El Cajon, a suburb of the City of San Diego, has an issue with homeless. While many cities throughout California have homeless troubles, city officials say El Cajon’s are being sent there by San Diego County.
The small city of 105,000 does offer many services to the homeless transients as we cover below. When El Cajon recently realized that many of their transients are coming from outside city limits, and usually carrying a motel voucher from San Diego County, they contacted county officials to discuss parity with other San Diego cities, as well as alternatives.
And then things got testy.
In a Globe interview with El Cajon City Manager Graham Mitchell and Police Chief Mike Moulton, they said the County “is saturating El Cajon with homeless and hotel vouchers,” with no prior notice or warning to the city.
The police department received so many calls for service to these motels, this resulted in more than 40 arrests in four days of transients who are felons with long rap sheets, with outstanding warrants, and who are dealing drugs.
Chief Moulton said the escalation of increased calls was a huge impact to the department. For context, he said in 2013 they received 2,800 calls about homeless crimes and incidents. In 2022, it peaked in 2018 at 9,000. Since that time (2019-2021) they have been right at 7,500 a year. This is a direct correlation to passage of Propositions 47 and 57, Chief Moulton added.
As the Globe has reported, Proposition 47, passed in 2014 ridiculously titled the “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act,” reclassified shoplifting as a misdemeanor for theft amounts under $950, and allows criminals to commit theft multiple times a day, is at the root of this crime wave.
Proposition 47 also got rid of “priorability”; [it] interfered with the police’s ability to arrest someone for misdemeanor shoplifting, unless they [police] actually witnessed it,” Los Angeles County Assistant District Attorney Michele Hanisee told the Globe last December. “Then of course, Proposition 57 allowed early release of not only nonviolent felons, but also sex offenders and three strikers. If you add to that some of the current policies we are seeing from the district attorneys and the courts, such as zero bail and district attorneys who won’t prosecute misdemeanors, it creates a perfect storm and there is just no consequence for crime.”
Chief Moulton said when the calls about the homeless increased, they analyzed the crime data and found that it was concentrated to the hotels with homeless. “They say several of the people using the vouchers have extensive criminal records and some are fugitives,” Fox5SanDiego reported. “El Cajon police say they found four people using the motel vouchers with extensive criminal histories and felony warrants.”
They arrested individuals with felony warrants for drug sales, child endangerment, DUI and firearms-related offenses, Fox5 reported.
The city also contacted every hotel manager for confirmation of these issues and discovered 100% homeless occupancy of two hotels, effectively making them homeless shelters. Chief Moulton said additionally, officers asked every homeless transient they came into contact with where they were from, and not one said he was from El Cajon – they are being shipped to El Cajon.
“The City has 8 families living in hotels with vouchers, but we spread them among six different hotels and locations,” City Manager Mitchell said.
The City sent letters to these motels, telling them they could face fines if they allow homeless vouchers to make up more than 15% of their occupancy.
This elicited immediate reaction by San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, challenging the Mayor, City Manager and Chief of Police. “Our County is making historic investments in supporting the unsheltered in our region, and will not allow the actions of the City of El Cajon to push more people onto the street. We will fight for what is right,” Fletcher tweeted.
Our County is making historic investments in supporting the unsheltered in our region, and will not allow the actions of the City of El Cajon to push more people onto the street. We will fight for what is right.https://t.co/c9KqnPqSmE
— Supervisor Nathan Fletcher (@SupFletcher) September 19, 2022
The El Cajon City Manager Mitchell contacted the County and asked them to spread their voucher-using homeless throughout the county, rather than sending the bulk of them to El Cajon. “We have the second highest poverty level in the county,” City Manager Mitchell said. “We also have the most immigrants,” noting the special circumstances these groups face, as well as reliance on the city and county.
Every day, millions of Californians worry about keeping a roof over their head
The City of El Cajon’s recent actions threaten to turn some of San Diego County’s most vulnerable residents out onto the street based solely on their source of income
No more https://t.co/fHP1aZTBUm
— Rob Bonta (@RobBonta) September 25, 2022
And shortly after the tweet, it appears the San Diego Supervisors got Attorney General Bonta involved. The AG’s office sent a letter Friday to Mayor Bill Wells and City Council members, appearing to be based solely off a recent news article by the San Diego Union Tribune, and told the City to cease and desist with their 15% homeless voucher occupancy policy. The AG claims in the letter this is discrimination and a fair housing issue.
Specifically, the AG said: “discrimination based on source of income is a civil right.”
Are the homeless transients now a protected class in California?
The Attorney General says:
“FEHA prohibits discrimination based on membership in a protected class, including but not limited to race, color, age, national origin, disability, medical conditions, or military or veteran status. It is unlawful for a governmental entity to engage in a land use decision that has a discriminatory effect on members of a protected class. Such actions include any practice that denies, restricts, conditions, or adversely impacts housing opportunities or privileges associated with housing opportunities.”
In another Tweet, Bonta says, “Housing discrimination will not be tolerated.”
The City and police department say the AG is overstepping, as this is not about refusing to help the homeless, but an actual serious public safety issue with the dramatically increasing crime from the homeless transients.
The Attorney General’s office said in the letter:
“The City’s actions cannot stand. The City’s conduct constitutes unlawful discrimination in direct contravention of the Fair Employment and Housing Act. Our office hereby demands that the City immediately (1) rescind the warning notices, (2) agree to refrain from issuing such notices in the future, (3) publicly state that hotels will not be subjected to adverse action from the City for accepting such vouchers and (4) order its law enforcement officers to immediately cease any unlawful harassment of hotel guests at participating hotels.”
Such an interesting choice of language: the homeless transients are now “hotel guests” at participating hotels.
The City of El Cajon’s threats to local hotels are a clear violation of the law, and the City must immediately reverse course or face legal consequences. https://t.co/a3J5IN1KLq
— Rob Bonta (@AGRobBonta) September 24, 2022
A woman replied to the AG, “And somehow you think it is legal to force businesses to house the homeless? You and the state need to come up with a better solution. You have had years to deal with this problem and have failed.”
The concern the City Manager and Police Chief have is that the County of San Diego’s homeless motel voucher places an unfair burden on the City of El Cajon. San Diego County identified 18 motels county-wide participating in the voucher program – eight of them, 44%, are located in El Cajon, City Manager Mitchell said… again, their population is 105,000.
San Diego County Supervisor Joel Anderson tweeted information about cities in San Diego County participating in the hotel voucher program:
Hotels and motels in the City of San Diego
(4), the City of Chula Vista (2), the City of
Escondido (2), the City of Santee (1), and
the City of Vista (1) have chosen to
The Globe looked up the participating cities and found:
The city of San Diego has a population of 1.4 Million, and has 4 motels in the homeless voucher motel program. It is also the largest city in the county.
El Cajon with its 105,000 residents, has 8 motels in the county homeless voucher motel program.
The city of Chula Vista, the second largest city in the county, has a population of 268,779 and 2 homeless voucher motels.
Escondido has a population of 150,396 and has 2 homeless voucher motels.
Santee has a population of 57,407 and has 1 homeless voucher motel.
Vista has a population of 100,659 and has 1 homeless voucher motel.
Notably, the majority of the 18 cities in San Diego County have no homeless voucher participating motels – it appears only 5 cities in San Diego County are participating in the homeless motel voucher program.
The County’s program concentrates and segregates homeless collected from throughout the County into a 3 square mile area in the heart of El Cajon.
City Manager Mitchell said El Cajon already does a lot to solve homelessness:
In past 2.5 years – over 800 people were provided permanent housing.
They have a Pilot program called “A Way Back Home,” which is now operated Countywide by the Salvation Army. They are one of the first cities to bring on a homeless housing navigator.
Mitchell said the City supports one of the longest-standing homeless shelters in the County.
Through the programs supported by the City and the County’s motel voucher program, based on the 2022 Point-in-Time Count, there were 1,123 sheltered homeless in El Cajon. Looking at this from a per capita perspective, this is 10.9 sheltered homeless per 1,000 El Cajon residents (this compares to San Diego’s per capita rate of 1.6).
El Cajon expressed concern to County staff that the County’s contractor fails to effectively vet criminals from the program, and once they are placed, they do very little to ensure the safety of the participants or El Cajon residents.
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