The San Diego City Council voted Monday to purchase a South Bay hotel for $6.65 million, which will be converted to transitional housing for low-level criminals, such as chronic repeat drug offenders.
The council voted 8-1, with one lone vote against the plan coming from Councilmember David Alvarez, who represents the district where the hotel is located. Alvarez voiced frustration that the community wasn’t involved in the process. He also predicts legal challenges to the plan.
"You need to bring in the community residents to make sure that they felt like they’re part of the solution instead of trying to shove it down their throat," said Alvarez.
Prior to the vote, the council heard from residents who voiced concerns about potential crime.
"I have two small children and elderly parents who I think will be at-risk if a large population of people with criminal backgrounds is going to be in the area," said Angel Vargas.
"We have a lot of theft and loitering and issues. I’m not saying it will increase or decrease, but we have enough problems to deal with in our community," said Zayra Quintero.
At the council hearing, city staff praised the transitional housing plan which is part of the so-called SMART program. The goal of the program is to increase days in treatment while reducing recidivism and court appearances.
San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman also praised the program saying it would free up law enforcement.
According to a city staff report, the SMART program was developed, in part, because of Proposition 47, which was passed in 2015. Prop 47 reduced many drug and theft crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. It was intended to divert offenders from prison to community-based treatment and housing programs.
But Alvarez said converting this particular hotel, located just west of Interstate 5 off Palm Avenue near Imperial Beach, will cause trouble with the state's Coastal Commission. He said this will reduce the availability of mandatory, low-cost affordable lodging by the beaches and bays.
"The significant concerns raised by the California Coastal Commission that have been left unaddressed will ensure that this project is delayed," said Alvarez.
"The City chose to disrespect the community, and not follow the law and is therefore in the worst possible situation--spending millions of dollars on a property and facility that may be left vacant for years," said Alvarez in a statement after the vote.