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Morning Report: Faulconer Pushes to Buy Hotels as Homeless Housing

Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced the city’s plan to turn Golden Hall into a temporary homeless shelter with more than 240 beds in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Hundreds of homeless San Diegans are now sheltered at the Convention Center to help stop the spread of COVID-19 among the homeless community. At the same time, the tourism industry has come to a halt over the virus, leaving hotels citywide empty.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer thinks he’s found an opportunity in those facts, and he’s leading a charge to acquire “hundreds and hundreds” of hotel rooms [1] from owners stung by the lost revenue to turn them into permanent housing for homeless San Diegans.

“There’s never been this much of an opportunity, and there’s never been this much of a need,” Faulconer said of the effort, a partnership between the city, county and the San Diego Housing Commission.

The move to strike lease-to-own deals for distressed hotels would rely on funds from the federal government that the commission already has on hand, and could be expanded by new stimulus funds from the state or federal government. The city would rely on the county to provide behavioral health services, like addiction or mental health treatment tied to new permanent supportive housing.

Faulconer said he’s been in contact with mayors from around the state, Sen. Kamala Harris and Gov. Gavin Newsom over the program. He’s hoping to act quickly, to both take advantage of the struggling hotels that might not otherwise be available, and to provide new housing options much more quickly than low-income housing that needs to be built from scratch.

In a special meeting Friday morning, the Housing Commission’s board of directors could greenlight negotiations for 10 hotels around the city, though that’s meant to give the city options and it’s unlikely to acquire all of them.

One Agency Was Ahead of the Game in Prepping for the Coronavirus

The North County Transit District was one of the first local government agencies to sound the alarm over the coronavirus.

Matthew Tucker, CEO of the North County Transit District, began rallying his staff to prepare for the looming public health crisis in January, reports VOSD’s Ashly McGlone.

“A review of emails obtained so far by Voice of San Diego under the state’s public records laws shows Tucker was one of the first local government leaders to begin discussing and planning for the virus behind closed doors,” writes McGlone. “But because little was known publicly about the virus in January, NCTD officials looking to learn more locally to help their response were largely on their own.”

Tucker’s query came three weeks before San Diego County declared a coronavirus emergency and more than five weeks before California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency. The first coronavirus cases in San Diego wasn’t detected until early March.

NCTD tried to seek guidance early on from the county and state, but had trouble finding credible information, one official told McGlone.

More on Transit …

The Metropolitan Transit System’s Board of directors formally decided Thursday to put a 2020 ballot measure that would increase sales taxes to expand transit in San Diego on hold [2].

MTS had been conducting outreach meetings, public polling and focus groups to craft a ballot measure that would win support from two-thirds of voters in its service area, reports VOSD’s Andrew Keatts. The agency forecasted that it could bring in over $10 billion over 40 years from the measure to increase bus services, add new routes, add a trolley connection to the airport and other projects laid out in a spending plan [3].

“While the day will come that we ask the public to make an investment in transit… that day is not going to come in 2020,” MTS Chairman Nathan Fletcher said. 

UCSD Classes Moved Online – and So Did Its Grad Student Strike

Grad student teaching assistants at UC San Diego and other UC campuses across the state have long been rallying for a cost-of-living raise.

Students say the economic fallout from the coronavirus has made many of their demands more relevant than ever, writes VOSD’s Bella Ross, so the ongoing strike has moved online [4].

Though rallies are no longer physically happening on campus, strikers – many of whom are teaching assistants – vowed to not submit student grades as a “digital picket line.”

The withholding of grades began on March 24 but ended last week, as the number of grad students willing to strike began to shrink, Ross reports.

UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla said Thursday that the school might continue with online courses through the fall quarter [5], the Union-Tribune reports.

That Time 101 Ash St. Was Deemed Functionally Obsolete

On top of the asbestos removal, a downtown high-rise purchased by San Diego might need serious earthquake work.

NBC San Diego reports that 101 Ash St., which city employees were moved from in January because of safety concerns, could need $12 million to $15 million in repairs if a moderate-strength earthquake hit the city [7].

Sempra Energy used to occupy the building, and its real estate consultant told California regulators in 2014 that the building was functionally obsolete. In his testimony, which is available online [8], a consultant cited a report on the building’s condition.

What city officials knew or should have known about the building upfront is the subject of multiple ongoing reviews. At least one City Council member has suggested the city look for ways [9] to back out of the current lease-to-own agreement with developers.

It’s become a point of contention in the mayor’s race [10], and as Jesse Marx and Lisa Halverstadt reported last month, existing legal claims suggest that top managers dismissed or downplayed safety concerns [11] while the building was being renovated last year, in the months before the county issued a notice of public nuisance.

In Other News

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