The Morning Report
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Mayor Todd Gloria and other city officials want Balboa Park to house two large-scale safe campgrounds for homeless San Diegans by this fall.
Gloria revealed Monday he wants the city to for a second time use a maintenance yard on the edge of the park to house unsheltered people in at least 100 sanctioned camp sites and lots south of the Naval Medical Center now filled with weeds and wildflowers to accommodate as many as 400 tents. The campgrounds would include amenities such as bathrooms, meals and connections to services.
Leaders of Balboa Park institutions who had protested the city’s earlier consideration of Inspiration Point, an under-utilized parking lot along Park Boulevard, surrounded Gloria and other city leaders at a Monday press conference in Barrio Logan.
Gloria’s announcement came a day before the City Council is set to discuss his proposed homelessness budget, which includes $5 million to pursue multiple safe camping sites meant to coincide with a proposed ordinance banning unauthorized encampments on public property when shelter is available – and at all times near shelters, schools and in some other areas. The City Council will ultimately have to sign off on both proposals.
The city had for months eyed Inspiration Point as a potential safe sleeping site, but Gloria and Councilman Stephen Whitburn, who has championed the initiative and the controversial ordinance, said Monday that city officials ultimately decided that site wasn’t optimal.
Gloria said city officials decided to change course when they learned the city yard could be in operation by July and the vacant lot, known as Lot O, by sometime this fall.
Crucially, those sites also aren’t drawing opposition from about two dozen Balboa Park institutions who openly lobbied against a safe campground at Inspiration Point. And notably, neither site is easily viewed by park visitors.
Gloria said Lot O, a multi-level set of parking lots located near Interstate 5 and south of the Naval Medical Center that the city for years leased to the Navy, also gives the city options.
“One of the benefits of that site is that it’s digestible into four kind of separate areas which may allow us to have multiple providers or different populations,” Gloria told Voice of San Diego. “It ends up being something that we think operationally will work better and ultimately that’s our goal, is to take the limited resources we have and make them as impactful as possible.”
The mayor said the site also gives the city the ability to slowly ramp up the number of unhoused people staying there, something he said could aid in smooth operations.
The city will nail down specifics once it secures a provider or providers who may have opinions on how the site should work, Gloria said.
Before the city proceeds with the site, Gloria’s office said it will need to make a series of improvements including accessibility and health and safety upgrades. The mayor’s team could not immediately provide a cost estimate for those upgrades.
The city maintenance yard in Golden Hill and Lot O have been previously floated – and rejected – as potential camp sites.
The Golden Hill facility, at 20th and B streets, temporarily housed 200 tents during a 2017 hepatitis A outbreak, but Gloria’s team declared it unsuitable as recently as December.
“This site is currently in use by city operations and is not available,” Gloria spokesman Dave Rolland told Voice late last year. “Even if it was not in use by city operations, the site has numerous challenges, including flooding issues and conflicts with Charter Section 55 as it is on dedicated parkland.”
The Gloria administration has since decided the site’s challenges aren’t insurmountable.
Gloria said Monday that the city would communicate with workers at the site to ensure they can continue work safely.
Rolland later wrote in a statement that the city decided to use the city yard on a temporary basis after researching sites in every City Council district and deciding it could be opened most rapidly.
“The use of the property is allowable under longstanding case law on a temporary emergency basis,” Rolland said. “There has been risk of flooding; however, staff is working on opportunities to mitigate the risk in advance of the next rainy season.”
Rolland also noted that the city plans to reassess “the future of 20th and B” once Lot O opens.
The city in the past relied on an emergency declaration to welcome unsheltered people into the maintenance yard though some park advocates have long battled homelessness-related plans.
Indeed, an early 1990s plan to use Lot O as a sanctioned homeless camp was stopped by opposition.
Former City Councilman John Hartley, who pushed a tent city at Lot O in 1993, told Voice he identified the site as ideal at the time because it was close to downtown and not to neighborhoods. He cheered Gloria’s announcement on Monday.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Hartley said.
If you build it they will come. Self Fulfilling Prophecy 101. Stop, don’t do it.
Balboa park has turned from a destination location to an avoid location, especially near the iconic museums and promenade. Why not ruin tourist spots, revenue generation and family fun for trash, drugs and crime. Seems like a good idea.
They should be in jail and we all know it.
Yes, in the main, you are correct but obviously not across the board. Most of these folks living on the street suffer of mental disabilities and drug use. I believe what I see! Smiechowski for mayor!
And many of the people living on the street were evicted by landlord developers so their homes could be demolished to build new high-end apartment blocks. Those people are harmless directly due to recent city zoning decisions that make suburban homes more attractive to developers who redeveloped those older affordable properties to make more expensive housing.
Sid Gilman SD Charger coach in the day had his boys work out and train in Campo. Send the homeless in buses out there to live and for community work.
It’s a waste of city money because there are needs to provide security and homeless services to people who need to be feed after check in a4 pm and check out a 7 am. This is time these people have to wait in line instead of looking for jobs to eat. I suggest making it a requirement for job search etc a no wait in line service or working individuals get guidance for money management to.b3 I s
Dependant get 24 hour access if working 30 or more hours. The city can do better.
Whatever get’s the unhinged, aggressive, dangerous filth out of downtown, do it.
All the past approaches have failed re the homeless. The issue will continue until mental health issues are addressed.
The Homeless is the only segment of San Diego’s population that is growing. Do we really have unlimited funds to house anyone that wants to come here, regardless of their ability to support themselves?
We keep thinking that more housing will fix this problem. Perhaps for some families at the margin it will, but majority of the people on those streets are suffering from mental health problems and chronic drug use. That should be clear to anyone who has walked East Village. This makes me wonder, exactly how is creating more campsites a solution? If by solution we mean hiding away the rampant drug use on city streets, then sure, it’s a solution of a kind. If we mean actually addressing the problem, then I think this is no solution at all.
It’s interesting to see articles in the UT and other local news outlets praising the new Gloria/Whitburn proposal, noting that it may be more popular because it is “outside” Balboa Park. The fact is that the city’s 28th street operations lot and the lot near the Navy’s Balboa Park hospital are both within the boundaries of Balboa Park. The city operations lot has always been criticized as an incursion into the park, and the Navy was sued by local parks protection groups like C-3 when it decided to build its new hospital in its current location. That lawsuit resulted in the Navy deeding the land the old Naval Hospital sat on by Inspiration back to the city for parkland, but the land the nearby parking lot is located on remains within the park’s boundaries.
So don’t be fooled when someone says this proposal is better because its not in Balboa Park. The sites earmarked for new homeless campgrounds remain within the park.
Anyone with their ear to the ground knows that the homeless have to deal with a number of risks including predators within the homeless community. Hopefully the city proposal will help to address the predator problem as well as giving the homeless, including the working homeless, a safer place to be.
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