As tensions wane over a homeless housing development on Mt. Alifan Drive, all eyes have shifted to a bigger affordable housing project on Mt. Etna Drive. Both are within one-half mile of each other by the major intersection of Balboa Avenue and Genesee Avenue.
Big protests subsided once the Mt. Alifan developer announced all homeless tenants would be seniors. This "community reaction" was mentioned by one developer when asking the county about their proposed "very high residential" density for Mt. Etna (4.09 acres), saying it's "more intense than what appears to be a fit for this site."
Jose Alvarez from county communications said, "The [Sheriff's] crime lab [5255 Mt. Etna, two blocks west of Genesee], has the potential for 494 housing units."
Alvarez said four firms submitted proposals in June: Bridge Housing, Community Housing Works, USA Properties Fund, and Chelsea Investment Corporation. Negotiations will begin in September with one of them. Approval by the county board of supervisors is targeted for December.
Quentin lives about three blocks from the proposed project. His biggest concern is the number of proposed units. "When the project was scheduled for  units, it would have had a noticeable impact on the traffic and likely parking in the area. With the increase, the impact will be significantly worse."
Quentin said the county isn't considering the quality of life for existing residents. "Traffic and other infrastructure concerns look like they haven't been thought through or ignored. Will there be adequate parking at this site? If there is an average of two vehicles per unit, that would be an addition of about 900 vehicles. If they do not plan for adequate parking, our neighborhoods will turn into their parking lot."
The county's crime lab currently leases adjacent parking from SDG&E for $10,264 per month. The county told proposers not to depend on this to satisfy parking requirements unless they can demonstrate they will be able to secure the SDG&E lots.
The county has stated they will not subsidize any "infrastructure improvements to accommodate the project."
Quentin is concerned about overcrowding. "With probably 1,000 more residents packed into a relatively small area, the local services will be much more crowded."
The county stated in their draft lease that maximum occupancy for units can range from two people in one studio to eight people in three bedrooms.
What does Quentin say to someone that thinks housing needs trump his concerns? "The people who make such statements do not likely have such a large complex being built next to them. Why do we even bother zoning residential neighborhoods when both the city and the county ignore it?"
Quentin said there are other locations that would work better. "This location is not close to major healthcare facilities and the transit system is pathetic."
As justification for higher density, the county is calling the project area a "transportation priority area." This contradicts their February feasibility analysis that rated transit in this area as "fair/poor."
Only one of the four firms proposing on this project would talk to me. Two declined while they were still competing for the project and one declined due to a stipulation by the county that forbids talking to reporters.
I asked the county to clarify. Alvarez said the section prohibiting news releases (4.18) read in conjunction with two other sections (4.6 and 4.7) "allows the county to prohibit disclosure of proposal details" to reporters.
A news article is not the same as a press release and the other two sections spoke to proposals being the property of the county (4.6) and part of the public record (4.7). Even though it didn't seem prohibitive, I alerted Community Housing Works about what the county had said.
Residents said that Community Housing Works was the only proposer that asked the community for input before submitting their proposal to the county.
Dan Marcus, Community Housing Works representative, said, "Our proposal is what it is because of listening to the people in the community. One thing we heard was that there was a real lack of community spaces in the area. Because of that, we plan to include a two-story community center. The center will be open to the community for meetings and things like after-school tutoring and educational classes."
Marcus said while every project is different, he pointed to the mixed-use senior apartment housing in North Park as an example of how they cater to the needs of a community. It's San Diego's first LGBT-affirming senior community.
With the county mandating 50 percent of the units as affordable housing, what does Community Housing Works plan for the other half? "We took a really hard look at [the] number of neighbors and the huge and growing need and decided to do all affordable housing."
The county has mandated that Mt. Etna's housing stay affordable for 99 years.
This means less rent for the county than those planning to utilize the other half for higher-end units. One of the deciding factors for the county will be the financials (rents). The most important criteria will be the developer's vision.
As to the 494 units the county is comfortable with, Marcus said they decided 306 units was more reasonable — with a mix of densities and heights, from two to seven stories.
There are seven- and ten-story buildings nearby the proposed project area.
Marcus said the mix of tenants they're proposing include seniors and intergenerational families. He said they will work with different non-profits to provide supportive services.
"It's important for people to remember our nurses assistants, our school teacher assistants, our caretakers, people that answer 911 calls, we want these people in our community, but these people can't afford to live in San Diego."
"If you read the California Housing Partnership's recent report, renters need to earn $38.31 per hour. That's 3.31 times the minimum wage median asking rent of $1992."
Angela Jackson-Llamas, senior real property agent with the county, said the crime lab will be vacant prior to December, as staff began moving into the newly constructed Kearny Mesa crime lab in July.
She said the required environmental review will kick off this summer with a demolition date yet to be determined. The county's request for proposals mentioned December 2019 as a target.
"The county will submit a community plan amendment and re-zone application to the city for review that, if approved, would allow for housing to be constructed."
The community plan currently allows for commercial use on this crime lab parcel. The county plans to re-categorize the site from discretionary review (requires public input) to a ministerial review (requires no public input). For the latter, projects are supposed to already conform with the community plan and zoning.
One developer in the running asked the county to clarify how a ministerial review will work when waiving the 30-foot height limit (requires public input). The county would only say that they're "not opposed to building heights greater than 30 feet."
Jackson-Llamas said the county prefers "a mix of seniors, military personnel and veterans as well as workforce and middle-income housing."
The draft lease agreement stated if accepting voucher housing assistance (Section Eight), all those units must go to special needs populations (could include tenants that are homeless or with serious mental illness or substance abuse issues).
Scott Marshall from the San Diego Housing Commission said, "Reality is far different than the major misconceptions that many in the community may have about affordable housing and low-income residents. Based on the San Diego Housing Commission’s experience, the reality is that households that receive rental assistance or reside in affordable rental housing know the value of the housing opportunity they have received and tend to be good tenants. The majority of the households are elderly and/or disabled households with fixed incomes. The remaining households tend to be employed."
He said the main difference between affordable housing and Section Eight assistance is that with the latter renters pay a predetermined portion of their income toward their rent and with affordable housing, units are rented to those making below 80 percent of the local area median income or AMI (currently $77,850 a year for a family of four).
The wait time for affordable rental housing depends on the size of the waiting list maintained by each developer. Section Eight wait time is about ten years with approximately 85,000 currently on the waiting list. More than 15,000 low-income families currently receive Section Eight vouchers and about 5200 landlords accept these vouchers.
Marshall said 32 zip codes in all nine city council districts include families that receive rental assistance from the housing commission. The highest number of recipients reside in East San Diego (92105), the College Grove Area (92115) and downtown San Diego (92101). No rental assistance participants reside in the Miramar area (92145) and less than 10 each reside in La Jolla (92037) or Sorrento Valley (92121).
Marshall gave me a list of median salaries by occupation that might quality for affordable housing depending on family size: registered nurse ($76,186), food service manager ($72,657), paralegal ($68,375), secondary school teacher ($62,300), elementary school teacher ($59,748), police officer ($56,824), plumber ($56,409), firefighter ($47,944), secretary $46,831), and dental assistant ($37,904).
Before the July Fourth holiday, I reached out to Clairemont's councilmember (Chris Cate) for comment. Cate didn't want to comment on the Mt. Alifan homeless housing project either until he was swarmed by hundreds of his constituents at an April event.
Cate sent Mayor Faulconer a homeless crisis memo in September 2017 offering up his district as part of the solution. He recommended the Mt. Etna crime lab parcel for low-income housing. Many Clairemont residents weren't thrilled when they realized most of the sites Cate recommended were located in Clairemont, far away from his five-bedroom home at the edge of Mira Mesa (closer to Sorrento Valley than Clairemont).