Many Escondido residents celebrated a victory Tuesday night after a commission unanimously voted against turning an old nursing home into a care facility for immigrant children in a residential neighborhood.
Southwest Key, a contractor with the Department of Health and Human Services, proposed a plan to convert Escondido’s Palomar Continuing Care Center – which shut down last year – into a 24-hour, 96-bed facility housing immigrant children ages 6 to 17.
The facility would be located in the 1800 block of Avenida Del Diablo. Many residents opposed the plan, fearing the facility would become more of a detention center and pose safety concerns.
The plan went to a vote Tuesday night and The City Planning Commission unanimously voted against the immigration facility.
Commissioners noted some of the same concerns residents had: inappropriate and too intensive a land use, traffic, noise and safety.
But before commissioners came to their decision after a roughly three-hour public comment session, residents gave them a mouthful.
Many residents were furious at city leaders for even considering the plan.
"It's outrageous. I'm appalled they even considered putting it there," gasped Robert Zebuda.
"It may be humane to rehabilitate these people but not in Escondido," said Thomas Goddard, president of a neighboring homeowners association.
But not everyone opposed the plan, including a retired military U.S. service member who voiced his support for the facility, much to the disapproval of most of the others at the marathon meeting, which was standing room only.
"One of these children could be the next mayor of our city. If we don’t pass this, Escondido will be the armpit of immigration on the west coast," he said as the crowd erupted into boos.
Homeowners voiced health and safety concerns with having the immigrant children near their schools and homes.
"This is a residential community. There are homes schools. It's the safety. I'm not saying these kids are bad in any way. I'd be happy to go out for free and find a proper location," noted Douglass Cummings.
Southwest Key, contracted by the federal government to run the facility, is spearheading the project. They say since October 2013 more than 15,400 illegal immigrants have come through their nationwide facilities, including shelters in Lemon Grove and El Cajon.
During that time they say only eight immigrants have run.
Tom Sutton owns the property where thee facility would be housed.
"These kids are not here to run away. They're here to be reunited with their families. They're not criminals or gang members. I visited a site,” he explained.
After Tuesday night’s vote, Southwest Key could appeal the decision within 10 days of the commission’s July 22 meeting. If that happens, the issue will be sent to a vote of city council.