Supervisor, businessman air concerns over homeless services center

San Luis Obispo’s proposed location for the Homeless Services Center has been nothing if not controversial.

Now, after the center’s steering committee reaffirmed its decision Friday to build the center on a vacant lot next to the Department of Social Services on South Higuera Street, businessman Bill Thoma began circulating a flier expressing concerns about the impacts it might have on the nearby business park, concerns he’s expressed before.

The flier incensed county Supervisor Adam Hill, who played a key role in getting the Higuera Street site approved.

“It’s clear Bill Thoma is determined to defeat this project no matter what,” Hill wrote in an email Wednesday to more than two dozen people, including city leaders and people tied to the project. “He has shown himself to be selfish and dishonest when it comes to homelessness in our community.”

Hill accused Thoma of “fear mongering.’’

Thoma, contacted Wednesday, said he has always called that location unacceptable, adding that he had not yet been informed of the committee’s decision when he sent out the flier.

“There are a lot more people very unhappy with this than meets the eye,” said Thoma, who owns Thoma Electric. “This isn’t about me; I am just trying to do the right thing for the community.

Thoma contends there is a better location — a nine-acre site at 40 Prado Road behind the U-Haul building near Elks Lane. His flier asks people to speak, write and call the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors and the San Luis Obispo City Council to persuade them to oppose the South Higuera site.

“I have had quite enough of Mr. Thoma’s passive-aggressive attitude and actions, and I have had enough of his dishonest dealing,” Hill wrote in the email. “If this project is to fail, and if the problem is to continue to exacerbate (as it will), the blame should fall squarely on the hunched shoulders of Bill Thoma.”

The email prompted San Luis Obispo Councilman John Ashbaugh to intervene, asking that “all parties included in this email to avoid further email exchanges or the circulation of defamatory materials in the near future.”

“The circulation of a flyer opposing the approved Homeless Services Center site has caught many of us off-guard and ill-prepared to respond in any manner that is productive,” Ashbaugh wrote.

In July, a group of concerned business owners began to publicly decry the location, saying the impacts would be devastating to surrounding businesses.

Several business owners, including Thoma, said they had not been involved in the project planning process as promised.

In September, the capital campaign for the nearly $8 million center was delayed indefinitely amid concerns that additional community input and planning was needed.

Over the past two months, the steering committee charged with moving the Homeless Services Center forward re-evaluated the Prado Road site suggested by Thoma after his prompting.

The committee decided the option was not feasible because the costs of the land were estimated to be about $2 million and additional work would need to be done to fix things such as drainage, said Chuck Crotser, who is on the steering committee.

An $80,000 engineering report would have needed to be done on that property, he said.

“Put that on top of the capital campaign, and it just becomes unworkable,” Crotser said.

The Higuera Street location, owned by the county and leased to Community Action Partnership for the Homeless Services Center, was approved two years ago by the city’s Planning Commission.

Thoma acknowledges that paying for a property while another one waits free can be considered a significant hurdle, but he maintains it can be overcome.

“My feeling has always been if there is a will, there is a way,” Thoma said. “If we really want it to be in the right location, there is a way.”

Thoma said he plans to take his concerns to the San Luis Obispo City Council and Board of Supervisors.

“Although Adam might consider himself king, he is one vote out of five,” Thoma said.

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