San Diego City Council approves hotel purchases for homeless housing

San Diego City Council members on Tuesday unanimously approved the purchase of two hotels that within two months could become permanent homes for 400 people now at a temporary shelter at the Convention Center.

While no one knows when the venue again will be used for conventions, ending the shelter prepares the city for when that day finally comes. The city opened the shelter in April out of fears that the coronavirus could spread at other city-run shelters, and as of Tuesday, there were 1,044 people staying at the Convention Center.

Council members also approved a one-year contract for People Assisting the Homeless to provide management and supportive services at the 190-unit Marriott Residence Inn at 1865 Hotel Circle South and approved a one-year contract for Father Joe’s Villages to provide the same at the 142-room hotel at 5400 Kearny Mesa Road. The Hotel Circle property cost $67 million and the Kearny Mesa property $39.5 million.

All 27 public speakers Tuesday addressed only the Hotel Circle purchase, with 11 in support. Opponents included residents of the nearby Mission Village Condominiums who had concerns about safety in their neighborhood, with a few speakers suggesting the city expand Downtown San Diego Partnership’s Clean and Safe program to their neighborhood.

Council members saw little problem with the purchases, though Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell asked if there would be communication with community members to address concerns brought up at the meeting.

San Diego Housing Commission President and CEO Rick Gentry said there already had been two meetings with neighborhood residents and business owners, and the commission was committed to holding more meetings periodically. He also said people with concerns about the project’s impact on their neighborhood could visit similar Housing Commission projects already operating.

Councilman Scott Sherman vouched for the Housing Commission’s track record by saying he can see the Zephyr apartments from his backyard in Grantville, and the building looks like any other hotel. The 84-unit project on Alvarado Canyon Road provides housing for formerly homeless veterans and opened last year after the Housing Commission bought and converted an old motel.

Responding to concerns some speakers had about the hotel being a magnet for homeless people seeking help, Sherman asked if services at the hotel would be available to anyone. Gentry said they only would be offered to residents of the hotel.

Speaking before the council Tuesday, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said the Operation Shelter to Home program at the Convention Center had successfully housed more than 600 homeless people, and it was time to move on to a new phase that included more housing.

“Allowing people to live unsafely on the streets is not OK,” Faulconer said after the Tuesday vote.

The hotels will provide 400 rooms for people now at the Convention Center, while others at the venue will move back to city-run bridge shelters in tents or at Golden Hall. Gentry said the hotels should be ready for occupancy in December.

Atwood Hotel owner Cathy Herrick, one of two hoteliers

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