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North County Report: 'No Easy Win' on Lack of Psych Beds

Supporters of the Del Mar gun show got a win, Carlsbad says it will stop off-the-books hires of part-time workers and more in our biweekly roundup of North County news.

San Diego County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

County supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to support an unprecedented $23.8 million expansion to better serve mental health patients in crisis.

Yet there’s still no immediate solution to the Tri-City Medical Center closures that set off the rapid response effort. Citing costs and regulations, the medical center suspended its inpatient behavioral health unit last year — causing officials to worry that other local hospitals would be forced to pick up those services.

Late last week, Supervisor Jim Desmond proposed pulling $14 million from the county’s reserves to help Tri-City open at least 16 inpatient psychiatric beds and 12 short-term crisis beds at its Oceanside campus.

Desmond and county officials noted at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting that the North County additions could stem the crisis within a region that’s poised to be without any inpatient psychiatric beds come 2020, when nearby Palomar Medical Center is expected to shutter its beds.

The rest of the board, however, was cold to Desmond’s proposal.

“This is a partnership we would be creating with Tri-City and not a bailout,” Chairwoman Dianne Jacob said. “That has to be very, very clear moving forward.”

Ahead of the vote, Desmond said he would nix the proposed $14 million county commitment and an initial focus on serving Medi-Cal patients at the facility. Instead, Desmond proposed authorizing county officials to negotiate with Tri-City officials and after input from other supervisors, allow talks with other hospitals that may be willing to partner to provide psychiatric services.

Desmond’s fellow North County supervisor, Kristin Gaspar, who has for months met behind closed doors with Tri-City, said she hopes officials can eventually craft a public-private partnership to bring more mental health services to the region. She pledged to continue work on the issue.

“There’s no easy win in any of this,” Gaspar said. “It’s not a quick fix.”

After the unanimous county vote to continue negotiations, Desmond said he believed Tri-City remains willing to partner with the county.

“I agree with an equitable agreement and I don’t believe that Tri-City is really looking for a handout,” Desmond said. “They’re just wanting to survive.”

Tri-City expressed frustration with other board members’ comments.

“It is unfortunate that the facts of the situation, which Tri-City has been clear about since day one, continue to be misunderstood or mischaracterized by some. Tri-City remains committed to long-term sustainable community solutions,” the district told VOSD in a statement.

The Board of Supervisors is set to get an update on talks with Tri-City in early September.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting: Gaspar convinced her fellow supervisors to invest $6 million in transitional housing programs for youth and sex trafficking victims and give another $6 million to Interfaith Community Services, a homeless and low-income advocacy group, to expand its program for homeless people being released from local hospitals. The organization’s 32-bed recuperative care facility in Escondido is one of the few such facilities in the county.

Interfaith CEO Greg Anglea said the $6 million will help his agency purchase a new building and fund dozens of new beds for homeless patients and others who need a place to stay before they move onto permanent housing.

Palomar Family YMCA and Saved in America will also use the county funds doled out Tuesday to help purchase or provide transitional housing.

— Lisa Halverstadt

Encinitas Is Really, Truly on Its Way to Getting a Housing Plan (Probably)

Encinitas took another step toward complying with state law this month when the California Coastal Commission signed off on the city’s plan to provide housing for all income levels. There was a caveat, though.

As the Coast News reported, one of the 15 potential sites that officials set aside for future affordable housing will instead include a mix of housing, retail and at least 30 hotel rooms. City staff and the property owner agreed to the compromise, according to the newspaper.

California requires that municipalities prepare for the needs of future residents by identifying locations where new housing could eventually be built. For years, Encinitas had defied state law because of a local law giving current residents the authority to veto major land use changes.

The local law, however, was suspended earlier this year after developers and affordable housing advocates sued. A judge gave Encinitas officials a deadline and cleared the pathway for the Coastal Commission’s recent decision.

Fun fact: That home you bought 20 years ago is really paying off. Citing a new study by a financial research firm, 10News reports that the median home value in Encinitas was $343,500 in 1999. The figure now stands at nearly $1.2 million, marking a 248.8 percent increase, the highest in San Diego County.

Also noteworthy: Our pal Liam Dillon at the Los Angeles Times caught an interesting appropriation in the governor’s new budget proposal. Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath has requested that Encinitas, Carlsbad, Oceanside and Vista each get $250,000 for homeless prevention and intervention services in partnership with the Community Resource Center.

Carlsbad to Eliminate Off-the-Books Hiring Practice

It’s not often that an official draws attention to his own city’s slush fund.

But Carlsbad City Manager Scott Chadwick told the City Council last week that he would eliminate a contingency account that had been used to hire part-time employees who never appeared on the books.

As the Union-Tribune explained, city department heads had been allowed to carry up to 10 percent of their annual operating budget from year to year. Those funds have been used to hire at least 40 people who work no more than 20 hours a week — the equivalent of 20 full-timers.

Carlsbad employs around 700 full-time employees, the U-T reports. Chadwick said city staff had not kept pace with the city’s growing population.

Del Mar Gun Show Could Come Back

A federal judge in San Diego has told the Del Mar Fairgrounds to bring back a controversial gun show, the U-T reports. In the face of political pressure, the board that oversees the state-owned property suspended the Crossroads of the West for one year while its members reevaluate the events.

That decision led to a lawsuit, and District Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo’s new ruling says the operators of the gun should be allowed to pick dates while the legal challenge progresses. She argued that the operators are likely to suffer “irreparable harm” if the events don’t continue and likely to prevail in court if the case goes to trial.

Crossroads is leaning on the First Amendment, not the Second Amendment, arguing that it’s being prevented from speaking and assembling on state-owned land for political reasons. The group is attempting to make the case, a former member of the Del Mar Fairgrounds board of directors told KPBS, that the initial decision to suspend the gun show was a form of “viewpoint discrimination.”

Assemblyman Todd Gloria said he’s pressing ahead with legislation that would prohibit the sale of guns and ammunition at the fair. It passed the Assembly in April and the Senate Public Safety committee last week. Gov. Gavin Newsom has strongly suggested that he’ll sign it.

Another Early Endorsement Controversy

The Coast News caused quite a stir this weekend with a story about a possible early endorsement vote in the Board of Supervisors District 3 race. It strongly suggested that Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez and Supervisor Nathan Fletcher were planning to maneuver behind the scenes to secure Democratic Party support for Olga Diaz.

Gonzalez and Fletcher adamantly contested the newspaper’s findings, drawing reactions like these from the reporter and managing editor. San Diego County Democratic chairman Will Rodriguez-Kennedy also weighed in.

The early endorsement has its logic. Especially in parts of the county where Republicans have long dominated, Democratic leaders are eager to throw all the resources at their disposal into specific races, as early as they can. If Democrats take control of the Board of Supervisors, the longer-term payoff is influence on SANDAG and other regional policy-setting boards. But that could mean favoring one Democrat over another Democrat before voters have even had their say.

A similar debate took place last year in the District 4 race, where Fletcher got the nod over others. An endorsement vote in District 3 is scheduled for September after the area’s activists have offered their recommendations to party officials.

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