The Tribune’s Sept. 20 Opinion titled “Kitchen is in need of compassion” was sidetracked by unbridled compassion. Focusing on compassion, while ignoring a critical ingredient for making sound public policies and practices, is a proven recipe for doing more harm than good.
Common sense was missing in action when county and Grover Beach officials succumbed to emotions of compassion in response to the South County People’s Kitchen not yet having secured a new location. Since February, it was known the lease at Shouts of Grace Church would end July 31. Permit decisions were hastily finalized the last week of July, allowing the People’s Kitchen to temporarily start meal service Aug. 1.
Every resident and business in the Longbranch neighborhood has pride in the community, supports the People’s Kitchen’s goals and respects its dedicated volunteers. Some have served as People’s Kitchen volunteers, others volunteer at the Food Bank and others spend every workday in social services and medical/ health centers assisting people in need, including People’s Kitchen clients.
A breach of trust occurred when People’s Kitchen was “parachuted” into the current location without any transparency. The 485 residents and 30 businesses in the four block area referred to as the Longbranch neighborhood were never given the opportunity for public comment or participation prior to permit approvals.
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The neighborhood’s past problems with the People’s Kitchen clients in 2008 and current problems with transients are well known among the residents and businesses. If common sense had been front and center, it’s most likely the two permits would never have been approved because the decision-makers would have taken into account the neighborhood’s justifiable objections.
The Tribune opinion commented, “To deny it (People’s Kitchen) a permit because some clients sat on a curb to eat their lunch, lit up in the wrong place or engaged in loitering for an extended period would be a brick-battable shame.” This suggests compassion should excuse the People’s Kitchen from having to adhere to the permit’s legal conditions. Since when are 88 violations in 41 days of a permit’s legal use conditions, to which the People’s Kitchen agreed, not demonstrable grounds for termination of the permit?
Compassion cannot be used as blinders to avoid seeing the increase in the number of transients involved with panhandling, loitering, drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness issues, repeated substantial deposits of trash and occasional thefts. During 22.5 hours of every day, the People’s Kitchen has no visibility to the ongoing problems caused by transients in the neighborhood because their volunteers live in other locations in Grover Beach and other cities.
The People’s Kitchen’s daily presence acts like a magnet, attracting all kinds of additional transients to the neighborhood. Residents and businesses have been spending time and money to reduce the negative impacts of the problems with transients. Adding the People’s Kitchen to this location is like endorsing the use of a flammable liquid to put out a fire.
It’s ironic that the most immediately available alternative location for the People’s Kitchen exists among the 16 South County churches actively supporting the People’s Kitchen. Some of the bigger churches have large paved parking areas of more than 250 spaces sitting empty six days a week. One has a suitable empty paved lot for rent. Even during Sunday services, there would be ample space available for the midday serving of meals.
These locations represent solutions that are safe, welcoming and dignified for the People’s Kitchen volunteers and clients.
Hopefully, the leaders of these churches will have the compassion to step up and help the People’s Kitchen in time of need.
By reaffirming the Planning Commission’s denial of the permit at the Oct. 7 hearing, the City Council will send an important message to neighborhoods and businesses that their public safety, health and overall economic wellbeing are the highest priority for the city. Such a message is also needed if the council is serious about attracting new businesses and residents to invest and live in Grover Beach.
Fred Welz has more than 25 years of international experience as senior executive with global high-tech businesses and foreign investments. Earlier in his career, he served six years as a Peace Corps volunteer and staff in Latin America and later was appointed to lead the U.S. government’s $2 billion international food aid program in 53 countries.