Morning Report: Cities Try to Save Housing Development - Voice of San Diego

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Morning Report: Cities Try to Save Housing Development

Photo courtesy of Studio E Architects

Basic consumer spending has ground to a halt.

With that chunk of economic activity – and the tax revenue that comes with it – out of commission, the state and local governments are desperate to keep housing construction alive. Andrew Keatts has a new report on how the city of San Diego and county have overhauled their processes to make sure building continues. Though there have been some hiccups. 

After all, it wasn’t that long ago, just a few weeks, even, that the housing crisis was the region’s most acute economic problem.

The state kept things afloat when it included construction, including housing, among industries exempt from the governor’s stay-at-home order.

There was a scare for builders though: San Francisco independently moved to restrict construction to only infrastructure and affordable housing. But neither the state nor cities in San Diego have shown signs they’re considering such a move.

Cities here are altering their procedures for approving new projects, and inspecting construction that’s underway, to do what they can to blunt the pandemic’s impact on housing supply.

The city of San Diego, for instance, is moving quickly to make it possible for developers to submit all of their plans online – a long sought change that one developer alone estimated could save some $25,000 in printing costs for large projects.

Death Toll Takes a Big Single-Day Jump

San Diego County officials announced Tuesday that 31 people have now died of the virus in the county – an increase of 12 deaths since their Monday report.

Public Health Officer Wilma Wooten cautioned that San Diegans shouldn’t be alarmed as “the number of deaths typically lag behind the number of positive cases reported” and noted that it can take some time for officials to confirm coronavirus deaths. 

  • Wooten last week directed that employees of groceries, pharmacies, eateries and gas stations must wear facial coverings and the county set up a complaint form. The Union-Tribune reported that more than 415 complaints have materialized since the site went live last Thursday. 

City Council Backs Measure C Hail Mary

Measure C officially only got 65 percent support from San Diego voters. The city had told people it needed two thirds but the City Council on Tuesday paved the way for proponents to pursue a back-up plan that could allow Measure C to move forward with a simple majority.

The City Council voted to amend language to certify the results of the March primary so it didn’t state that Measure C required a two-thirds vote to pass. The measure aimed to fund a Convention Center expansion, homeless services and road repairs received 65 percent of the vote.

The vote followed a request from Measure C proponent Keith Maddox of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council.

Over the past few years, cities and interest groups across the state have filed lawsuits to test a legal theory that citizens’ measures – as opposed to those introduced by government entities – are not constrained by the California Constitution’s requirement that two-thirds of voters must approve them.

Retired Tourism Authority CEO Joe Terzi, a key leader behind the Measure C initiative, said Tuesday the upshot of the City Council decision could be years away as the campaign awaits Bay Area appeals court rulings and likely, state Supreme Court decisions. He said the campaign is now prepared to wait.

“At this point, we at least now don’t have to jump through hoops if the appeals court rules in our favor,” Terzi said.

The mayoral candidates weigh in: Councilwoman Barbara Bry was one of the three to vote against the move and just declare Measure C a failure. She said voters were told by the city it needed two-thirds of the vote to pass. It didn’t get that and so this would break their faith. Former City Councilwoman Donna Frye and the group Alliance San Diego pushed a similar perspective: “Instead of dealing straight, the majority of councilmembers played a shell game to give proponents of Measure C a leg up in their long-shot litigation strategy to change the vote threshold after the fact,” said Alliance San Diego’s Executive Director Andrea Guerrero, in a written statement.

Assemblyman Todd Gloria, on the other hand, seemed to support the Council majority: “It is clear that Measure C received the support of over 65% of San Diegans. What is not clear is whether the threshold for approval of citizens’ initiatives is a simple majority or super majority,” he wrote to Voice of San Diego late Tuesday. He said the Supreme Court would ultimately decide and he strongly supports expanding the Convention Center.

Hundreds More Homeless San Diegans Moving Into Convention Center

The city of San Diego is turning the Convention Center into a temporary homeless shelter in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

About 330 additional homeless San Diegans are in the process of moving into the Convention Center from other shelters, including dozens of women who recently stayed in a new shelter on the first floor of Golden Hall.

Ashley Bailey, a spokeswoman for Mayor Kevin Faulconer, said the city has opted to move both Father Joe’s Villages residents and short-term residents of its new Golden Hall shelter in an effort to further consolidate staffing resources at the Convention Center shelter.  By Thursday, the shelter is expected to temporarily house more than 800 homeless San Diegans.

But for now, Bailey said, the shelter is still not taking in unsheltered homeless San Diegans.

Instead, the city’s focus is on ensuring proper social distancing among its new shelter residents. Once those homeless San Diegans settle in, Bailey said the city, the county and the Regional Task Force on the Homeless will assess their capacity to shelter people from the street.

City officials revealed Tuesday that if they eventually house up to 1,500 homeless San Diegans, as planned, they are likely to spend $2.8 million a month.

To help fund the operation, the City Council on Tuesday voted to accept a $3.7 million state grant. San Diego County and the task force are also each expected to contribute more than $1.5 million with the help of state dollars.

Ash Street Reviews Still Underway

Despite the pandemic, the San Diego City Council is pressing ahead with reviews of what happened inside 101 Ash St., the downtown high-rise that was evacuated in January for asbestos-related reasons. 

Elected officials agreed Tuesday to two things: hire a consultant who will make recommendations on safely disposing of the hazardous materials and expand a contract with an outside law firm conducting a forensic review.

The votes were not unanimous. Councilwomen Barbara Bry and Vivian Moreno raised objections to the city spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in the middle of a budget emergency. Instead, Moreno said, the city should be looking for a way out of the lease-to-own agreement struck with developers rather than settling in for the long haul.

Moreno also raised the question of whether the law firm tasked with reviewing what went wrong inside the building could conduct a truly independent and transparent investigation, because the law firm represents the city on asbestos-related matters. She said she would prefer to wait on the city auditor’s analysis of 101 Ash St.

In February, however, the city auditor said he was willing to consider what officials knew, or didn’t know, about the condition of the building when they bought it, but he was reluctant to consider whether the owners and sellers of the property had properly disclosed everything up front. With the threat of litigation hanging over the city, he said, that issue was probably better suited for the courts.

Shamu Probably Got the Flu Once

In 1968, a flu pandemic likely infected three killer whales at SeaWorld San Diego, including the original Shamu. This was during the so-called Hong Kong Flu outbreak, which killed tens of thousands of Americans in the late 60s, and apparently hit one of the city’s most famous residents, four years after SeaWorld opened.

Randy Dotinga has that history in a new story, including a dive into the ways in which viruses can pass back and forth between animals and humans.

Other News

  • County supervisors voted Tuesday to move forward with a $25 million behavioral health fund meant to help mental health and substance abuse programs bankroll capital projects. (NBC 7)
  • A Monday night fire destroyed popular China Max Seafood Restaurant in Kearny Mesa. (Fox 5)
  • San Diego Unified has begun rolling out its distance learning program. (KPBS)
  • A Metropolitan Transit System bus driver has tested positive for COVID-19. (Union-Tribune)

The Morning Report was written by Lisa Halverstadt, Andrew Keatts and Jesse Marx, and edited by Sara Libby.

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