Extended Stay America in Mission Valley on June 29, 2023.
Extended Stay America in Mission Valley on June 29, 2023. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

The news: The city of San Diego identified motels it could purchase (with state funds) and convert into permanent housing for homeless San Diegans. One of the motels the city identified, however, is no longer an option. That’s because of a really old restriction on the land the motel sits on.

Grab some cafecito and lets jump in.

The Hotel

Voice of San Diego investigative reporter Will Huntsberry revealed the city is no longer pursuing the purchase of an Extended Stay America, a 140-room motel in Mission Valley, because a rule on the land it sits on bans subsidized housing.

The city is moving forward with some other motels. Huntsberry dug into the history of the rule and the company that is standing in the city’s way.

Here’s the story.

The Covenant

A historic map of the plots that make up Mission Valley Heights.

The land where the motel sits was originally owned by H.G. Fenton Company. Fenton, in the 1990s, created a covenant to govern the area, known as Mission Valley Heights. (See the map above). The covenant restricted future development.

What is a covenant? Well, it’s basically an agreement that’s binding. This agreement bans subsidized housing. It’s a restrictive covenant.

(You might have heard of racial covenants. NPR and KPBS did some reporting on housing discrimination and how some shaped homeownership locally.)

Fast forward to today, the Mission Valley Heights covenant is still in place. Fenton no longer owns the plot of land that includes the motel the city wanted. But it owns 51 percent of the properties in Mission Valley Heights. That means it has the power to change or remove the covenant.

The city asked the company to consider changing the covenant. But the answer was no multiple times. So, the city decided to move on.

As Huntsberry reports, there’s a state law that stops companies from using restrictive covenants to block subsidized housing projects. But the city is on a tight deadline to apply for state funding, so using that law to overturn the covenant didn’t seem like an option.

The state funding is from a program called Homekey. We previously reported that San Diego cities missed an earlier deadline and left millions of dollars set aside for the region on the table. Instead they had to compete with cities across the state for that same funding. Then the city, county and a local nonprofit ended up getting money for a project in El Cerrito.

Could the Extended Stay Ever Be an Option?

At a recent press conference Voice’s Lisa Halverstadt asked San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria if the city had any plans to pursue the site further, maybe taking the issue to court?

Gloria doubled down on the deadline.

“We are not going to miss the application,” Gloria said. “We are going to get as much as we possibly can and put as many units on the ground as possible.”

A dig at other cities: The mayor noted that San Diego is doing all it can. But he wanted to draw attention to a different question, “What other jurisdictions are applying for Homekey dollars in the county of San Diego?” Because I’m a chismosa, I reached out to those cities. So far, I heard from seven. I’m posting responses on a Twitter thread, you can see it here. I’ll keep you updated on all the cities in my next Cup of Chisme.

More Chisme to Start Your Week

  • MacKenzie Elmer has been writing about a water divorce that’s stirring up a lot of drama. This is all related to the Fallbrook Public Utility District and the Rainbow Municipal Water District wanting to leave the San Diego County Water Authority. Those two districts want to buy cheaper water from Easter Municipal Water District in Riverside. Those who are against them leaving argue that it’s going to cost ratepayers a lot of money. Tomorrow a government body that is deciding over the divorce is going to take a vote. Catch up before the vote here. Or click any of the links above.
  • Jakob McWhinney reports that San Diego Unified is projecting big budget deficits. He explains what’s going on in the latest Learning Curve. Read it here.
  • Scott Lewis has some chisme about the county supervisor race. Read the Politics Report here.

Andrea Lopez-Villafaña, Managing Editor, Daily News Andrea oversees the production of daily news stories for Voice of San Diego. She welcomes conversations...

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