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It’s been a rough year at the Housing Commission.
The public agency is mired in a conflict-of-interest case over a broker it hired to help buy hotels and who, it turned out, made a large financial investment in one hotel company before negotiating the transaction. And 10 people who lived in two agency-run hotels were either found dead in their rooms or died in hospitals following incidents on the properties. That information only made its way to officials tasked with overseeing the agency after Voice of San Diego began investigating.
Now the San Diego City Council is getting closer to reforming the agency, as it explores changes it hopes will increase oversight and accountability while reducing conflicts and blind spots stemming from the organization’s unique arrangement. It answers to its own board and also to the Council, which acts as a separate entity called the San Diego Housing Authority.
At a Tuesday meeting, the Council reviewed a report on how other cities interact with their agencies for low-income housing and homelessness programs, and discussed specific changes they’d like to make. Multiple council members also shared their desire to have a more direct role reviewing the performance of the agency’s chief executive. That role is currently filled by Housing Commission CEO Rick Gentry, though the Council’s comments were not about him specifically, but about the role in general and who has oversight of it.
Council President Jen Campbell also revealed during the meeting that three council members have in recent weeks been meeting as a working group to hone a Council reform package, which could be released early next year. Councilwoman Vivian Moreno said the existence of the group was news to her, and Councilman Sean Elo-Rivera said he didn’t know it was acknowledged as a formal body.
“It is unequivocal that we have placed a lot of responsibilities on the Housing Commission over the last 10 to 15 years, and that there have been many successes over that time period, but recently there have been gaps in the system that have been exposed, and it is incumbent on us as a governing body to fill those gaps,” Councilman Chris Cate said. “Those include the alleged criminal acts by the broker, for our hotel purchase, as well as the deaths and the volume of service calls at those properties, and the timeline for these issues being communicated to the Housing Authority.”
Related: Mayor Todd Gloria appointed a new board member to the Housing Commission Tuesday, according to a memo to the Council obtained by Voice of San Diego. Melinda Vasquez, a real estate, labor and family lawyer who lives in Rancho Penasquitos and ran for office against Assemblyman Brian Maienschein in 2016, now needs a confirmation vote from the Council.
And more: The state announced Wednesday that it is seeking developers for its 2.7 acre property downtown. The site includes the state building that houses some lawmakers’ offices and an abandoned maintenance garage. The Department of Housing and Community Development wants to redevelop the property into affordable housing.
“The San Diego site provides an opportunity to either adaptively reuse the existing office building and construct new housing on the largely vacant adjacent lot or demolish the office building and construct on both lots,” reads the state’s announcement.
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria proposed the site years ago for just such a development.
The word ‘future’ doing a lot of work here: Here’s how the state describes the location of the property: “Located in close proximity to the waterfront, Amtrak station, and San Diego International Airport – which is the future Phase 2 high speed rail terminus …”
Phase 1 of the high speed rail project is supposed to be done sometime in the 2030s. It’s very difficult to find even an estimated timeline of the Los Angeles to San Diego spur.
Advocates Push Parcel Tax for City Parks, Libraries
Advocates for city parks and libraries on Wednesday launched a campaign for a proposed November 2022 parcel tax measure to bolster investments in those amenities.
The San Diego Public Library Foundation and San Diego Parks Foundation, the two groups leading the campaign, argued that the proposed tax — which supporters told the Union-Tribune would amount to “a few dollars a month” — is needed to ensure consistent and guaranteed funding for parks and libraries that have struggled with a boatload of facility and staffing challenges.
A recent analysis recommended nearly $213 million in various fixes and upgrades in city parks and another found about $50 million in needed city library upgrades. An independent budget analyst’s office report released earlier this month also highlighted the lack of dedicated funding to support parks in areas defined as communities of concern in the city’s parks master plan — and voter-approved measures other major cities in the state have used to address park needs.
“There is an urgent need to ensure adequate and ongoing funding for parks and libraries,” San Diego Parks Foundation chairman Michel Anderson wrote in a statement. “The community is united behind this ballot measure because these public spaces belong to the public, they belong to you and me, and the public deserves better.”
Anderson and other supporters have said the ballot measure will support park and library projects as well as more ongoing costs such as programs and security or technology needs.
The two foundations said Wednesday they plan to start fundraising to support an upcoming signature-gathering effort. They will need to gather 82,000 valid signatures to make the November 2022 ballot.
Tell us: How’s your local park looking these days? We’re digging into issues in city parks, including longstanding maintenance issues, and would love to get your input in this survey.
In Other News
- Propublica managed to have documents unsealed that confirm philanthropist and credit card baron T. Denny Sanford was investigated for child pornography. Sanford has never been charged. National University was about to change its name in honor of Sanford until last year when the allegations first surfaced.
- KPBS and inewsource investigated racially restrictive covenants within neighborhoods — that are still on the books. KPBS followed the story of a Black homeowner in El Cerrito. The deed to his own house says he can’t live there. inewsource explored the use of racial covenants in North Park. The combined reporting was rolled into a larger project for NPR. In 2011, we investigated how the use of racial covenants concentrated the city’s black population in southeastern San Diego, a population that, as we covered earlier this week, is beginning to spread as it is displaced by high housing prices.
- U-T columnist Michael Smolens considers a new poll surveying Californians on their perception of the state’s economy. One of the major concerns is the gap between rich and poor.
- A massive strike by more than 6,000 University of California lecturers was averted after the union and university reached a tentative agreement. (Union-Tribune)
- City News Service reports the San Diego Police Officers Association is blaming slow response times to staff shortages while Mayor Todd Gloria attributed it to an increase in the volume of emergency calls.
- Immigrant rights advocates pressured San Diego Sheriff Bill Gore at a community forum to stop releasing inmates to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A border patrol agent named Jeff Rambo (yes, Rambo) is also getting blowback for opening a coffee shop in Barrio Logan. (Union-Tribune/NBC 7)
This Morning Report was written by Andrew Keatts, Jesse Marx, Scott Lewis, Will Huntsberry and Lisa Halverstadt. It was edited by Megan Wood.