Uncertainty seemed to pervade the air on the edges of downtown. Monday was the first day San Diego police could begin enforcing the homeless camping ban.
There didn’t appear to be a dramatic change with the advent of the new city law – and yet unsheltered residents who set up camp in East Village and Barrio Logan were on edge as they waited for what might come next.
Voice of San Diego’s Ariana Drehsler met Rachel Martinez, 42, as she swept the sidewalk on 17th Street. Martinez told Drehsler that friends had warned her to pack up her belongings and be ready to potentially move – quickly.
Drehsler watched as two city workers put up a camping ban sign on Commercial Street. Voice reported the area was cleared last week using the city’s encroachment ordinance. The area remained clear of tents Monday.
City spokeswoman Ashley Bailey said the new signage “is not related to any enforcement actions that preceded the ordinance taking effect.” She said the sign went up because the area is within two blocks of a school.
What happened in Balboa Park: The Union-Tribune looked on Monday as police arrested several people in Balboa Park – an area where camping ban signs have gone up – for violations unrelated to the camping ban. The newspaper reported that police focused some enforcement on a field near Roosevelt Middle School where NBA legend Bill Walton complained about encampments.
Refresher: The camping ban bars camping on public property when shelter is available – and in certain zones including in certain parks and near schools and shelters – even when it’s not. Mayor Todd Gloria has said enforcement will first focus on certain parks and school areas that the city largely hasn’t identified.
“This enforcement effort will take time, and we won’t see major change overnight, but with consistent work, I am confident conditions on our streets will improve,” Gloria wrote.
Meanwhile at 20th and B streets…
Dreams for Change CEO Teresa Smith, whose nonprofit is operating the city’s safe sleeping site, said that as of Monday morning there were more than 95 people sleeping in 80 tents at the city maintenance yard at the edge of Balboa Park. The site is expected to eventually accommodate 136 tents.
Smith said Monday that the nonprofit is now welcoming five to 10 newcomers a day until the site is full, up from three intakes a day after the project initially opened. Smith wrote in an email that the nonprofit expected 58 of 111 people cleared for intake to move in this week.
“This may or may not fill the site depending on the rotations of exits,” Smith wrote.
Also on site: Smith said the site is outfitted with water, ice, shaded areas, charging and pet-friendly zones, portable restrooms and handwashing stations. Advocates are raising money to buy fans for all 136 tents.
Getting in: Smith told Voice that homeless residents must be working with an outreach worker to get into the safe campsite or call 2-1-1 to connect with one. She said the Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team can also bring unsheltered people in but its intakes are limited.
Reminder: The city plans to open a second, larger safe campsite behind the Naval Medical Center this fall. Even with the safe campsite it opened June 30, it’s wrestling with a major shortage of places for unsheltered people who want a safe refuge – whether that’s indoors or at a safe campsite. The city must address this shortage to dramatically reduce street homelessness with its new camping ban.
City Council Set to Vote on Smart Streetlights – Again
The San Diego City Council will vote today on a proposal to resurrect its defunct smart streetlights program.
The proposal would allocate $3.5 million to reinstall 500 cameras on streetlights across the city. It would also add automated license plate readers. This would create the largest single network of such devices in the country, according to police officials.
This isn’t San Diego’s first smart streetlights rodeo. Back in 2016, the City Council approved a $30 million investment to create a network of 3,200 streetlights. But unbeknownst to the public and seemingly even councilmembers, they included cameras accessible by police. City officials initially pitched it as a tool to capture data for public planning purposes. But by 2020 it became clear they hadn’t lived up to their hype, as we reported.
Then the streetlights became a tool exclusively used by police. Eventually, they were turned off following a public outcry over their ability to gather data and privacy concerns. But the footage was still shared with other law enforcement agencies.
Things have changed: The City Council passed a surveillance ordinance to govern the use of such technologies and created a privacy advisory board. Last month, that board voted to recommend that the City Council reject the latest proposal.
The mayor is rallying support: Todd Gloria has come out in favor of the redux. “I’ve pushed for the city to be able to resume the use of smart streetlights, which are an incredibly important tool for solving serious crimes across our city,” Gloria said at a Monday press conference.
But even if the new program isn’t approved, San Diegans haven’t seen the last of smart streetlights. After all, the city’s old, abandoned program is still costing taxpayers $1 million a year.
SANDAG Leader Says Peace Out
The man who challenged San Diegans’ relationship with the automobile is hitting the road.
Hasan Ikhrata, leader of San Diego’s most powerful transportation agency, will resign from the San Diego Association of Governments or SANDAG, Axios San Diego reported. He took the position in September of 2018. His last day is Dec. 29.
We kind of knew this was coming: Ikhrata started dropping hints that he’d be leaving in November during an interview with the Union-Tribune. For years the pugnacious leader fought to curb driving while also raising money for transportation projects by instituting a fee on drivers for every new mile.
This was unpopular with conservative leaders of car-dependent North County. Progressive leaders of the region’s coastal and urban cities hated it too. SANDAG’s board of directors, stacked with politicians from all the major cities, twice voted to remove the fee from plans.
However, Ikhrata insisted it, or something like it, would have to be part of any realistic plan to comply with commitments to combat climate change the state and region had already made. Otherwise, plans were fake.
(Listen to our bonus VOSD Podcast episode with Ikhrata here.)
In Other News
- San Diego’s plan to operate child care facilities on city property has some kinks the city still needs to work out. Voters approved Measure H in November, but several facilities still need to meet licensing requirements and funding. (Union-Tribune)
- Two horses died in separate incidents during opening week at the Del Mar Racetrack. A total of 18 horses have died at the racetrack since 2020. (ABC 10)
- There’s a proposal to split the San Diego city attorney’s workload in two, one that handles civil matters and another that handles criminal cases. Supporters want to get the measure on the November 2024 ballot. (Union-Tribune)
Lisa Halverstadt, Jakob McWhinney, MacKenzie Elmer and Kathryn Gray wrote the Morning Report. Editing by Andrea Lopez-Villafaña and Scott Lewis.