Viewpoint

Business community seeks homeless center answers

October 8, 2012 

Please let me correct the numerous mistakes and mischaracterizations in The Tribune editorial “Don’t Let Shelter Slip into Oblivion” (Sept. 27).

First, it must be stated, that no local business has opposed a homeless services center in San Luis Obispo. In fact numerous businesses, including many of us in the South Higuera Business Park, have donated services, materials, labor and funds to homeless support including building both the Maxine Lewis Shelter and Prado Day Center.

Regarding the CAPSLO Homeless Center, we stood before the Planning Commission two years ago and questioned the proposal of locating it within the business park. A commercial district and a homeless complex are not compatible in any way. We requested justification for this location and asked that the concerns of the business park community be addressed. The PC placed conditions on the project that included adequate parking, a detailed security plan, compatibility with adjacent commercial uses, adequate annual funding, limits on animal kennels, but most importantly, a neighborhood relations plan. At that meeting, I was personally approached by Biz Steinberg (CEO, CAPSLO) who assured me that business interests would be preserved and protected, and that CAPSLO would make the business community active participants in the planning process. I trusted that when the time came, CAPSLO would honor that promise.

Fast forward to a few months ago when business and property owners in the area learned that significant planning had already been completed. We requested a meeting at which proponents of the project informed us that a 51,000-square-foot facility was already set for 3451 S. Higuera St. We were given a list of eight alternative sites that had been considered but no analysis justifying the chosen location. Note that only eight sites were considered, not the 20 reported by The Tribune. It was obvious to us that the selection process was skewed to the “free” site, not the best site. We have asked repeatedly for a site selection report, to no avail.

Good planning starts with identification of all uses and then development of a framework to accommodate them. This process was ignored. Instead, the site was blindly accepted and then proponents admittedly tried to make it work after that fact. It is impossible to design a building without knowing what its final uses will be, much less without adjacent community input. The businesses that will be most affected were not included in planning until just one month ago.

There have been no environmental or economic impact studies of the proposed site. We have asked how the project will mitigate the impacts of auto and pedestrian traffic, truck deliveries, parking (already overcapacity in this neighborhood), security, noise, garbage, loitering and crime. Proponents of the project tell us they do not know yet.

We have asked to be involved from the very beginning and been excluded and ignored. Now that the proponents have realized this was a mistake, they have decided to stop fundraising and re-group. I applaud them for realizing the process was flawed and that it’s time to implement “good neighbor” policies.

The reason the project was placed on hold is because the proponents have not yet determined the appropriate program features and size of project, nor how they will manage an operation with more beds than a medium-sized hotel, nor effectively provide for the most deserved population while effectively screening out those who do not want services (the “will not’s”) and may negatively impact our neighborhood.

The Tribune reported (Oct. 2) that 40 percent of the homeless in San Luis Obispo are people who will not seek services and are resistant to these programs. Our police department says they spend 27 percent of their time dealing with these “will-nots.” How to deal with this population and ensure that they do not negatively affect the deserved individuals who want and need our help has not been solved.

Drug and alcohol screening at the center will do nothing to prevent those who are turned away from taking up camp around our business properties. These are the people who are most likely to demonstrate bad behavior. As employers and business owners, we have a right and a responsibility to provide a safe environment for our employees and customers. We are not convinced that the current plan has taken our concerns into account.

Our questions have not been answered and our distrust has grown daily as aresult of being excluded from critical planning. Why haven’t we been included? How will our concerns be mitigated? What is the plan? There are many agencies that must work together to make this project successful. Their ability to do so has not been demonstrated in the past. What is “plan B” if their efforts fail us this time?

Asking for an extension of the grant or even losing the grant is far less expensive than what will occur if a poorly planned project is developed. Don’t let a one-time grant drive bad planning.

We ask that the decision-makers and elected officials withhold support for this location until concerns are addressed and a plan that mitigates all of the risks is in place.

We ask that our elected officials not let a one-time grant deadline drive decisions that will have longterm, negative consequences for our business community and our entire community.

Bill Thoma is co-owner and operator of Thoma Electric Inc. in San Luis Obispo. The company has been in business since 1962 and located in Commerce Park off South Higuera Street since 1986.

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