Making Progress with Our Elected Officials – One Meeting at a Time

| June 5, 2022 | 0 Comments

This past month has been far busier than expected because of the following community issues: Presidio Park fires, the homeless/unsheltered, historic preservation, and concerned citizens who are worried about speculators and developers who aren’t willing to be good neighbors. Obviously, these are trying times for many of us.

However, rather than sitting and waiting for “the next shoe to drop,” some of us have been meeting to determine what steps we can take to change the course of action, or at least to impede the negative impacts on our neighborhoods. 

The first meeting was held at the Serra Museum in Presidio Park to discuss the fires and the impact of the homeless on the Mission Hills and Old Town area.  Those present included Mission Hills residents’ Nadine Corrigan, Frank Pavel, and me. Sheila Thomas of the San Diego History Center, which includes the Serra Museum; and John Morrell, chair of the San Diego History Center, attended, as did Councilman Stephen Whitburn and Ryan Darsey, director of community engagement for District 3.

On a positive note, the conversation focused on sharing information and discussing the means to resolve critical problems regarding the dangerous and destructive behaviors of unsheltered individuals living in Presidio Park, including three fires that came close to the Serra Museum and residential property backing up to the park.

We shared our concerns about the significant increase in homeless living on the streets and in the parks and discussed the causes.   

Whitburn and Darsey offered these responses:

  • Low level offenders were released early during the pandemic.
  • Proposition 47, passed by California voters several years ago, reclassified certain theft and drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors.
  • The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that cities may not arrest homeless individuals for sleeping outside if they do not have access to shelter.

To address the homeless/unsheltered, the city and elected officials have agreed to the following:

  • Significant increase in encampment abatement
  • Increase in type (variety) of shelters for homeless based on their mental, and drug-based lifestyles
  • An increase of congregate and non-congregate hotels
  • In 2020, the City of San Diego purchased two hotels, one in Mission Valley and one in Kearny Mesa, and converted them to 332 permanent supportive housing units.
  • 400 additional beds are scheduled to be identified this summer, which includes a large tent shelter in Midway area, behind the County Health building – 3853 Rosecrans Street; and a smaller women’s shelter is scheduled to open downtown.
  • Funding is expected to be finalized in June with the program beginning after July 1.
  • Zero Bail ended this past month
  • Officers with the Neighborhood Policing Division will offer shelter to individuals violating the encroachment and illegal lodging laws. They will be given multiple opportunities to accept shelter. However, if they continue to refuse shelter, officers can make an arrest.
  • The current budget proposal includes funding for a new Conservatorship and Treatment Unit within the Office of the City Attorney. If included in the City Council’s final budget adopted on June 13, the Unit will be created in the second half of this year.
  • San Diego opened a new 44-bed facility for homeless individuals with serious substance abuse and mental health challenges in the Midway area late last year.

Agreeing that Presidio Park has been neglected since the Founders Day Celebration in September 2019, the following was discussed:

  • Increase of funds for brush abatement – “We will Escalate it!” per Stephen Whitburn
  • More funds for code enforcement
  • Environmental Services staff will remove waste, abandoned property and items that are unsanitary or in disrepair. Staff are trained to handle with care items believed to be personal belongings. All items are sorted to identify those that are deemed in good, usable condition or of irreplaceable personal value, such as paperwork, photos, bibles, journals and medication. Those personal belongings are taken to a city storage facility with notice left in the area for how to retrieve it.
  • Additional enforcement (day and night) will occur in the upcoming fiscal year beginning July 1.

As you can see, a lot of topics were covered with an agreement by all of us that we will continue to have dialogue and communicate in person on a regular basis. 

Councilman Stephen Whitburn (left) and Ryan Darsey, District 3 community engagement director at the recent meeting.

For those of you who travel through Presidio Park, as I do on a daily basis, you will have seen lots of debris and dead brush being removed. This past week I saw crews of city staff and trucks removing more dead trees and cleaning walking trails.  It feels good to know that change is possible, and that progress can occur. 

To all of you who were involved in the initial media event this past month with KUSI at Presidio Park, thank you for your participation. It was the first critical step in showing our unified community voice, representing Mission Hills and Old Town.  

For all of us who have been a part of the process, we are grateful for thoughtful and proactive efforts with a foreseeable outcome. We know that a few strong voices can be enough to make a difference, especially when we are doing it on behalf of our community, and with the same message. We’ll get it done!

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Category: Events, feature, Government, Historical, Local News, Plants

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