By KENDRA SITTON | La Mesa Courier
At the La Mesa Mayor and City Council’s request, San Diego County Board of Supervisors withdrew an application for millions of state funds to convert a Holiday Inn in La Mesa into permanent supportive housing for homeless. During the vote on Tuesday, Sept. 22, the motion passed in a 3-2 vote with Supervisors Dianne Jacob, Jim Desmond and Kristin Gaspar voting to pull the application while Supervisors Greg Cox and Nathan Fletcher voted to move forward with the application.
The shuttered hotel at 8000 Parkway Drive is in a commercial area. The county and partner Affirmed Housing Group’s application included 139 units for homeless people and people at-risk of becoming homeless due to COVID-19. It would have included wrap-around services for the residents and 24/7 security.
Many of the elected officials who opposed the project said it was due to the process involved with the application, not the merits of the site. The county, not the city involved, approved the application before it was voted on by the city.
“I really have difficulty with the process. The need is there. Absolutely the need is there,” said Supervisor Jim Desmond.
This was partially due to the short timeline of the Homekey Program because it was funded through the CARES ACT. All funds must be spent by Dec. 30, 2020. According to a County Health and Human Services staff member, the state announced the existence of Homekey funds on July 22, 2020. The county looked at several sites but only one proved viable. The City of La Mesa was informed of the county’s intent to develop the site on Aug. 12 and the application was sent the following day.
With the grant application deadline a few weeks after the program was announced, the county did not plan to hold community meetings until after the funds were officially awarded in October.
La Mesa Mayor Mark Arapostathis contested this timeline, explaining that the developer only contacted one City Council member, not the entire City Council. It was then that the city manager reached out to the county, not the other way around.
The county voted on the program on Sept. 15. In response, La Mesa City Council held a special meeting on Sept. 21 and voted to request the county to withdraw the application.
“This project was imposed on us,” Arapostathis said.
The mayor said even the city’s homelessness task force is on the record opposing the project. He also said during the meeting, around 160 residents spoke and only 14 were in favor of the project.
The next day, the county agreed to La Mesa’s request to pull the application.
“Here we have a chance to respect local control,” Supervisor Dianne Jacob said. “We’d be hypocritical not to honor the wishes of the City of La Mesa.”
The decision means the area will lose out on $19 million in Homekey funds.
— Reach Kendra Sitton at Kendra@sdnews.com.