The Otay Mesa Nestor community planning group voted unanimously Wednesday night to write a letter of opposition to San Diego's plan to spend $6 million buying a Palm Ave. Super 8 motel and turn it into housing for addicts convicted of nonviolent misdemeanors.
The neighborhood only learned of the plan in the latter part of June.
The board will aim to get the letter to the city council by Monday, when the council is slated to vote to authorize its real estate department to buy the property. It will require another $4 million to refurbish, according to Councilmember David Alvarez's staff.
"My concern is the speed that this is happening. The impression I get is it is highly unusual that this is moving so fast," planning group chairman Albert Velasquez said. "We didn't receive notice until June."
At a raucous meeting last month, residents decried the city plan to "dump on the South Bay."
The plan is to place homeless beset with drug and alcohol abuse in housing with some supervision while they get clean and take steps to look for work and connect with more productive behavior.
Funding for the program came from the state savings for not imprisoning them.
All of this sprang from Prop 47, passed in 2014, which was meant to keep nonviolent offenders out of prison — using incarceration costs instead to clean them up and put them to work. The savings from not imprisoning people has finally returned to cities and counties, and that's the money behind the program effort. The ballot measure won 58 percent of the vote statewide in 2014, and a higher percentage in the area around the motel, according to county voting records.
Although the incarcerations targeted in Prop 47 were reduced as soon as the law took effect, the money saved has just begun to go to cities and counties.
The program that wants to use the motel is in its infancy.
So far, the program has offered help to 23 homeless people and ended up with 10 offenders enrolled, Dep. City Attorney Lara Easton said last month. Their longest enrolled client is about seven months in, according to Easton, who is coordinating it. But people can also just walk out of the unsecured facility and the program has already had people walk away, she said.
If they don't come back, the city prosecutors can get a warrant for their arrest and return to jail.
Planning group member Walt Zumstein went to the planning commission hearing and didn't like what happened.
"The committee cut the time for public speaking down to a minute and no one was taking notes of our comments," Zumstein said. "It seemed like it it was predecided."
Vivian Moreno, from Alvarez’s office, said that some of the purchase money comes from redevelopment agency money that ended up with the feds when the redevelopment agencies were found to be illegal and were eliminated.
“They want you to spend that money in 18 months and if you can’t spend it in 18 months, you’ll have to give it back.”
Planning group member Sam Mendoza said he was concerned for the more than 1,000 residents in the three mobile home parks nearby, including two immediately adjacent to the Super 8.
He said his concerns were exacerbated by the decision to have one security person at the motel which is still operating. The clerk working there Thursday afternoon declined to say how many rooms there are, and said there was a long line of people waiting to check in. Hotel booking sites show a typical price of $76 per room.
The California Coastal Commission jumped into the fray because the Super 8 is one of the last affordable places to stay within the San Diego area coastal overlay zone. Affordable lodging has been a frustrating issue for the commission, which has amassed millions of dollars to create affordable lodging – paid in part by hotels that got permits for development or improvements and chose not to be part of the affordable lodging scheme, according to coastal commission documents.
Whether or not the commission has a say seems to be in dispute, Moreno said.
The city attorney says “we do not have to take this to the coastal commission because we’re not changing the zoning, we’re changing the community plan,” she said.
Residents said that they worry about the people in recovery since the area is apparently a great place for buying and using meth, especially near the liquor store across Palm.
“You know what's so sad is there's no chance for employment anywhere around here. Even local kids can't find jobs," said Coralie Zumstein. "They'll just sit there sad with nothing to do."