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Our daily roundup of San Diego’s most important stories (Monday-Friday)
Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall and Cori Schumacher talked transit and community choice energy in their final mayoral debate, Rocky Chavez gave a fascinating exit interview and more in our biweekly roundup of news from North County.
Most of the homeless in our corner of the kingdom live in the city of San Diego. But North County is home to one of the biggest providers of homeless services, with roots in the community going back 40 years.
Galvanized by the deaths of 20 people from Hepatitis A last year, leaders of the Escondido-based Interfaith Community Services are demanding that officials from around the county, including the Regional Task Force on Homelessness, hold themselves accountable. They rarely name names, but they believe the people in power are generally afraid that failing to hit specific targets will make them look bad.
So they’re doing it themselves. And they say they’ve created a model that can be applied elsewhere in the county because it relies on simple interactions.
Interfaith announced last week at its annual meeting that it would be upping its commitments to the region’s most vulnerable. CEO Greg Anglea said his group placed more than 500 people in permanent housing in 2016 and 90 percent of them remained after 12 months.
The following year, he said, the group found permanent housing for another 1,198 men, women and children. The group is now vowing to help 2,019 more people avoid falling into homelessness or find a permanent place to live.
In order to do that, Anglea and his staff of 140 oversee more than 3,000 volunteers who provide everything from free food and furniture to legal and tax services, and consult with property owners while assisting cops on patrol. Interfaith is complementing, and in some places outpacing, the work of the public sphere.
“It’s hard to find someone in North County who isn’t connected to this group,” said Paul Marx, a retired real estate developer (no, we’re not related).
Marx was exaggerating, of course, but his point was that the world of homeless services in North County is like a large family. He discovered the work of Interfaith about five years ago through his church, which was a common story I heard at the group’s recent luncheon.
Interfaith’s motto is “helping people help themselves,” and as far as Marx sees it, the shortage of affordable units in our region — one cause of homelessness — is a government-created problem. He blamed regulatory hurdles that slow down the process and add to the overall cost of construction.
Yet it’s rare in the world of homeless services to find people willing to criticize the government, the hand that feeds. (About two-thirds of Interfaith’s $15 million budget next year is expected to come from public grants and contracts, the rest from private donations.)
A self-described “preacher’s kid,” Anglea is exceedingly polite. But he’s also bothered by what he sees as a lack of goal-setting and accountability throughout San Diego County. “We need elected leaders who embrace data-driven strategies that are ending homelessness for all types of people every day,” he wrote last summer in a Union-Tribune op-ed.
Between tapings of his new podcast in the VOSD office, Anglea told me that he doesn’t think of himself as critical, but rather honest and candid about there being “more people turning to us for help than we have the ability to help. At our Carlsbad office, we get two calls every single hour for people asking about rental assistance.”
He said he’s frustrated by the perception that homelessness is not a homegrown phenomenon — that people come here for the weather, like any other transplant, and sometimes courtesy of officials in other communities who buy them one-way tickets. Research suggests that 75 percent of people living on the streets of Los Angeles County were previously in a home, and another 65 percent had been living there for more than 20 years.
Still, I wondered whether private providers of homeless services weren’t inadvertently giving public agencies a reason not to do more. Anglea disagreed.
“There’s definitely push and pull, but I don’t think it disincentivizes,” he said. “I think success begets success, and the more we can effectively address homelessness the more resources we’ll have to do that.”
Anglea pointed to San Diego’s downtown tent shelters as an example of the public and private sectors successfully coming together. “But I think we need to be results-oriented,” he said.
On that note: The CEO of the San Diego Regional Task Force on Homelessness is leaving for a six-month mission with the Mormon Church. It’s not clear whether the job will be waiting for him when he gets back.
Anglea, who serves as a board member, told the U-T, “the lack of certainty on this issue is strange.”
Carlsbad mayoral candidates Matt Hall, the incumbent, and Cori Schumacher, a current councilwoman, participated in their third and final forum Tuesday. It was hosted by Pacific Ridge High and moderated by yours truly.
You can watch the full video online. A couple of the exchanges that caught my ear …
Transit vs. roads: The Coronado mayor sent YIMBY Democrats into a frenzy a couple weeks ago when he argued that the region should prioritize freeways over public transit. So I asked the Carlsbad mayoral candidates how they would push their fellow elected officials to prioritize transportation funding.
Hall said he’s in favor of better roads, citing the need to finish the widening of I-5 and improve SR-78. “When you sit and talk to the community, those are the issues that people are talking about. They’re not talking about better buses or more trains. They’re wanting to move from point A to point B [by] vehicle.”
Fifteen years from now, autonomous vehicles and other advances in technology will make travel different, he said. “And I assure you, unless we’re going to increase density by a whole bunch, transit is not going to be the way of the future here in North County.”
Schumacher said public transit can help build “relationships across socio-economic divides,” adding:
But our North County leadership has disinvested and really intentionally stepped away from focusing on public transit as a mode through which to focus on decreasing traffic. And I would say that if you don’t give it a chance and you don’t take a look at what’s going on around the world … and you simply say the ridership isn’t there, that’s because we haven’t invested in it. We’re decreasing bus routes and saying it’s not paying for itself. So this is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Community Choice Energy: Schumacher said she’s “very supportive” of it, arguing that public programs have saved ratepayers in other parts of California. Hall said he’s open to it, but wants to make sure it pencils out. Both cast votes in favor of joining a “feasibility study” last year with neighboring cities.
During closing statements, Hall promised not to fund anything that wouldn’t provide a return on investment. “Show me the business plan. Show me how it works. Show me how it makes sense — that we don’t start upon a path that we can’t afford.”
Schumacher responded, “The state requires us to have a balanced budget. There is no way that any plans would move forward without a fully scoped business plan. That’s why we’re going through the feasibility study now.”
The Associated Press reported last week on the extremely close relationship between high-ranking state transportation officials and a PR firm that was paid by unions and other interests to campaign against a gas tax repeal. The investigation includes an interesting North County connection.
Emails showed that the agency and the firm began coordinating a series of op-eds last fall intended to persuade vulnerable congressional Republicans, including Rep. Darrell Issa, to reject the gas tax repeal.
From the AP: “The piece ultimately was written by the mayor of Encinitas, a suburb north of San Diego, and ran the following month in the San Diego Union-Tribune. It touted projects in the district funded by the gas tax increase but didn’t mention Issa.”
To be clear, Lisa Halverstadt did the heavy lifting on this one. We gave a presentation at the University of San Diego on Oct. 6 about San Diego city and countywide ballot measures. But we also included summaries of voter initiatives in Encinitas, Vista, Del Mar, Carlsbad, Santee and Oceanside.
At the same event, Assemblyman Rocky Chavez gave a fascinating exit interview, aiming many of his criticisms at fellow Republicans and theorizing why Issa decided to endorse a lesser-known conservative, Harkey, to replace him. Chavez was an early favorite for the 49th Congressional District race until operatives from both parties piled on.