South Higuera is not the right spot for homeless center

January 9, 2013 

Editor’s note: This is a response to the Jan. 6 Viewpoint, “Homeless center project deserves support,” written by various members of CAPSLO advisory committees.

My business has been located in the area near Prado Day Center for 11 years. In that time, the issues related to homelessness have grown progressively worse.

“Camping” in vehicles, with the associated vagrancy, noise, inappropriate behavior, animal control problems and sewage disposal, is an ongoing problem. In just the last two years, my car has been broken into, my property vandalized, my water appropriated, my gas syphoned. I have recently altered my hours of business so that it’s not necessary to work late into the night.

You acknowledge the problems we have faced due to our proximity to the Prado facility and suggest that the Homeless Services Center proposed for South Higuera Street will create similar problems for it’s neighbors.

You suggest that we should proceed with the project essentially as proposed and “explore options to mitigate its impact.” This statement is admission that there will be impacts.

The spokespeople for the Homeless Services Center have been candid and unapologetic about heaping the added cost of law enforcement on the community. All the while, neighbors already are repairing property; paying insurance deductibles and higher premiums; cleaning up after curbside residents and their pets; altering work schedules to avoid peril and spending precious time “managing” a situation that is not of our making.

There has even been a suggestion that an assessment district be formed to charge the surrounding businesses a fee to help pay for additional security and law enforcement that will be needed. Gee, let’s see. If there is a better way to discourage business and harm property values, I can’t think of one.

I have read and studied CAPSLO’s Mission Statement and Good Neighbor Policy, as well as the grant request for the Homeless Services Center. With all due respect, they read like a college term paper. I would like to see a document similar to a business plan.

I want to see the data, the numbers, the statistics, the projections, the funding sources. The question has been asked by Mr. Bill Thoma: When will the answers be forthcoming?

Personally, I would like to see an Environmental Impact Report and an economic analysis of proposed programs, and I want to know exactly how and where the evaluation and intake of participants will occur and what will happen to people who are not accepted at the shelter.

If I have read the documents correctly, after allowing for common area and office spaces, the 200-bed facility will allow for approximately 60 square feet per resident. Is this really feasible?

Also, according to documents, the proposed Homeless Services Center will be designed to serve the entire county. How is this South Higuera location (1.1 acre, never intended for its proposed use), smaller than the site of the nearby Motel 6 (1.84 acre with zoning designated for its use) and sandwiched between a county office complex and a commercial condo, possibly going to be able to replace the Maxine Lewis Shelter, offer all of the services you propose and supplement facilities throughout the county?

You say that “many alternative sites were evaluated.” Which sites are they and how were they evaluated? Where’s the data?

You also state that “throughout this process we’ve requested input from residents and business owners from all over the county.” In what way have you requested input? I do not recall ever being asked about this project, and only became aware of it in the last few weeks. You may have “informed” the owners of neighboring properties “to the letter of the law” (and I don’t even recall getting the requisite post card), but you absolutely did not work with the stakeholders at the beginning of the planning process.

Is it your intention to call all of the neighboring property owners and business owners liars? Believe me: Because of the problems we are already facing, I would have been alert to the suggestion that a larger homeless center was in the works.

You state that your facility will provide “at least 60 parking spaces — 10 more than required by the city’s Zoning Code.” Again, let’s be honest. How many of these spaces are intended for people living in their vehicles, and how does that comport with the city’s zoning codes? Your “parking” comment also implies that this project has passed through the planning process as if it were any other commercial endeavor. We know this isn’t true, and discussing this topic would lead us on a different, and justified, tangent.

Why do we “need to move forward” with this project, as you assert? Just because the property is “free” (with enormous hidden costs) and expedient is no reason to force an inappropriate use upon it. Creative site solutions are available if CAPSLO and advocates of the Homeless Services Center were truly open to investigating them.

Respectfully, if you had genuinely, openly and honestly involved the stakeholders at the beginning of the process (per your Viewpoint: five years!), you would not be hitting this roadblock today.

I realize that homelessness is a complicated and systemic problem; solutions will require commitment from all levels of society and be refined over decades. Although this letter addresses only the South Higuera location of the proposed Homeless Services Center, it in no way indicates that my concern and understanding is myopic.

This is a small town. We all know and respect each other. This debate is beginning to take on the tones of a heated argument between generous and well-intentioned people to the detriment of those who are less fortunate. We can work together to find and fund the correct site for the Homeless Services Center, but South Higuera is not the correct site.

Gail Johnson has owned and operated a San Luis Obispo framing studio since 1985.

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