Mike Madriaga 11 a.m., May 21
- Community Blog
- I've Got Issues
Is Assembly Leader Toni Atkins Cashing in on Homelessness?
According to a recent UT article and a recent San Diego County-wide count the homeless increased by 3.3 percent compared to last year. http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2011/feb/14/san-diego-countys-homless-numbers-rise/#
Allegedly, The Point-in-Time Count, conducted on Jan. 28, counted 8,802 homeless compared to 8,517 last year. The number of homeless on the streets, according to this study, rose 3.5 percent, from 4,599 in 2010 to this year's count of 4,758.
I say "allegedly" because there is an enormous amount of money to be made solving the problem: so more homeless equals more money for State Assembly Leader Toni Atkins and her wife's private business contracted to do a study.
The article boasts a photo of State Assembly Leader Toni Atkins leading the charge of more than 550 volunteers searching for homeless people with her flashlight.
Sounds great, right? until you look a little deeper and see that Atkins' wife makes $225 an hour doing this "study" on homelessness and doing work that should be done by the Housing Commission especially amid all the chatter about "deep, painful budget cuts" and Atkins proclamation that there are "no sacred cows" that will be spared from the chopping block. The total charge to the city for this "study" is $464,750....464,750 dollars of state allocated redevelopment funds. Perhaps this is why in another UT article interviewing the State Assembly Leader she says this:
"The gaping budget deficit is waiting, but so too are issues involving improving the small business climate, affordable housing and health care, Atkins said.
Q: Besides the budget, what are your top priorities?
A: I’m an affordable housing advocate, homeless issues, certainly. Health care will be on the radar. But clearly it’s all going to be secondary to jobs and the economy."
$464,750 seems like alot of money to pay for something that an existing city commission is already supposed to do. I wonder how many libraries we could keep open a few more hours for $464,750 or how many potholes we could fix or how many community gardens we could create for that money? And sure "its redevelopment money" so thats "different" money.....exactly.... (that's why we need to support Brown in ending these sham agencies, because that money will go back to real services).
I have always been in awe of Toni Atkins and her partner, now wife, Jennifer LeSar, and their brazen audacity in enriching themselves with tax dollars and government connections. I thought for sure they would be terrified that the feds would finally start paying attention and indict them and they would stop this behavior.
I give props to CityBeat for acknowledging the suspect conditions surrounding Atkins wife Jennifer LeSar receiving the very lucrative contract to conduct a homeless study. I have been trying to get media publications to investigate the questionable impropriety of Toni Atkins and Jennifer LeSar profiting off their connections in local government and profiting off of these sort of social problems for years!!!
January 27th I wrote this blog questioning why Atkins was still working for LeSar Development Consultants after she was elected to State Assembly. Look at the date on the pdf. Was Atkins one of the "consultants" paid to do the CCDC study under LeSar Development Consultants? http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs/ive-got-issues/2011/jan/27/why-is-toni-atkins-still-working-as-a-lobbyist-for/
I don't know why the media has been so quiet on this issue for so long. After all Atkins was one of the Council members that gave the pristine and very valuable prime 17 acre NTC site to developer Corky McMillin for 1 dollar a year in an astounding Redevelopment deal that stunned and enraged citizens. Then Corky McMillin turned around and hired LeSar as a consultant....sound like quid pro quo? http://www.blogofsandiego.com/BlogArchives/2007-2nd-Quarter.htm#06/06/07 Here is the lease.. http://www.blogofsandiego.com/DSD/NTC/Memo_of_Lease.PDF ....and it is a Delaware LLC by the way that very conveniently hides who the actual investors are. That makes me wonder if the mayor or other city officials could actually be investors.
Here is the CityBeat article scrutinizing the LeSar consulting deal... http://www.sdcitybeat.com/sandiego/article-8792-more-scrutiny-please.html
CityBeat reporter Kelly Davis said that since 2010 former redevelopment official and current wife and life partner of Toni Atkins, Jennifer LeSar, received $235,000 to provide “technical assistance” on efforts to house the homeless. CityBeat goes on to say "on Tuesday morning, the City Council extended that contract through September, upping the payment to $464,750".
Jennifer LeSar was on the Board of Directors of the Centre City Development Corp. (CCDC) from 2002 to 2009. She started her development consulting business in 2005 consulting many of the same developers she was working with on CCDC. http://lesardevelopment.com/about-us/ CCDC recently asked the City Council to approve the contract extension with redevelopment money, yes that same redevelopment money that Atkins as State Assembly WHIP will vote on in Sacramento....sound like a conflict of interest?
"According to the contract, LeSar bills CCDC at $225 per hour for her own work. She hired an affordable-housing expert at a cost to CCDC of $175 per hour. A third employee, a former reporter, bills for $90 per hour". $90 per hour!!!!!! for a study on homelessness? $225 an hour for her time? Is this a joke? Did those 550 volunteers know they were working for free while LeSar was profiting off their work? How is it that Atkins and LeSar have evaded Federal investigation?
And not to worry, once this very expensive study is complete LeSar has many private clients that will pay her to get them the very lucrative homeless shelter contracts. She is a 1-stop shop when it comes to "solving affordable housing and homelessness", a business that has made her millions.
CityBeat's article goes on to say this about LeSar's responsibilities: "The scope of LeSar’s work—essentially cobbling together demographic information about the homeless people who live Downtown and cajoling various agencies to work cooperatively on getting them housed—sounds a lot like what former San Diego City Councilmember Brian Maienschein is supposed to be doing on a regional basis."
No doubt the solution will be to build giant monstrosities with 4,000 units to house San Diego's homeless, but will this even work?
Solving homelessness is a complicated problem that requires an in depth knowledge of environmental psychology and architecture, as well as sociology and psychology. So why is the consumate professional hired to "study" this problem not educated in any of these things? She is a real estate developer and apparently deserves $225 for her extensive expertise at solving homelessness.
Homeless people carry an enormous amount of shame with them but they also carry an enormous amount of pride. They spend their lives looking for places to hide. The last thing they want is someone to make a big production out of their life's failures and some pseudo benevolent do-gooder offering them a new apartment if they meet a checklist of requirements (and of course there would need to be a checklist because that apartment cost $300,000 to build!) There needs to be a middle ground that offers them their anonymity and a dry place to sleep and shower and gives them the ability to empower themselves. That could be as simple as a tent or a shipping container and a mattress and a big shower facility.
So the city of San Diego after all these years of ignoring homeless people has decided not only does it want to finally address homelessness, it wants to SOLVE homelessness and signed on to the Plan to End Chronic Homelessness (PTECH). Could this have anything to do with the fact that solving homelessness pays $225 dollars an hour to a former CCDC board member and probably to Toni Atkins who up until 2011 was working for LeSar? I wonder what her time was billed at?
And if "solving homelessness" comes at the current price tag, as in the current 32 million dollar remodel of the World Trade Center Building which contains 225 beds we may be in big trouble. (And don't misunderstand me, I am ALL for spending redevelopment money on restoring historic buildings to help homeless but is anyone questioning the numbers?) At over $130,000 per homeless person X about 8,000 homeless people....that is over 1 billion dollars to provide beds not to mention the 8,000 additional homeless people that just showed up at your door after hearing the good news..... and now you are back to ground zero.
Again, don't get me wrong. My point is that there is no financial motive for these developers to actually SOLVE the problem. In fact the motivation is to exacerbate and encourage the problem. So LeSar's study is not going to offer real solutions. It will only offer solutions that maximize her and her clients profits. It presents a real problem when you hire a consultant who has a financial stake in profiting off the solution she recommends, and an even greater problem when that consultant's spouse votes on the funds to pay for that solution.
I know I am practically quoting the entire CityBeat article, but all this information is extremely important.
"What’s unclear is why CCDC needs consultants to point the way toward homelessness solutions. In addition to the city of San Diego signing on to a regional plan to solve the problem, it has designated its own Housing Commission as the lead agency in finding permanent-supportive-housing options (housing plus social services). Strangely, there at Tuesday’s meeting was Housing Commission President and CEO Rick Gentry, telling the City Council that the commission was ready to follow CCDC’s lead. Huh? The Housing Commission employs people whose job is to come up with housing solutions, and they’ve steadily been doing that job."
CityBeat, I think is far too easy on LeSar and Atkins who have made millions off this shell game, but they do offer this very valid criticism..." Not one member questioned Graham or LeSar on the contract’s alarmingly high cost or whether these services could or should be provided by someone already in place. CCDC could have hired three people for 15 months for $85,000 each, and it would only have cost $255,000".
I have been warning for a while that citizens need to pay close attention to all the resources and impetus to "solve homelessness". It is the next big shell game and means millions to private developers. I am in NO way saying I don't believe in helping the homeless. I do, but as someone with an education in architecture I do not agree with the solutions proposed by private developers because they exploit the problem for profit by wharehousing the homeless in toxic tenement slums and they do not solve the problem. The problem can be solved for much less money in a way that facilitates and encourages a sense of community and well-being.
It is unconscionable and morally reprehensible that we are allowing public city officials and now a State Assembly Leader to take real problems and turn them into real profits for themselves. This is the REAL social injustice for citizens and the victims are all of us.