In their push for the conversion of a Super 8 motel to a transitional housing facility for up to 84 people, the city attorney's office failed to honor a public records request by the Reader for a report on the success of the SMART project planned for the location.
The failure to provide the records seems to have allowed for hazy facts to be presented to the city council, which approved the project on Monday (December 11th).
It turns out there was damaging information in the report the office filed with the state grant provider more than four weeks earlier. Of the 16 people in the first group to enlist in the program, 11 of them “walked away” from the program without completing it; only 5 graduated.
The legal office, which is leading the program efforts, received the request November 27. Even though all the information was written up in a report to the state, the office has yet to respond to the request. The only response received so far is that information may be excluded to protect the privacy of the program. Police documents to answer a PRA request for a list of calls for service were provided to this reporter during the meeting.
At the community meetings, the city attorney asserted that people who walk away would be arrested, but they were unable to document those arrests.
The community of Nestor and its neighbors in Imperial Beach have strongly opposed the project (as has council representative David Alvarez) that’s going in between two large residential trailer parks, across from a known drug-use site. They learned of the effort only after it was well advanced. The planning group voted against it.
The SMART program was put together with state Proposition 47 funding. To qualify, people must have at least two “quality of life” offenses in the past six months and two drug offenses since Prop 47 was passed. Addiction may or may not be required, and whether or not the participants are homeless has been disputed by Alvarez.
The idea is to have a minimum of a six-month stay with services on site.
At prior meetings, San Diego police chief Shelley Zimmerman suggested that the current Super 8 motel was a center for violent crime and that the community would benefit from going to the transitional housing use.
On December 11th, Zimmerman chimed in with what she said is the current state of Super 8’s use: “It’s not a pretty sight. Our officers respond there all the time,” she said. “The top three calls we get for that hotel are…disturbances, fights that are occurring there…. We’re constantly responding to calls there for people who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.”
The list of police calls shows a total of 42 calls to the motel in 21 months (an average of 2 per month); the 2 months with the highest numbers of calls had 4 calls each; 11 of the calls were for disturbing the peace; 4 calls involved guns (though it wasn’t clear any had been fired, as Zimmerman asserted); there were 3 calls for battery, 3 for trespassing, and 3 calls were classified as “5150” (“involuntary psychiatric hold”) from January 1, 2016, to October 2017. Vehicle stops were also included in the count, and at least one call was to get an ambulance.
The mayors of Imperial Beach, Chula Vista, Coronado, and National City wrote a letter to the California Coastal Commission pointing out that the motel is among the last affordable lodgings near the coast. The land-use decision can be appealed to the coastal commission since it is in its jurisdiction, they say.
At the start of the hearing, the city attorney cautioned the city council they could not consider anything but what is presented at the hearing, challenging those with prior information to recuse themselves.
Most of the opponents focused on the Palm Avenue location, both as affordable lodging and as part of the “gateway to the beach” that is in the process of being redeveloped.
"We think the SMART program is a good program," said Cindy Gompper Graves, of the South County Economic Development Council. “We just don't think the current location is a good location.” Opponents said they had identified more suitable locations within a mile of the Super 8.
Other council members, lobbied by the city attorney and the police, supported putting the facility in Alvarez’s community.
“I think we have a chance to do better by Palm Avenue,” councilman Chris Ward said. He said that his district, which converted the old Thomas Jefferson law-school building to a similar use, had objected to the conversion. Now, five years later, no one has any problems with the program operating there.
In one vote, the council voted 8-1 for a conditional use permit. The council in a second vote approved $6.65 million to convert the motel to housing. The council previously approved buying the motel for $6.5 million.