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SMART Project Continues On Its Path, Next Court Hearing Nov. 21

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Posted: Friday, November 1, 2019 4:09 pm

The saga of the SMART project under construction on Palm Avenue in the Otay-Mesa Nestor area for ex-offenders continues with a City of San Diego council vote on Oct. 22 and a court hearing scheduled for Nov 21.

The city of San Diego purchased the Super 8 building at 1788 Palm Avenue for $6.65 million to create a San Diego Misdemeanants At Risk (SMART) program in 2017 which was a highly contested decision in the neighborhood of Otay Mesa-Nestor. Citizens for South Bay Coastal Access (CSBCA), a non-profit whose goal is to “Preserve, Restore, and Protect Access to San Diego’s Coast South Bay,” filed a lawsuit on a number of reasons including that the project removes a low cost accommodation in the South Bay and that a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) by the Coastal Commission is required and it violates California Environmental Quality Act.

On Jan. 2. 2019 a Superior Court Judge ordered the city to obtain a CDP. A court hearing on the contempt charge request will take place on Nov. 21. The project is under construction but has not received a Conditional Development Permit from the California Coastal Commission.

During the public comment period of the San Diego council meeting one member of the CSBCA asked the council to deny the city the CDP unless the city replaces what was lost in the same community. He handed a petition with 450 signatures.

The next speaker was Otay Mesa-Nestor resident and CSBCA President Rodel Reyes who had more time allocated because other residents donated their time. He spoke of the groups’ lawsuit that holds the city in contempt for going forward with the SMART Program Project without necessary permits. He also informed the city that the group is trying to incorporate the Otay-Mesa Nestor community so that residents can make their own decisions. The group has gathered 450 signatures in support.

One speaker spoke who was in favor of the project.

Councilwoman Vivian Moreno took a strong stance against the project and spoke at length. She read from a letter sent to the city from the Coastal Commission which expressed concern over the project. “We’ve received bad legal advice from the beginning before the council voted to acquire the site,” she said. Moreno said the city was told it would not require a Coastal Permit and summarized the events.

In a letter to the city dated June 2017, the Coastal Commission encouraged the city to retain and rehabilitate the site and find another location for the SMART program. The Coastal Commission asked the city to do three things if it proceeded with the project: if a low cost accommodation is removed it should replace it as part of the project; if the project doesn’t include replacement then it should include, as a condition for approval for the CDP, some kind of mitigation to provide for construction or funding of low cost accommodations within the city of San Diego preferably in the South Bay. (“Is the city planning to build a 61 low cost hotel rooms?” she asked staff); and third, in analysis and payment of a fee or offset in lieu of actual accommodations that could help mitigate the removal of low cost hotel. “Has the city completed such an analysis?” she asked. Both questions were answered with a no.

“The city is now in a potential situation of spending $13 million in CDBG funds to acquire and improve the property we’ll never be able to use and we have no plan B… Today I move to deny staff recommendations,” she said.

Mayor Pro Tem Barbara Bry seconded her motion. The city litigator was asked to answer some questions about the lawsuit. She said the judgement that was obtained in January does not preclude from the construction moving forward. Bry expressed her disappointment of the fact that the council was not informed about the contempt and court hearing on Nov. 21.

Councilman Scott Sherman said he believes in the SMART program and the council has heard the same concerns at this meeting as in the past. He was concerned about using CDBG funds for the project and about not having a plan B.

Councilman Chris Ward talked about a plan B and said that he was nervous about the commission overturning the decision.

City Attorney Mara Elliott defended the project and said the facility will help the homeless population become productive again and that the hotel had a 28.5 percent occupancy rate in the past and a history of loitering, drug and alcohol use and was not a true tourist accommodation site. The litigator said she believes the city will get a favorable ruling on Nov. 21. Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell said the city passed a 10-year plan to help the homeless and would vote to keep the project alive.

The following two resolutions passed with a no by Moreno and Bry. The first resolution determining that approval of the CDP and CUP for Palm Avenue Transitional Housing is categorically exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act pursuant to its guidelines and directing the Board of Supervisors for the County of San Diego regarding the project. The second resolution granting CDP and Conditional Use Permit, an amendment to the existing CUP for the Palm Avenue Transitional Housing.

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