July 21 2010 10:23 AM

Council member's obsession with the ban on ticketing homeless people for sleeping in public continues

Kevin Faulconer (right) and Todd Gloria
Photo by David Rolland

Three months ago in this space, we expressed a certain displeasure with a proposal to site 73 supportive apartments, 150 transitional beds and a center full of services for the homeless at the old World Trade Center building on Sixth Avenue, Downtown. But there's nothing like yet another shameful display of self-interest politics to offset that concern and thrust us safely over to the "Yes" column.

In April, the San Diego Housing Commission asked the City Council's four-member Land Use and Housing Committee (LU&H) to forward the project to the full City Council with a recommendation to approve it. But, at the behest of Councilmember Kevin Faulconer, who represents Downtown-actually, it's really just the business and condo owners Downtown-the committee delayed a vote and instead asked the project's lead applicant, the Los Angeles-based nonprofit PATH, to conduct a series of meetings with nearby business owners, which PATH had been planning to do prior to a council vote anyway, and jump through several other hoops.

The proposal came back to LU&H last week, and though PATH had done everything Faulconer asked, it wasn't good enough; he urged the rest of committee to forward the project on to the full council without a recommendation for approval. Fortunately, the rest of the committee, Sherri Lightner, Tony Young and Chair Todd Gloria, rebuffed that request and gave the project the committee's blessing. But they agreed to the two other items on Faulconer's wish list-to direct the Housing Commission to study the feasibility of several alternative Downtown sites (as proposed by opponents of the PATH project) and direct the City Attorney's office to come to the City Council with a proposal for a new settlement to case that's already been settled.

That case is the one from early 2007 in which Judge William McCurine agreed to a settlement between the city of San Diego and attorneys for nine homeless people: Because ticketing people for sleeping in public is cruel and unusual punishment when there aren't enough shelter beds to go around, the police would be banned from doing so between 9 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. Faulconer has been trying to get that settlement wiped off the books ever since and has been arguing, erroneously, that the city is well on the way to producing enough shelter beds to convince the judge to lift the ticketing ban.

First, the study of alternative sites is a waste of the Housing Commission's time and money. The World Trade Center site was selected at the end of a year-long process that included a citywide look at possible sites. The alternatives include only one workable option-and it happens to be a project that was denied by the selection committee because of funding issues. 

But more importantly, LU&H should not have capitulated to Faulconer on the matter of the legal settlement. The ticket ban and the PATH proposal are linked only thematically; they shouldn't be linked on any practical level. The proposal would replace roughly 220 winter-shelter beds with 223 year-round beds, but those are a two-and-a-half years away at the earliest. Even if they were available today, it's not nearly enough to satisfy the need. Despite what Faulconer may say about how many beds have been added since the ticket ban started, the situation for homeless men hasn't changed in any meaningful way; most of the housing added has been for other people, such as battered women, youth, families, veterans and sufferers of HIV/AIDS.

And yet, Faulconer is probably going to try to convince four of his City Council colleagues, behind closed doors, to vote to ask Judge McCurine to lift the ticket ban. City Attorney Jan Goldsmith might recommend a grid approach-lift the ban in small sub-areas that include new beds, such as the WTC area-but Faulconer has indicated that that is not enough; at last week's meeting, he wanted to know why the proposal wouldn't accommodate all homeless people living Downtown (answer: such an enormous center is not financially feasible).

Even if the attorneys for the homeless plaintiffs were amenable to lifting the ban-and they're not-and Judge McCurine were to be convinced of facts that don't exist, another attorney could easily pick up the torch, gather new plaintiffs and sue again. Any attempt to amend the settlement is a fool's errand and a waste of city attorney resources. The City Council must consider Faulconer's agenda in the proper context; he has no credibility on the homelessness issue and is acting solely in the interest of his NIMBY constituents.

We continue to be appalled that the PATH center is expected to replace the winter shelter, which will still be desperately needed when the new center is up and running, and we'll have more to say about that in September, when the City Council is scheduled to vote on the PATH project. However, the writing's been on the wall for some time-the winter shelter is as good as gone once the new center opens-and as angry as that makes us, it won't stand in the way of our support for the PATH project, which will be a model for how to help get chronically homeless people off the streets and, hopefully, on course for a new and better life.    

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