Graffiti dotted the California Theatre, seen here from C Street, which was partially surrounded by fencing that didn't keep people from entering the building on Aug. 10, 2022. / Photo by Jakob McWhinney
Graffiti dotted the California Theatre, seen here from C Street, which was partially surrounded by fencing that didn't keep people from entering the building on Aug. 10, 2022. / Photo by Jakob McWhinney

The Housing Commission last week sent Gov. Gavin Newsom a wish list totaling more than $40 million in hopes of securing more state cash to combat the city’s homelessness and housing crisis. 

Among the “urgent” line items pitched by board chairman Mitch Mitchell in a letter: $5 million to relocate one of the city’s large, temporary tent shelters and $2.6 million to back a safe camping pilot program.  

Mitchell also requested aid for “longer-term opportunities” including roughly $5 million to preserve existing affordable housing, another $5 million to increase density at Housing Commission-owned properties, an unspecified amount to finance 793 affordable housing units now awaiting funding and $350,000 to support efforts to convert the old Central Library into a shelter.  

Mitchell also made a big ask that appeared to be news even to San Diego’s mayor: $25 million for the city to buy the blighted California Theatre downtown and use the site to bolster affordable housing offerings as part of a yet-to-be-fully sketched out Civic Center redevelopment project. 

People staying in front of the California Theatre lean against a fence erected on C Street, directly in front of an open entrance to the building on Aug. 10, 2022. / Photo by Jakob McWhinney

The Housing Commission said late Tuesday it had yet to receive a response from Newsom. 

Mitchell said he sent the letter in hopes of helping the city secure more funding while the state enjoys an unprecedented budget surplus. 

“The time to ask for money is now because the state has money that they had said we want your ideas on and we want to help,” Mitchell said. “This list is in part a short term, we can do this immediately list, and it’s a long-term, here’s a vision to consider funding, because we believe if we can execute on some of these things, it will make a meaningful difference for San Diego.” 

Spokespeople for Mayor Todd Gloria’s office and the Housing Commission said Mitchell made the decision to include the $25 million request for the California Theatre property absent discussions between the city and the housing agency about the property’s potential role in an envisioned downtown redevelopment project. 

The San Diego Union-Tribune recently broke the news that the 95-year-old California Theatre is again up for sale after developer Caydon Property Group, which bought it in 2019, abandoned its city-approved plan to convert the property into a boutique hotel and condo complex with ground-floor retail. It’s not clear how the Theatre property would fit in a nascent plan to redevelop the core of downtown. The City Council committed the city to a massive project after it bought out its leases on two towers adjacent to City Hall.  

The Council asked the mayor to return with a plan for that redevelopment by the end of October and it would include a new City Hall, Civic Theatre and downtown fire station and some housing.  

The mayor’s spokeswoman Rachel Laing said city officials have not considered the California Theatre in that plan.  

Mitchell said they should.  

“We don’t want to wait and miss an opportunity,” Mitchell said. 

Some other needs Mitchell identified weren’t new ideas. 

For example, the Housing Commission in 2020 released a study about preserving affordable housing in the city that helped set the stage for Mitchell’s $5.3 million ask to support those efforts. 

And Alpha Project, which runs the city’s 276-bed bridge shelter at 16th Street and Newton Avenue in Barrio Logan, recently learned the sprung structure will need to move to make way for a proposed housing project. Mitchell asked Newsom to allocate $5 million to ensure the city doesn’t lose those shelter beds and wrote that the city has yet to identify funding to deconstruct the shelter, find or prepare a new site. 

A spokeswoman for developer Impact Housing said it submitted a development permit application to the city for a 900-unit apartment complex for low and middle-income residents. 

The Housing Commission said the agency and the city are working to set a timeline to relocate the shelter and are “focused on maintaining stability” for shelter residents and staff. 

Mitchell also called for $2.6 million to set up a safe camping site for unsheltered homeless San Diegans, a concept that has for months been pushed by a downtown business group and others. Gloria included $200,000 in the city’s budget for a pilot project focused on vulnerable seniors and Housing Commission officials had previously said they were committed to exploring the concept and potential funding. 

Mitchell’s request for $350,000 to support a potential shelter at the old Central Library also follows years of discussion about the possibility. The city in March filed a court action to try to clear a nearly 125-year-old deed restriction that has complicated plans to redevelop the long-shuttered old library. 

Laing said this week that the city intends to use the library as a shelter if it prevails in Superior Court. 

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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  1. I know city agencies are proficient in fuzzy math, but this one is really confusing. The Housing Commission would like $5 million to move a tent, but only needs $350k to convert the Central Library to a shelter?

  2. If the Housing Commission wants to buy the California Theatre, they should have asked Gloria. He’ll come up with a couple hundred million. And he’ll sign a purchase agreement that says he’ll accept the property “as is”. And he definitely won’t bother with an appraisal.

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