaker 1: (01:54)
Yeah, because there are problems that have surfaced with the building itself as it's been evaluated that has stopped the city from pursuing the shelter idea have there, yes,
Speaker 2: (02:04)
The city has cited many, many issues over the years, uh, including some issues that have been dismissed. For example, at one point there was a question of, could the library floors bear the weight of homeless people in beds. Those obviously those floors had, had supported thousands of books for many years that was dismissed. Um, but the latest that I heard last year from former mayor, Kevin Faulkner's administration was that yes, the building still has a lot of issues. Those incited included like plumbing heating and cooling system problems. And also back in 2017, when the city was looking at shelter possibilities, a former Faulkner's office spokesman had told me that the city had thought that the building knew needed about 5 million in upgrades just to make it habitable. Um, and advocates really thought that that was overblown, but
Speaker 1: (02:52)
The city has managed to convert another old property, golden hall into a shelter, right?
Speaker 2: (02:58)
Yes. So for years golden hall, which is an event space in the city hall complex, you know, was a spot that advocates were looking at and saying, you know, could that potentially be a shelter? And, and in multiple occasions, the city said, no, that it's not a good option, but in 2019,
Speaker 1: (03:15)
The city took a big step to make it into what was than a temporary shelter site. But now fast forward a few years, it is housing, hundreds of beds. And it's looking like it's going to be a shelter for a very long time. So I guess never say never. And as you report, there's this curious obstacle regarding the old library, there's a provision in a 19th century deed that's for complicating the future of the property. Tell us about that.
Speaker 2: (03:43)
Yeah. So famous San Diego, George Marston, Google him. He sold the property to the city in 1899. And there's this deed that he signed back in the day that seems to mandate that this property house, a public library and a reading room, which it obviously did for my any years. So fast forward, more recently developer Lincoln property company had looked like it was the leading candidate to take over the property. They wanted to make it into an office campus. Then they discovered this deed restriction and concluded that it would complicate plans to try to pursue this office project. They had said the experts that they were consulting said that simply incorporating a reading room and even a library museum into the project wouldn't address the issue. And they were told by multiple title companies that they wouldn't be willing to ensure the property.
Speaker 1: (04:32)
So what's the city's position on how binding the Marston directive is.
Speaker 2: (04:36)
So the city and the city attorney's office have really said, they don't think that the de restriction is currently restricting the property. Um, obviously many folks would note this property did house a library in a reading room for a very long time. Um, but the city says, Hey, you know, maybe it will pursue a title action to try to provide that assurance in anyway.
Speaker 1: (04:57)
Okay. So there's a lot of baggage surrounding the building. The idea of turning the old library into a homeless shelter though keeps popping up. Where is the latest push coming from?
Speaker 2: (05:08)
Well, again, homeless advocates have been raising this issue for years, um, because the building has just been vacant for so long, more recently leaders of the lucky duck foundation, um, have been urging cities across the county to open winter shelters in government owned buildings that they say could quickly be converted, um, and, and bring people in during the colder months, certainly rainy days. And in the case of the old library, I think significantly as well, the Councilman representing the area council, president prote, Steven Whitburn, um, who also happens to live just a few blocks. It represents downtown says that he supports a closer look at the property, which is significant because often other council members will look to the council member in that area to see what they would think about something like this. Could
Speaker 1: (05:55)
The building be used as a shelter temporarily without making major changes to the building.
Speaker 2: (06:00)
So the resounding answer in the past was that major work would be needed. Um, we'll have to wait to hear if the Gloria administration would agree. And
Speaker 1: (06:10)
From your reporting, do you think this latest effort will gain support from mayor Gloria and the city council, or will the effort to turn the old library into a homeless shelter fizzle out again?
Speaker 2: (06:21)
I'd say the jury is still out. Uh, the mayor's office says that mayor Gloria was just determined to give the old library. Another look, um, as he's looking to try to expand, uh, shelter offerings in the city. But again, as we've talked about today, this concept has been explored and rejected multiple times. Uh, the city could also find other properties as it has in the past that it thinks would be easier to move quickly on, um, and put beds in more quickly. And it certainly is looking at other, uh, possibilities for shelter, but many downtown residents and advocates have been just growing more and more frustrated by the lack of movement on this property for years, the pressure seems to be building for the city to do something though that pressure doesn't always mean that something will happen. Um, and that's something that it ultimately becomes may or may not end up being a shelter.
Speaker 1: (07:14)
Okay. I've been speaking with voice of San Diego reporter, Lisa hell and Lisa. Thank you. Thank
Speaker 2: (07:20)
San Diego City officials are assessing whether the old Central Library can serve as a homeless shelter, an effort that has been in the works in the past.
The city-owned building has been vacant for almost a decade and is located in the heart of the San Diego homeless population in East Village.
KPBS Midday Edition spoke with Voice of San Diego reporter Lisa Halverstadt, who recently reported about the facility. She said many people in the community wonder why the building has been empty for years.
"So many people are seeing these camps and homeless people gathering in the area, and they're seeing this vacant building and they say, 'Why not consider a shelter there?'," Halverstadt said.
She said the process is in the works, but nothing is official yet.
"The city is in really early stages of considering whether this property that it's looked at before and several other city-owned sites could potentially have shelter," Halverstadt said. "So Mayor Todd Gloria wanted to take a look at this because (he) wants to expand the city's shelter capacity."
The city stopped pursuing the shelter idea in the past due to problems with the building.
"The latest that I heard last year from former Mayor Kevin Faulconer's administration, was that the building still has a lot of issues. Those sited included plumbing, heating and cooling system problems," she said. "Also, back in 2017 when the city was looking at shelter possibilities, a former Faulconer's spokesman had told me that the city had thought the building needed about $5 million in upgrades just to make it habitable, and advocates really thought that was overblown."
If the old Central Library turns into a homeless shelter, the number of people from the homeless population who could be housed there is still unknown.