Geo crew at U.S. Marshall's office downtown San Diego
So far short of sufficient cash to pay the seven-figure price of the average San Diego initiative drive, the group seeking to raise the city's hotel tax to fund a convention center expansion and accompanying homeless mitigation has tapped a controversial private prison operator to pick up the slack.
San Diego Day Reporting Center on Jefferson Street
GEO Group of Boca Raton, Florida gave $25,000 to Yes! For a Better San Diego on May 10, per a May 11 filing with the San Diego city clerk's office.
A national giant of the commercial incarceration business, GEO runs two facilities in San Diego, downtown's Western Regional Detention Center on behalf of the U.S. Marshals Service, and the San Diego Day Reporting Center at 3211 Jefferson Street in the Midway district.
The latter, funded by the California Department of Corrections, provides "intensive supervision and reentry services to offenders transitioning back to the community," according to GEO's website.
"Participants report to the program and receive the ongoing treatment needed to help break cycles of criminal behavior. Classes include cognitive behavioral therapy; employment readiness and career development; life skills and parenting classes; anger management; drug and alcohol classes and more."
In the wake of last year's downtown homeless meltdown, some have argued that GEO-like tax-funded rehabs could be part of the solution, but the programs are costly and unpopular with prospective neighbors, requiring heavy lobbying of city officials to overcome resistance against permits.
The tax hike proposal being circulated by convention center advocates does not specify how the funds earmarked for the homeless would ultimately be deployed, leaving the matter for city politicos to sort out later.
But backers of the tax increase assert on their website that the measure would produce a generous amount of cash for social services.
"Over the first five years alone it will generate more than $140 million for new efforts to reduce homelessness and raise more than $2 billion to reduce homelessness over the life of the measure.
"This infusion of money will get people off the streets and into shelters. It will fund counseling and assistance to women, children, veterans and others who have no place to turn to today."
Elsewhere in the state, pushback against GEO-related privatization has come from social-service non-profits, who argue that the firm is part of a "treatment industrial complex" that has grown sharply under the Trump administration.
"Because these companies are paid per diem, per person, they have a motivation to do what we call 'net widening' - to get as many people under the boot of the system in the harshest form of control and surveillance, for the longest time," Dalit Baum of the American Friends Service Committee, told the East Bay Express in February.
The paper reported that GEO Reentry's three-year contract with the California correctional authority for San Diego, Los Angeles, and Orange counties, set to expire in 2020, totals $26 million.
Noted the Express: "Both GEO Group and its main competitor, CoreCivic, each donated $250,000 to Trump's inauguration festivities and spent more than $1 million in political giving during the 2016 presidential election."