, June 24, 2022

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Vallejo moves forward with housing project despite objections from American Canyon

  •   5 min reads
Vallejo moves forward with housing project despite objections from American Canyon
A vacant lot on Broadway next to the American Canyon Dog Park is the proposed site for a new Project HomeKey homeless housing project.

VALLEJO – Vallejo’s plan to build a 48-unit permanent supportive housing project was met with resistance by the city of American Canyon which sent a letter hours before Tuesday’s special Vallejo City Council meeting claiming Vallejo violated the state’s open meeting law.

Despite American Canyon’s concerns, the council voted 5-1, with District 6 councilmember Cristina Arriola opposed, to formally accept more than $12 million in state funds to build the housing project in North Vallejo near the border with American Canyon. Vallejo was one of five municipalities recently awarded HomeKey funds, a $1.45 billion program to house people without shelter or at risk of experiencing homelessness.

The council is expected to get another look at the project following the submission of the official application.

American Canyon claimed in its letter that Vallejo violated the Brown Act, the state’s open meeting law, when it failed to provide sufficient information as to what action the council was being asked to do.

“The agenda references the acceptance of a grant, but nothing on a large-scale transitional housing project for homeless individuals,” wrote American Canyon City Attorney William D. Ross. “The location of the Project is not set forth in the Agenda, but rather a City financial action with respect to a grant.”

Randy Risner, Vallejo’s chief assistant city attorney, disputed that claim during the meeting, arguing Vallejo properly noticed the agenda item, in which the council was asked to accept the grant money and amend the city’s budget to recognize the revenue.

American Canyon also disputed the city’s interpretation regarding environmental review of the project. Vallejo claims that projects funded by Project HomeKey are exempt from review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). CEQA review provides government officials and the public with information about the possible environmental impacts of a proposed project.

Assistant City Manager Gillian Hayes told the council that the state created the CEQA exemption in order to fast-track new supportive housing developments. “It’s something the state is mandating because of the need for housing,” she said.

However, American Canyon disagreed with that stance, stating Vallejo’s staff report was “unclear as to whether there is substantial evidence supporting how Vallejo is to meet the cited factors justifying an exemption under CEQA.”

City Manager Mike Malone didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the letter from American Canyon.

Prior to council discussion, nearly 20 public speakers addressed the council. Many were American Canyon residents who lived near the site and objected to the proposed project.

“Homelessness is the norm in Vallejo and the residents are moving out of Vallejo every day because they are fed up with a lack of a pragmatic, timely and cost effective approach to the homeless carousel that exists in Vallejo,” one speaker claimed.

Others claimed that they had no idea about the project.

“I personally feel that the community is being bypassed in order to expedite this project,” said Stefan Crespo, owner of the Caps N Cork liquor store in the nearby Vallejo shopping center. Crespo said the community would be left to pick up used needles and other trash from the new housing project.

Meanwhile, Patricia Loufas-Rentschler, who owns property along Broadway Street, said the city is failing to address the growing homeless encampments along Couch Street. She said they were impacting businesses.

“These people need mental health or in jail. I think it's time for Vallejo to step up and come up with some solutions,” Loufas-Rentschler told the council. “If I find these people on my property, I’m not going to call the police anymore, I’m going to handle it myself. I’m tired of dealing with it.”

Several members of the council admonished some of the speakers after they expressed similar sentiments about unhoused people.

“I take offense to those folks who stereotype homeless people as mentally ill and criminals,” said Vice Mayor Rozzana Verder-Aliga. “That is just not true. These people need help and we, as the community, and we, as human beings, need to be compassionate.”

District 3 councilmember Mina Loera-Diaz, told the crowd that many unsheltered got there because of physical disabilities, are domestic violence survivors, or were affected by COVID-19.

“I want it to be on record that we’re talking about human beings here. These are folks that are veterans, you know the folks that go overseas and defend our liberty, that are now on the streets, ” Loera-Diaz said.  

Loera-Diaz also directed comments at the American Canyon residents that showed up to the meeting.

“People say that our city is a Dumpster, people say that our city doesn't get their act together, yet when we get $12 million people start to complain on how we are going to use [it],” she added. “I’m sorry, when I was elected, I was elected to represent the people of Vallejo.”

If built, the project would include 47 studio apartments, each about 305 square feet, with residents expected to move in around next January. The modular housing units would be supplied by Factory_OS, which is located on Mare Island.

The cost of construction per unit is $340,000. Nonprofit Shelter Inc. will serve as the service and operator of the housing unit, providing an onsite property manager who will live in the building.

Three full time case managers will be on staff and various services will be offered to the residents, including classes in computer skills, nutrition, hygiene, budgeting, stress management, and how to be a good neighbor. There will be transportation assistance and common areas for group activities. A laundry facility, office space, outdoor gathering space, and rooftop deck will also be part of the project.

Residents will be allowed to stay in their apartments without an end date, assuming they continue to pay rent, keep it clean and follow the rules, Kevin Lewis with Shelter Inc. told the council.

Officials said that the project will not have debt service and will be self-sustaining as the collected rents will fund the services and staffing provided with the project. Officials further said sex offenders wouldn’t be allowed and that prospective residents will be judged on their income, which must be 30% below the area median income, and qualified disability. All 47 units would be eligible under the city’s housing voucher program.

Hayes said the city has 1,000 unused vouchers because there isn’t enough housing.

She also said that should the project not get built, the money will be returned to the state. The grant money is tied to the housing project being built at that location on Broadway Street.

The .53-acre lot is currently owned by Richard and Emily Fisher of the nonprofit 4th Second. The couple backed a plan to place 40 7.5-foot by 7.5-foot tents and four Porta-Potties in a proposal called “Hope Village” in a church parking lot at 921 Amador St. last December.

That idea was opposed by members of the surrounding neighborhood during a special Dec. 21 city council meeting. The following week, the council was presented with additional locations for the proposed tent city, but a majority of the council expressed support for the housing voucher program instead. That program provides motel rooms and/or mobile homes in Vallejo and Vacaville for about 34 unsheltered people.

The Castro Valley nonprofit Firm Foundation Community Housing is serving as lead on the project.

Jake Medcalf, founder of Firm Foundation, said the goal is to end involuntary homelessness by providing housing plus the needed services.

“We have to provide housing. The trauma of living outdoors on an everyday basis and what it causes is just not an environment where people can recover [from],” he said.

“Every single individual who doesn’t have a home this evening has a name, has a story, they are someone’s son, or daughter, or brother, or sister,” Medcalf said.

Councilmember Hakeem Brown, at large, was absent from the meeting.

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