1401 Imperial Avenue
The San Diego City Council voted to purchase this former indoor skydiving facility at 1401 Imperial Ave. in hopes of making it the city’s first homeless navigation center. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz
The San Diego City Council voted to purchase this former indoor skydiving facility at 1401 Imperial Ave. in hopes of making it the city’s first homeless navigation center. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget, which he unveiled on Thursday, includes $500 million to help address the homelessness crisis.

His proposal might sound familiar to San Diegans.

Though Newsom and housing advocates across the state agree in principal that the so-called “housing first” approach to homelessness is most effective – getting people off the streets and into permanent housing, as opposed to first treating underlying conditions in temporary settings – he acknowledged some of the money will go to help local governments build other kinds of solutions, like temporary shelters and housing navigation centers.

Those are two homelessness solutions San Diego officials have spent the last year working on.

As Lisa Halverstadt reported this week, over the last year, “The city put up three shelter tents, allowed homeless San Diegans living in cars to park in safe lots, rushed to buy an indoor skydiving facility it plans to make a homeless services hub and opened a storage center for homeless San Diegans.”

Though the projects contributed to a 40 percent surge in city spending on homelessness, it’s not clear whether homelessness has gone down as a result. Still, Mayor Kevin Faulconer and city leaders say they’re proud of the efforts.

Critics have questioned the navigation center in particular – envisioned as a one-stop-shop where homeless San Diegans could come to be connected with a variety of services – because it won’t actually house anyone.

Newsom did, however, emphasize the importance of spurring new housing construction: The budget not only includes “a major $1.7 billion-plus infusion of cash for affordable housing,” as CALmatters reported, but the governor also issued a threat that localities that don’t do enough to encourage new housing could miss out on gas tax revenue.

That might put cities like Encinitas at risk – the wealthy coastal town has for years stood in violation of state law requiring it to lay out where future housing could go.

Speaking of the Budget …

For years, California lawmakers proposed bills that would create an earned income tax credit for low-income families and for years, that idea was left out of the governor’s budget.

In 2015, facing mounting criticism that he wasn’t doing enough to help the poor, Gov. Jerry Brown finally incorporated the idea. The program has been expanded twice since then.

In the 2017 tax year, for example, 110,464 filers in San Diego County received a total of $25.7 million in credit under the program, according to numbers from the Franchise Tax Board.

Newsom’s budget would expand the program a third time, doubling its size and widening the pool of who can qualify for it.

One of the biggest champions of the program has been Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, who was serving as speaker of the Assembly when it was first created.

I reached out to Atkins’ office for her response to the latest expansion. Here’s what she said, via email:

“One of my proudest achievements when I was speaker of the Assembly was the creation of the groundbreaking California Earned Income Tax Credit. And over the past two years, the governor and the Legislature have gone further and expanded the EITC, so that more and more working families benefit from a program that has proven to reduce poverty. In San Diego County, from the 2018 expansion alone, an estimated 63,000 additional people and their families will earn a tax credit that will help them afford some of life’s basic necessities, such as a car repair or new clothes for the kids. In 2019 and beyond, we will continue to pursue policies such as the EITC that make things easier for our residents.”

Gloria Kicks Off a Round of Musical Chairs

Assemblyman Todd Gloria made it official: He’s running for mayor of San Diego.

His announcement prompted San Diego City Councilman Chris Ward to file to run for Gloria’s Assembly seat. Before winning a seat on the Council, Ward worked as a top aide to then-state Sen. Marty Block.

Gonzalez Re-introduces #MeToo Bills

As promised, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez has reintroduced some bills meant to protect low-income workers from sexual harassment and retaliation.

Gonzalez’s latest attempt splits last year’s AB 3081 – which passed the Legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown – into two separate pieces of legislation, and makes another small change.

The new AB 170 would require employers to share civil liability for contract workers in cases of sexual harassment, assault and discrimination. AB 171 would make it harder for employers to take adverse actions against an employee within a 90-day window following the employee’s filing of a harassment complaint. The previous bill laid out a 30-day window.

“It’s time that the transformative changes driven by the #MeToo movement made a difference in the lives of all women, not just those in Hollywood or the halls of Capitol,” Gonzalez said in a statement. “Janitors, hotel and restaurant workers, service workers and immigrants continue to be exploited and harassed at work while their employers deny responsibility. Workplace protections should extend to all women, no matter their economic standing, access to an attorney or level of existing power.”

San Diego Official Tapped to Lead Cal Fire

Thom Porter, the new head of the state’s wildland fire agency, is a familiar face around San Diego. Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed him this week to lead Cal Fire.

Porter led the Cal Fire unit in San Diego from 2012-2014, which also made him the head of the county’s regional fire authority, an agency created after the devastating 2007 fires. Porter rose up through the ranks as a forester trying to prevent fires. He could not immediately be reached for comment.

Porter leads the agency at a difficult and contentious time. Not only have fires become more frequent and larger, in part due to a changing climate, but the politics involved has become multi-layered. Within the state, all eyes are on not only the agency’s ability to respond to fires but also its ability to prevent them.

Prevention typically means timbering or doing controlled burns to clear away what firefighters call fuel but environmentalists call ecosystems. President Donald Trump has also injected himself into the middle of the debate, suggesting he would withhold federal emergency funds from the state unless it does certain kinds of forest clearing.

Porter’s predecessor, Ken Pimlott, also dropped a political hot potato on his way out the door last month by suggesting officials need to further limit suburban sprawl that creates new homes in high-risk fire areas. In San Diego, thousands of new homes are planned in areas likely to burn at some point.

Ry Rivard

San Diego DA Will Challenge State Criminal Justice Reform Law

San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan plans to challenge a new state law reforming the so-called felony murder rule, which had allowed even low-level accomplices be charged with murder.

The law was so wide-reaching that it meant people who weren’t even at the murder scene could face the same level of punishment as those who carried out the murder. Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law amending the rule so that only those who carried out a murder or played a major role can be charged with felony murder. The law was co-written by Sen. Joel Anderson.

As inewsource reported this week, Stephan plans to challenge the law in court once someone in San Diego petitions to be resentenced under it: “District Attorney Summer Stephan, and other district attorneys throughout the state, have argued the Legislature didn’t have the authority to change the murder accomplice law without asking voters to approve it first.”

The move is consistent with the campaign Stephan ran earlier this year. Stephan’s challenger, public defender Genevieve Jones-Wright, ran on a criminal justice reform platform. Stephan characterized Jones-Wright’s position as a danger to public safety. Now she’s characterizing a criminal justice reform law the same way.

Odds and Ends

  • Atkins and Sen. Mike McGuire introduced a bill that would allow community health centers to bill Medi-Cal for two visits if a patient is provided mental health services on the same day they receive other medical service.
  • Sen. Brian Jones sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom urging him to deny parole for Charles Manson follower Robert Beausoleil, who was convicted of murdering a music teacher in 1969.

Golden State News

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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