North County Report: Another Food Fight Erupts Between Residents, Homeless Providers - Voice of San Diego

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North County Report: Another Food Fight Erupts Between Residents, Homeless Providers

Fights between residents angry that churches and service providers offer meals to the homeless erupt relatively often, but a recent flare-up in Oceanside shows the opposition appears to be more mobilized and active than in the past.

Scott and Jennifer Aja are homeless in Oceanside. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

The Oceanside Sanctuary Christian Church is older than the municipality it serves. The first congregation gathered in 1875, and by its own account, the church has been feeding the hungry since at least the Great Depression.

“Food is central to what we do as a faith community and central to that is feeding people who are hungry,” said Jason Coker, the pastor. “It’s intrinsic to our beliefs.”

Those beliefs have been challenged in recent weeks.

Oceanside officials won’t say who, but someone recently filed a code complaint against the church for serving hot meals to the homeless as part of its Tuesday night gathering. In response, the city has asked Coker to obtain a business license but intends to waive the fees.

The county has also taken a closer look at the church’s feeding program. New state rules require certain charities that prepare and distribute their own food to register and show that they’re using a commercially rated kitchen for health reasons. As the Union-Tribune has reported, those rules are supposed to make the bureaucratic process easier to navigate, but some small organizations have had trouble complying. One shut down earlier this year in San Diego.

The county, like the city, however, is satisfied with the church’s position that its bread-breaking is a religious act and exempt from stricter regulations. “Things have cooled down,” Coker said. For the moment, anyhow.

These types of food fights flare up every few years, but the opposition appears to be more mobilized and active than in the past. Homeless service providers tell me that the rhetoric is reaching a fever pitch and clearly having an impact on officials.

On Facebook, it’s not uncommon to see residents calling on police to throw more of the homeless in jail and force them out of riverbed encampments and out of town — for their own good. As the administrator of one group recently put it, “Obviously giving the homeless more rights and less enforcement has only caused more problems.”

In the end, the business license that Coker’s working to obtain will provide him with some cover going forward. “They’re not complaining to the city so they can solve the problem,” he said. “They’re just asking the city to shut down our programs so they don’t have to see homeless people anymore.”

The pressure is mounting against a variety of organizations, not just Oceanside Sanctuary.

In July, the city’s planning commission appointed a three-person committee to consider whether Brother Benno’s Center, which is located in an industrial area, has been complying with local rules that prohibit loitering and require logs of who comes through the facility. At a public meeting, Oceanside residents complained that clients of Brother Benno’s were leaving trash in their neighborhoods and using their properties as toilets.

Others defended the work of the center by pointing to its food, clothing and addiction recovery programs. Marco Gonzalez, an attorney for Brother Benno’s, pushed back on the common charges that homeless services providers exacerbate homelessness.

“Encampments will exist here regardless of whether you provide services,” he said.

There’s research to back this up.

One recent study out of UCLA suggests that 65 percent of the unsheltered homeless in Los Angeles County had been living there for more than 20 years. The researchers cited a high cost of housing as a significant factor. Closer to home, the Regional Task Force on the Homeless has estimated that 70 percent of San Diego’s unsheltered homeless population became homeless in San Diego and that just 24 percent became homeless elsewhere before coming here.

President Donald Trump’s ongoing attacks on California cities for their large homeless populations also aren’t helping. It’s stoking the perception that homelessness is a problem of aesthetics rather than public policy and human frailty.

“Homeowners are rising up and acting like they’re the victims because they have to look out their windows and see homeless people,” Coker said.

Democrats Staying Neutral in D3 Supes Race

I was prepared Tuesday night for a long, drawn-out debate at the San Diego County Democratic Party central committee over which candidate — if any — was worthy of an endorsement in the District 3 Board of Supervisors race.

Last month, Democratic leaders in North County decided that Olga Diaz and Terra Lawson-Remer were both “qualified.” Diaz had more votes but couldn’t meet the threshold necessary to take the endorsement. The central committee had the option Tuesday of reconsidering North County’s non-decision decision, and seemingly everyone inside the room was prepared for a showdown.

Going into the meeting, Diaz’s supporters had circulated their reasons for doing the endorsement vote over again. They planned to argue that the process had been improper. In turn, Lawsom-Remer’s supporters circulated their own talking points.

But it never came to that. Most central committee members voted to leave the D3 endorsement alone and not favor one Democrat over another. That means both will have to rely on their own resources going into the March primary.

Lawson-Remer told me the central committee’s decision not to interfere in the primary was a victory for the democratic process. (It was also a victory for her.)

“We’re glad to be on equal footing so the voters can decide who should serve on the County Board of Supervisors,” she said.

The seat is currently held by Republican Kristin Gaspar, who’s seeking re-election in the race that could determine which party controls the board.

  • Over at CityBeat, Matt Strabone interviewed both Democratic candidates for his podcast Show in Progress. They agree on a lot, but they framed some of the major issues in this election — housing, transit — in slightly different ways. It’s worth a listen.

Oceanside Parents Take Case for Buses to the Board

Crown Heights families protest school bus cuts at Oceanside High School. / Photo by Jesse Marx

Parents and activists are upset that the Oceanside Unified School District is cutting bus services in Crown Heights, and they took their case directly to the board of trustees last week. Flanked by educators not only in Oceanside but from southeastern San Diego and San Ysidro, where families are also reeling from bus cuts, they asked the board to reverse a 2010 decision to phase out bus services.

Crown Heights is predominantly low-income and Latino, and it’s the last neighborhood — not including special needs children and children who live at Camp Pendleton — who get bus services. That program ends next year.

Families and educators from San Diego joined Crown Heights families in solidarity at Oceanside High School, where they demonstrated against school bus cuts. / Photo by Jesse Marx

In the spring, a state agency warned Oceanside Unified that it was teetering toward financial insolvency and recommended the consolidation of more schools due to declining enrollment. There was some good news at last week’s meeting, though.

Officials recently closed the books on the 2018-19 fiscal year and found that revenues — state and local in particular — had come in higher than anticipated while expenses were lower than anticipated. Shannon Soto, deputy superintendent of administrative services, told me that the district saved money through unfilled positions and on things like waste management by buying its own trash compactor at El Camino High.

In the end, the district had an ending fund balance of $9.3 million, but it won’t be going to bus services anytime soon. Soto said about a third of that money is restricted, and the rest can only be used on one-time expenses rather than ongoing expenses.

Tri-City to Get Beds Back

County supervisors approved a plan to restore inpatient psychiatric beds at Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside last week after months of negotiations.

The county has reached a tentative deal to build a facility with 16 new hospital beds for behavioral health patients, but the agreement likely to be finalized early next year doesn’t address the shorter-term crisis units that Tri-City also took offline last year.

Earlier this month, Supervisor Jim Desmond said the talks about new crisis services in North County continue. Desmond said he has been working to persuade Vista officials to bring 24-hour crisis stabilization services to an existing county-funded walk-in facility operated by Exodus Recovery.

To succeed, Desmond said, the county is eyeing another crisis hub at the Oceanside Live Well Center that opened last year to ensure the Vista facility isn’t the only one like it in North County.

The additions would be part of a broader plan to establish a countywide network of crisis units. An update is expected next month.

— Lisa Halverstadt

Issa Might Get What He Wanted

After vowing to run for the congressional seat held by Rep. Duncan Hunter, former Rep. Darrell Issa is finally getting a hearing to head the U.S. Trade and Development Agency. As I reported in June, Issa’s nomination appeared to be caught in the middle of partisan procedural combat and had been held up for a year.

Issa’s decision not to run for re-election in the 49th Congressional District in 2018 created a free-for-all. Both Democrats and Republicans lined up to replace him. Officially, he threw his support behind Diane Harkey but his support always seemed tepid.

Weeks before the election, Assemblyman Rocky Chavez theorized that Issa had intentionally endorsed a candidate he knew would lose so that when Democrats flipped the district, the narrative wouldn’t focus on Issa being the problem — instead, politicos would assume, the blue wave had been unstoppable.

Harkey offered that theory credibility last week when Politico reported that she believes Issa undermined her political efforts in 2018.

“While Issa publicly claimed to be helping me, behind the scenes with key donors and national groups he was stonewalling and hurting fundraising by telling all that the seat was not winnable,” Harkey said.

Stuff We’re Working on

Labor union opposition could throw local cities’ “community choice” energy plans into last-minute disarray. Concerned that San Diego might attempt to call all the shots, Carlsbad and Del Mar may go their own way. The San Diego City Council voted Tuesday to form a CCA with Chula Vista, Encinitas and Imperial Beach.

In Other News

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