Officials from the City of San Diego, along with nonprofit organizations, served as guest panelists for a two-hour Quality of Life Forum on April 26, at the Lafayette Hotel on El Cajon Boulevard. It was sponsored by North Park Community Association, and drew a crowd of about 60 individuals.
The panelists included city council district 3 councilmember Chris Ward, chief deputy city attorney Lara Easton, North Park Main Street executive director Angela Landsberg, Alpha Project chief operating officer Amy Gonyear, and sergeant Brandy Sorbie of the SDPD. Joseph Balistreri, board member at North Park Main Street, was the panel moderator.
“Quality of life” is not quite what it sounds like. In legal terms, this refers to quality-of-life offenses that are low-level misdemeanors. According to a city attorney’s office handout, they include “trespass, misappropriation of lost property, illegal lodging, urinating/defecating in public, and encroachment.”
The city attorney’s office last year created the SMART (San Diego Misdemeanants At-Risk Track) pilot program to “improve the quality of life for both offenders and the community by reducing drug use and emergency room visits, and by increasing access to healthcare and the length of treatment.”
The SMART program has a $98,000 budget (administered by the San Diego Housing Commission), whereas since November 2014, costs for public safety incurred by SDPD, San Diego Sheriff’s Dept., emergency medical services (EMS), and city attorney’s office amounted to “over $408,877.”
As for homeless and other misdemeanants committing quality-of-life crimes, chief deputy city attorney Lara Easton told the audience her job is to “work with my deputies and funnel people out of the criminal justice system. I’m a prosecutor but I’m trying to ease myself out of a job.” She stressed they are trying to instead connect these individuals with supportive services.
Councilmember Ward stressed that the homeless issue is a “regional problem. This is not just a downtown or centre city San Diego problem. We have a lot of teamwork to coordinate our resources better.” He added that “we are required to do an annual point-in-time account of all the homeless on the street. We learn about information about some of their specific needs and any demographic information. We do it every year for the homeless.”
As for statistics, Ward stated the number of homeless individuals is “up 14 percent across the region, and over 20 percent downtown. So all areas, including North Park, are seeing the impact.”
Angela Landsberg, executive director of North Park Main Street, said “I think homelessness has impacted the public morale. Because when people see this sense of hopelessness, people wonder what can they do about it.” She said everyone has a level of compassion, but they don’t know what to do.
Landsberg said the work of the regional task force on homelessness has shown her that there’s progress being made. “It gives me the feeling that there’s some real community work going on.”
In a related matter, Smart & Final Extra! at 2235 University Avenue in North Park has experienced significant problems with shoplifting by homeless individuals. A checker told me that store personnel are not allowed to stop people from stealing, or to go after thieves after they have left the store with goods in hand. That’s because he had been assaulted previously by a homeless man, after he tried to intervene.
When I shopped at the supermarket this morning, an aisle that leads directly to the liquor department had been blocked by a table of snacks, to prevent quick access to, or exit from, that section. I personally haven’t seen liquor being carried out without payment, but I have witnessed food theft twice at this store.
Smart & Final public relations responded as follows: “The safety of our employees and customers is a top priority at Smart & Final, and we partner with local law enforcement to address any reported criminal activity in our stores. We are in the process of adding a daily guard service to this store to monitor security and safety issues.”
The statement added: “In a larger loss prevention and company safety initiative, Smart & Final has implemented an effort to more closely monitor the entrances and exits during later evening hours. This entails closing one of the two front sliding doors in our stores, leaving them unlocked during regular business hours, in order to meet fire code and create a safe environment for all.”