By LAURA RIEBAU
On Jan. 21, the El Cerrito Community Council (ECCC) voted overwhelmingly against a proposed mixed-use project by Family Health Centers of San Diego (FHC) for the north side of El Cajon Boulevard between Dayton and 55th Streets. The vote of 72 residents was 58 against and 14 in favor. FHC introduced the project to the community in November 2020 and followed with a design review presentation at the College Area Planning Committee meeting on January 13 of this year.
A summary of the comments on the development is that community members want El Cerrito to be preserved, improved and allowed to flourish, not be diminished by the too tall, eight stories, towering over and shadowing existing one- and two-story homes surrounding the site; streets congested by inadequate ingress and egress to parking and not enough parking spaces for its uses, forcing surrounding residential streets to continue to be impacted by FHC personnel and patient parking needs; collectively, significantly harming the community’s quality of life.
In order to be an economically viable community in the city, El Cerrito will be best served by new development that meets good design guidelines, compliments the surrounding development and is priced for working class income levels, providing inclusionary low-income housing. El Cerrito is one of the more affordable areas in San Diego and has its fair share of low-income housing. Efforts of the College Area Business District to create an enjoyable, safe, walkable main street with great destination restaurants and businesses along El Cajon Boulevard have been working. The proposed FHC development will be a setback.
FHC has been vague on its future tenants. Review of FHC comments and its business lends credence to thought that the 120 “low income” units will be institutional housing for the neighboring FHC Health Center by bundling homeless housing and health care side by side, as expressed by FHC’s goal to eliminate homelessness by ensuring health care and secure housing for everyone, (fhcsd.org/homeless-services), its participation with National Health Care for the Homeless Council (nhchc.org/family-health-centers-of-san-diego) and language and structure used in presentations that duplicates a March 2014 report prepared by John Snow, Inc. entitled “National Approaches to Whole-Person Care in the Safety Net” for review at bit.ly/3t0084r.
One suggestion for the building to fit into the neighborhood is to reduce it to four stories above ground for offices and the 42 living units for medical residents and keep the parking.
FHC contends that they can build as high as they wish and without parking because El Cajon Boulevard, without planning, infrastructure or anything more than a bus line, has been deemed to be a “transit corridor” in a cart-before-the-horse situation. Any development should still be required to meet design guidelines and since this will likely be institutional housing, at a minimum, a Conditional Use Permit should be required.
The ECCC vote was against the proposed FHC development, not against the work FHC does. At each meeting residents voiced the importance to finding solutions to homeless and low income housing needs. But preservation and improvement of the El Cerrito neighborhood is at least equally as important as housing the homeless. Homeless housing, particularly when it is synced with healthcare, should not be considered a residential use for zoning purposes and not built as vast buildings in residential areas where it will bust a neighborhood.
A few years ago, City Council representatives agreed to allocate homeless housing citywide. The Convention Center shelter is closing and Horton Plaza’s homeless population is being shifted from the Downtown site. The 2021 homeless count was cancelled, but is likely close to the 2020 number of over 7,500.
No San Diego neighborhood will want institutional homeless housing built next to where it recreates or directly next to existing homes ruining the enjoyment of the community, so real planning for all nine districts should be done soon.
— Laura Riebau is chair of the El Cerrito Community Council.