There has been a pattern developing this year – a policy is proposed by the city or the council, the public and various stakeholders rise up, and the council seemingly backs down or compromises.
We saw it with downtown parking as the council, after pushback, approved a scaled-down/watered down parking arrangement. We saw it with Mace as the council, while not going back to the way it was, approved restoring a key stretch of Mace to two vehicle travel lanes in each direction.
We saw it with the respite center. The council had decided to go with a Second Street location, then a few weeks ago a large number of Mace Ranch residents pushed back and the council switched to the corporation yards on Fifth Street.
At the time, I was concerned with the idea that the city would be backing down on a proposal based on probably unfounded fears of residents of that location. But several insisted that they were not bowing to public pressure, rather they felt the Second Street site was too isolated from services and the downtown, and they preferred the much closer corporation yards.
Ok. As staff predicted in their report from a few weeks ago, they anticipate “opposition to any location selected.”
As staff wrote at the time, “The majority of residents reiterated the concerns already identified by the businesses with a particular emphasis on the safety of schoolchildren who regularly traverse the Dave Pelz overcrossing. Others opposed siting a homeless center anywhere within City limits. A minority voiced support.”
They also added, “It is unlikely any mitigation measures would change the view of those who oppose this location.”
With the move to the corporation yards, we are starting to see the prediction coming true – opposition to any location selected.
On Nextdoor someone pointed out with objection the “low admission barriers” for the respite center.
Language from the city proposal: “Low barrier to adhere to best practices, admission to the project needs to be low barrier. The City will not require participants to sign a service agreement or agree to case management to use the facilities and receive services. Past criminal records and the presence of chronic mental illness or drug addiction will not limit admission.”
The opposition put forth a Change.org petition with well over 100 signatures at the time of publication.
From public comment, there are some concerns about the safety of an alleyway and the park.
From the Change.org petition, “This proposal has grossly neglected an utmost issue: the safety and security of our schoolchildren, the most vulnerable population.”
They add: “The impact of proposed homeless/respite shelter, including but not limited to sanitary risks, substance abuse, and potentially illegal activities, cannot be effectively shielded from our children. While we feel strongly that the issue of homelessness must be addressed in every city, we also believe that the safety of our children and elderly drastically outweighs the benefits of this proposed location.”
So, once again, there are concerns raised that homeless people are a threat to public safety, especially that of children. There are no studies cited in the petition. No evidence given. It is once again a plea based, it would appear, on fear rather than data.
It was interesting listening to the police chief this week finally express his views on the issue. He was notably absent when the council heard the matter early in November.
Chief Pytel said, “While I can completely understand some of the concerns from neighbors about the location of a respite center, and the type of presence that may bring, and the potential for some of the disorder and increases in crime… right now the crime is occurring all over town, it’s extremely difficult to police, and it’s extremely difficult to get people help, and to provide services when they’re all over.”
He said, while he’ll listen to neighbor concerns, “this is something I need to take a much stronger position on now, publicly. I am an absolute supporter of the respite center concept and having designated areas in town that people can go (to) and have some sense of safety and order.”
The question now is whether the council in November truly believed they were picking the correct spot for the respite center. Will they hold fast even in the face of community pressure in the coming weeks? Or will they try to compromise once again in an effort to soften the blow?
That is not to say if there are concerns about the alley, for example, they shouldn’t attempt to examine those and figure out if there is a way to improve them. But rather, at some point the council needs to understand that every location in the city will have pushback and concerns, and unless your solution is to “put them on a bus,” you have to find a place to better provide them with shelter and services.
—David M. Greenwald reporting