The Feb. 11 mayoral special election has unleashed some pretty bad mailers. Yesterday, from the Kevin Faulconer-supporting Western Electrical Contractors Association super PAC came this: "Left out in the cold by David Alvarez," it reads. Then: "David Alvarez was the ONLY member of the City Council to oppose the Emergency Winter Homeless Shelter." The mailer cites an April 27, 2011, 10News story saying that Alvarez cast the lone dissenting vote against the shelter.
True or false?
But it needs context.
Alvarez voted against siting the shelter at 16th Street and Newton Avenue in Barrio Logan, not against the shelter program itself.
Some background: From 1996 to 2006, the shelter had been set up in a cul-de-sac at the intersection of 16th and Newton. Residents hated it. When he was elected in 2005, City Councilmember (and now state Senator) Ben Hueso promised he'd move the shelter out of Barrio Logan and, in 2007, the city worked out a one-year deal with the Padres to put the sprung-tent structure in Tailgate Park. The following year, developer Dene Oliver allowed the shelter to be located on his property at 15th and Island. Faulconer, who represented Downtown, supported both locations, but by 2009, he'd had enough. After the Mayor's office proposed locating the shelter at 13th and F streets in East Village, Faulconer successfully moved to have the Mayor's office go back to its map and look for locations outside of Downtown—he recommended a parking lot at the southern end of Balboa Park (in Todd Gloria's district) or City Heights (also in Todd Gloria's district). From an editorial we published in October 2009:
Faulconer has made it clear that Downtown and Barrio Logan have more than done their part to shelter the homeless when it’s cold outside and that it’s time for other neighborhoods to step up and bear the burden....
Since he seemed to be saying that the winter shelter has to be somewhere—anywhere—other than Downtown and surrounding ’hoods, we said, “How about Ocean Beach?” We were obviously trying to back Faulconer into a corner where the only paths out would be to support a shelter elsewhere in his district (in addition to Downtown, he represents the beach communities and Mission Hills) or to acknowledge that his issue is not Downtown but, rather, his district.
Each time we asked him about Ocean Beach, Faulconer reframed the debate without answering, finally acknowledging that no one wants a homeless shelter in his or her community....
Ultimately, the city was left with only two options, both of them in Faulconer's district: 15th and Island or 13th and F. Faulconer and Hueso voted against both locations. In 2010, Faulconer opposed all shelter sites within his district and was part of a four-member voting bloc that also opposed putting the shelter back in Barrio Logan. The impasse went on for five City Council meetings before Hueso—who'd wrongly alleged that the shelter had caused lockdowns at a nearby elementary school—backed down and said yes to having the shelter at 16th and Newton. Alvarez was elected in 2010, meaning 2011 was his first year to vote on the shelter. A transcript of a May 9, 2011, City Council meeting shows he barely put up a fight, asking only if the Mayor's office had explored all possible shelter sites. In 2012, he voted in favor of putting the shelter at 16th and Newton, where it's remained since.
The mailer's an independent expenditure, meaning that while it's clearly supporting Faulconer, the committee that paid for it is operating independent of Faulconer's campaign. But, Faulconer, a Republican, has used homelessness in this campaign to burnish his claims of being a social liberal. He's received the endorsement of Fr. Joe Carroll, filmed a TV commercial with Carroll in East Village (ironically, near the intersection of 15th and Island) and repeatedly brought up his role as chair of the city's Permanent Homeless Shelter Task Force, which was charged with finding a location for what's now Connections Housing, a one-stop services center with 223 interim and permanent beds.
But, anyone who attended those meetings knows that Faulconer offered little in the way of leadership, dragging out the site-location process to the point of Connections Housing almost losing its funding. I attended all but two of the task-force meetings and today looked back at some of the stories I wrote on the task force's lack of progress. From November 2008: In campaign materials, Faulconer claims that he "led the drive to open the city's first permanent year-round homeless shelter." The truth is, by the time the Connections Housing project made it to the City Council's Land Use & Housing—its first stop on the way to a full council vote—in April 2010 (almost a year and a half after Atkins lamented the lack of progress), Faulconer urged a three-month delay, saying the idea needed to be shopped around to Downtown businesses and residents (something Connections' operators planned to do anyhow). When the project came back to the committee for a vote in July, Faulconer urged his colleagues to send the proposal to the full council without a recommendation (he was rebuffed). He ultimately hinged his support of the project on a nonsensical amendment to a lawsuit that bans police from ticketing people for sleeping on public property between 9 p.m. and 5:30 a.m.
On Dec. 2, the task force will present its recommendations to the full council—probably sooner than it’s ready to, but a key task-force member, City Councilmember Toni Atkins, leaves office on Dec. 8. Atkins has described the work of the task force as “Phase 1” and wants to make sure her remaining colleagues move to Phase 2.
She says she’s “pretty disappointed” with what the task force has—or hasn’t—accomplished. “I wanted to be much further along in the process than we are,” she said.
Homeless-services providers are disappointed, too, said Rosemary Johnston, president of the county’s Interfaith Shelter Network as well as the Regional Task Force on the Homeless. Under the leadership of City Councilmember Kevin Faulconer, whose district includes Downtown, the task force managed to ignore its No. 1 objective: Siting a permanent homeless facility.
“The goal… was to identify a site for a permanent year-round shelter to avoid the annual angst that seems to grip the City Council every year when they need to site the winter shelter program,” Johnston said. “While it’s good that they set up this committee, I think they need to be reminded what the main purpose of the committee was.”