Stephen Hill, policy advisor for councilmember Todd Gloria, says city staff has determined that due to uneven terrain, dilapidated houses, and absent a clear path to Maple Canyon, the city-owned property in Bankers Hill should be sold. They will make that recommendation to a city-council committee on January 20.
As first reported in the Reader, the city's desire to sell the property angered residents and volunteer planners who say the site, with a little work, is prime to be made into an open-space park that provides an entrance into Maple Canyon. Others say the houses on the property should be preserved as a historic resource.
Now, as residents have begun to lobby Gloria's office to at least hold off on selling the parcel, more information on the house and parcel has come to light.
According to an email written by Gloria's policy advisor and obtained by the Reader, the city purchased the property and the two houses on it in the 1960s with revenues from a gas tax. The property was purchased in order to make room for a road leading into Maple Canyon. The road was never built and the city, despite two efforts to sell the property in the 1980s, has retained it ever since.
In the late 1980s, one of the two houses was turned into a residential housing facility for AIDS patients run by the AIDS Assistance Fund and later named the Truax House in honor of Dr. Brad Truax, who died from AIDS-related complications. After the Truax House closed, the city leased the house to Father Joe Carroll for one dollar a year, and it was used as a halfway house.
Meanwhile, the front house, which was turned over to the San Diego Housing Commission to rent, was leased to a resident. Both were built in the early parts of the 20th Century; the Truax House was built around 1910.
The age of the older house, as well its history of housing terminally ill AIDS patients in the 1980s when the disease was ravaging LGBT community and when treatment was in its infancy, are among the reasons why some members have lobbied to make it a historic resource (for a great article on the Truax House, see this 1989 Los Angeles Times story).
In fact, according to an article in the LGBT Weekly, councilmember Gloria was celebrated for securing funding to turn such properties into historic sites. One such property up for designation, claimed the article, was the Truax House.
Reads the article, "Congratulations and thank you to Lambda Archives, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and Councilman Todd Gloria for securing state and local financial grants to preserve San Diego LGBT historic sites. Lambda Archives deserves credit for starting the campaign to focus on this most important issue and now comes word that the Truax House is being considered as a historic site and indeed it is. I remember talking to a very ill Dr. Brad Truax in the 1980s to get his permission so that the AIDS Assistance Fund, and I (president and co-founder) could name the three story house after him and he modestly said yes. I look forward to other LGBT historic sites to be named."
However, efforts to designate the Truax House seemed to have failed and now the city wants out, claiming that the two houses are run-down and would cost approximately $1.48 million to repair.
Gloria policy advisor Stephen Hill is now telling residents that they might need to look at other options in order to save the house. "There is no buyer lined up at this time," Hill wrote to one resident. "Councilmember Gloria’s thoughts are that if you feel the Truax House has historical value to the LGBT community, you might begin exploring financing options that would enable Lambda Archives to purchase the site."
The current tenant in the front house, who wished to remain anonymous, says there have been other nonprofits that have expressed interest in the property.
"When Father Joe left, I told San Diego Youth Services about it because I knew they are always looking for places to use as transitional housing facilities," writes the tenant. "They were very interested and had the funds to put into the house, but when they tried to find out information from [the Real Estate Assets Department], they were completely shut down. This led me to believe that [the department] was not following proper procedures and simply wanted to sell the parcel to a commercial developer."
Added the tenant, "I've been particularly disappointed in [Gloria's] lack of interest in this, though not at all surprised by the way [the Real Estate Assets Department] has handled it.
"...I brought this [information] to [councilmember] Gloria since he presents himself as a supporter of LGBT community, but he didn't seem to care. No one does. This simply comes down to money and Faulconer wanting to reward his friends in the commercial development industry."
According to Hill's email, the Smart Growth and Land Use Committee will hear the item on January 20. No agenda has been posted as of this writing.