The Escondido City Council denied an appeal for a proposed undocumented immigrant children shelter after hearing nearly 100 impassioned pleas from both sides Wednesday.
Seeking a full council vote, the American Civil Liberties Union was appealing the planning commission's rejection of a conditional use permit for the project.
In July, nonprofit Southwest Key proposed turning the Palomar Continuing Care Center — a now-defunct nursing home in southwest Escondido — into a 96-bed facility to house unaccompanied immigrant children while their cases go through court.
The temporary shelter would help deal with an influx of minors from Central America entering the U.S. illegally.
The planning commission refused to grant the permit needed in mid-July, citing concerns over noise, safety and the type of traffic it could cause. The ACLU filed its appeal on behalf of Southwest Key just two weeks later.
The council’s chamber was packed Wednesday night with about 250 residents, more than four times the number of people who attend the average meeting at City Hall. About 100 of those attendees signed up to lend their voice to the issue.
But first, the ACLU made its argument, saying that the shelter would bring in $8 million a year to Escondido and provide about 100 new jobs as local businesses sell goods and services to Southwest Key.
"The federal government pays all of the costs. There are no indirect costs. Children do not enroll in local schools, all medical care and all necessary services are paid for under the federal contract," said David Loy, the ACLU’s San Diego legal director.
He said there is more than enough parking at the facility and there is no evidence of noise and traffic issues, calling the concerns “red herrings.”
After Loy was questioned by the council, residents began taking the microphone, expressing opinions on both sides of the issue.
“We refuse to give in or bend to the government at any level of the body politic throughout America,” said one speaker. “If I have it my way, I will deport each and every one of them and not even bat an eye if they are babies or toddlers or old men or women.”
“We who have the means are called to be a shelter for those who need refuge,” said another resident. “We of all faiths and no faiths are called to compassion. We have the opportunity to open our hearts to children, remember children afraid, defenseless, and in danger.”
While Deputy Mayor Olga Diaz sided with the ACLU, the rest of the council agreed with the planning commission’s initial assessment: an immigrant shelter does not belong at that location.
A formal decision will soon be submitted by the council. Loy said how it's written will determine if the ACLU will file another appeal.