Opinion » Shredder

Not in anybody's backyard?

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The overflow crowd lined the back of SLO County Board of Supervisors chamber on May 21. What, pray tell, was all the hubbub about? The lions and tigers and bears that accompany any sort of project designed to help lift people out of homelessness, of course. These projects are drug- and crime-ridden disasters, people! There're residences nearby! There's a park over there! Kids travel this sidewalk! The sky might fall!

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All these objections suggest the same thing: Homeless people are dangerous and don't belong anywhere near people who can afford a roof over their heads.

What's amazing is all these NIMBY complainers "support" the idea of helping the homeless, just not here, near where they live. It makes solving our homeless problem nearly impossible because no matter what's proposed, the people near the project are sure it's the wrong location. At some point, however, you just have to say, "Get over it. It's happening."

That's exactly what the board just said about Welcome Home Village, a transitional housing project that will consist of 80 small cabin-like units near the SLO County Health Agency parking lot on Johnson Avenue and Bishop Street. The project is set to break ground in fall of 2024 and begin moving in residents in 2025.

It almost didn't happen, and the story's unlikely hero is (insert drumroll) ... conservative 1st District Supervisor John Peschong, who entered the meeting thinking he was going to vote "no" but changed his mind, and lucky he did because the 3rd District's Dawn Ortiz-Legg recused herself because she lives 973 feet away from the proposed project (even though the Fair Political Practices Commission states a conflict only exists if the property is within 500 feet. Phew!).

In a 3-1 vote—with Peschong joining liberals 2nd District Supe Bruce Gibson, and 4th District Supe Jimmy Paulding—the supervisors gave Welcome Home Village the green light. Go, John! You rock! Of course, the neighbors hate the idea, but their fears are hopefully unfounded. The project is designed to rid San Luis Obispo of its most stubborn encampments, mostly along the Bob Jones Trail

Built by San Francisco-based company DignityMoves, which built a similar project in Grover Beach with the 5Cities Homeless Coalition, Welcome Home Village will be managed by Good Samaritan Shelter, manager of three projects in Santa Barbara County. Good Sam will provide 24/7 oversight and work with residents to find them permanent housing.

Homeless Services Division Program Manager Jeff Al-Mashat calls the program the "missing link" needed to transition people from encampments into permanent housing. He was the guy in charge of the now closed Oklahoma Avenue safe parking site, which did not go great, but Al-Mashat points out an important difference between it and Welcome Home: "This will be nothing like the Oklahoma project. I think our biggest challenge with the Oklahoma project was that we didn't have case management on at the beginning and we were unable to find a site manager to manage the project."

Welcome Home was originally planned for the corner of South Higuera Street and Prado Road, but that site was rejected after NIMBY neighbors hired Los Angeles attorney Paul Beard II, who threatened a lawsuit over zoning regulations. Neighbors of the current site naturally think there are better places in the city for it, but the buck stopped here because of the location's proximity to Medi-Cal services and the Health Agency. Look, if you care about homelessness, step 1 is to remember they're people, not monsters; step 2 is to realize they need help; and step 3 is to help them, even if it's in your backyard.

Speaking of the Board of Supervisors, they delivered a partisan 3-2 vote to opt out of California's Ballot Disclose Act (AB 1416), which required listing supporters and opponents for county, city, district, and school measures on county ballots. I guess "required" is the wrong word since smaller counties like ours can opt out, which we did, joining 33 others.

Um, shouldn't voters being given as much information as possible, especially considering the tricky-dicky and euphemistic way propositions can be presented? As 5th District Supe Debbie Arnold noted, "Sometimes, even the titles are really hard to understand. I always point to Prop. 47 ... that was the bill that legalized the $900 ceiling ... it went from a felony to a misdemeanor. ... Yet it was titled safe schools and neighborhoods."

Just to clarify, the bill reclassified some felonies and nonviolent property crimes whose value doesn't exceed $950 into misdemeanors, but more importantly, sheesh, first Peschong, and now I'm in agreement with Debbie Arnold? My world's upside down!

You'd think the so-called "fiscal conservatives" would go along with county Clerk-Recorder Elana Cano's argument to reject the provision because it would cost an extra $121,000 per election and complicate the ballot, but nope, Arnold and Peschong were all in, while the liberals said no ... voting against the wishes of the League of Women Voters, which expressed support for the act.

Ortiz-Legg supported her "no" vote by arguing, "Just because somebody supports something, that can be very confusing as well. This leads to more mass confusion."

Y'all must think voters are dumb. Anyway, if you want to understand a ballot measure, you might have to read a freakin' newspaper, because the ballot will be no help. Δ

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