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A plan for Escondido's crime motels

Conversion to SROs entails bathroom and kitchen for each

Interfaith Community Services bought this America's Best Value motel on North Centre City Parkway.
Interfaith Community Services bought this America's Best Value motel on North Centre City Parkway.

Some Escondido motels have become crime magnets, and the pandemic didn't help. At one motel, police found there was a 420 percent increase in calls for service last year.

Hoping to give some of those properties new life, the city is moving ahead with an ordinance to allow hotels and motels to be converted to like single-room housing.

The ordinance would allow permanent residential use of motels in commercial zones, which they say would lead to revitalization of those areas.

SRO on 17th Street, downtown San Diego

It's unknown how many would qualify or want to participate, but Adam Finestone, interim director of community development, told the city council he's aware of hotel owners who are interested.

"It could be one, it could be all, it could be half of them."

Some may welcome the option. According to the city, the pandemic has spawned "devastatingly low occupancy levels in 2020 and 2021," and industry experts predict "an uncertain or grim future for their continued operations post-pandemic."

Under the ordinance, existing hotels and motels in all zoning districts and those located in specific plans may be converted to single-room occupancy, supportive housing, transitional housing, multi-family housing, or a combination.

SRO interior, San Diego

Unlike a studio or efficiency, single-room occupancy units aren't required to have both a kitchen and bathroom. They often have a shared facility for one or the other, which some who commented on the ordinance wanted to see changed. So the council added a requirement for SROs to have both kitchen and bathroom, so they have "all the amenities provided by a single dwelling unit."

The city says converting motels would be cost effective, since they're already built and require far less rehabilitation than other structures. It would speed affordable units to fulfill the city's share of regional housing.

Escondido collects hotel taxes from 16 hotels and motels that have remitted payment during the last five years. Applications for conversions would be subject to a fiscal analysis to offset the cost of municipal services, whether the developer is a non-profit or for-profit.

Currently, the city has one hotel conversion they point to as a success. Interfaith Community Services purchased a motel on North Centre City Parkway last year and turned it into housing for the homeless.

"It was converted to a residential care facility, not just housing," Finestone said. The services provided by the operator made a difference at the once troubled site, helping residents with substance abuse issues, jobs counseling and more. Police calls for service there "have dropped dramatically."

Where such services aren't provided, problems continue. Police chief Ed Varso told the council "we may have anywhere from as few as 10 calls in a month to over 100."

Last year's spike in calls was attributed to a swell of homeless vouchers from outside Escondido due to Covid, but "some of the properties do have consistent patterns" of narcotics and human trafficking issues.

The city can't use eminent domain to take over a problem property, according to Karen Youel, housing services manager. "It has to be a willing purchase."

One way the city could have more control over the operation of a property is if they decide to go through the Homekey project, a state-funded program, and buy the motel.

The city would be the applicant, or could act as co-applicant and allow the developer to own the property. "Or we can continue to own it through the 55-year affordability period," she added.

"We are waiting anxiously to see how they {the state} are going to roll the program out. Many cities have had success with the idea that, when you have someone living permanently on a site they treat it differently" than a temporary shelter.

"That idea of permanence allows people to treat their home a little bit better."

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Interfaith Community Services bought this America's Best Value motel on North Centre City Parkway.
Interfaith Community Services bought this America's Best Value motel on North Centre City Parkway.

Some Escondido motels have become crime magnets, and the pandemic didn't help. At one motel, police found there was a 420 percent increase in calls for service last year.

Hoping to give some of those properties new life, the city is moving ahead with an ordinance to allow hotels and motels to be converted to like single-room housing.

The ordinance would allow permanent residential use of motels in commercial zones, which they say would lead to revitalization of those areas.

SRO on 17th Street, downtown San Diego

It's unknown how many would qualify or want to participate, but Adam Finestone, interim director of community development, told the city council he's aware of hotel owners who are interested.

"It could be one, it could be all, it could be half of them."

Some may welcome the option. According to the city, the pandemic has spawned "devastatingly low occupancy levels in 2020 and 2021," and industry experts predict "an uncertain or grim future for their continued operations post-pandemic."

Under the ordinance, existing hotels and motels in all zoning districts and those located in specific plans may be converted to single-room occupancy, supportive housing, transitional housing, multi-family housing, or a combination.

SRO interior, San Diego

Unlike a studio or efficiency, single-room occupancy units aren't required to have both a kitchen and bathroom. They often have a shared facility for one or the other, which some who commented on the ordinance wanted to see changed. So the council added a requirement for SROs to have both kitchen and bathroom, so they have "all the amenities provided by a single dwelling unit."

The city says converting motels would be cost effective, since they're already built and require far less rehabilitation than other structures. It would speed affordable units to fulfill the city's share of regional housing.

Escondido collects hotel taxes from 16 hotels and motels that have remitted payment during the last five years. Applications for conversions would be subject to a fiscal analysis to offset the cost of municipal services, whether the developer is a non-profit or for-profit.

Currently, the city has one hotel conversion they point to as a success. Interfaith Community Services purchased a motel on North Centre City Parkway last year and turned it into housing for the homeless.

"It was converted to a residential care facility, not just housing," Finestone said. The services provided by the operator made a difference at the once troubled site, helping residents with substance abuse issues, jobs counseling and more. Police calls for service there "have dropped dramatically."

Where such services aren't provided, problems continue. Police chief Ed Varso told the council "we may have anywhere from as few as 10 calls in a month to over 100."

Last year's spike in calls was attributed to a swell of homeless vouchers from outside Escondido due to Covid, but "some of the properties do have consistent patterns" of narcotics and human trafficking issues.

The city can't use eminent domain to take over a problem property, according to Karen Youel, housing services manager. "It has to be a willing purchase."

One way the city could have more control over the operation of a property is if they decide to go through the Homekey project, a state-funded program, and buy the motel.

The city would be the applicant, or could act as co-applicant and allow the developer to own the property. "Or we can continue to own it through the 55-year affordability period," she added.

"We are waiting anxiously to see how they {the state} are going to roll the program out. Many cities have had success with the idea that, when you have someone living permanently on a site they treat it differently" than a temporary shelter.

"That idea of permanence allows people to treat their home a little bit better."

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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