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Housing Panel Balks at Criticism : Poor Performance Reports Spur Move to Revamp Reviews

Times Staff Writer

The San Diego Housing Commission is ending the practice of annual internal performance reviews after the studies have twice embarrassed officials by showing how few new low-income units have been created for the city’s burgeoning population.

The move by commission chairman Ron Roberts surfaced late last week in a memo placing it on the agenda for this morning’s commission meeting as an “information item” not requiring a vote.

Roberts, a city councilman who has chaired the commission since January, said the second and most recent critical report by the city Planning Department “was out of sync and out of date” and that a new evaluation method will be established.

‘We Need New Goals’

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“They were not in sync at all over what the Housing Commission was supposed to be doing and what they did,” Roberts said. “We need new goals, and I want to have stronger control over what’s happening.”

The reviews began two years ago, when the City Council was gradually reasserting control over the commission amid charges of sweetheart development deals and wide-ranging mismanagement.

The council created the review process to evaluate the effectiveness of the city in carrying out its master housing plan, known as the Housing Element. In a later move, Mayor Maureen O’Connor replaced five of the seven appointed commissioners with City Council members. The reviews are drafted by the city’s Planning Department and given to the Housing Commission to guide its programs toward fulfilling the Housing Element objectives.

In the past, the reviews have brought negative publicity to bear on commission policies and have been a soapbox for many of the commission’s critics.

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The first two reviews lauded city successes in some areas, including the construction of moderate-income housing. But the evaluations also sharply criticized the slow progress in low-income housing.

For example, the June, 1988, review, covering the period from July 1, 1986, to June 30, 1987, concluded that with an annual growth need of 4,167 low-income affordable housing units, the city produced only 268 units, or 6%.

That total was less than 2% of the record 15,435 new units created with government help in the city that year, the review pointed out.

Low-Cost Housing Need

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The 83-page review urged the city to assist in the creation of more low-cost housing.

“Most of the city housing programs, and particularly the Housing Commission programs, were directed toward moderate-income affordable housing,” the report said.

“The city has not been effective in providing an adequate supply of low-income affordable housing units.

“The emphasis on moderate-income new housing construction should again be directed to include more lower- income new housing instruction, to more equitably address the housing needs for all income groups in San Diego.”

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Commission staffers indicated late last week that the commission will not formally adopt the June, 1988, review, and Roberts said an undetermined new method of evaluation with greater commission input will be established.

Commission staff members argue that the Planning Department reviews are flawed for several reasons. They said the reviews do not measure housing cost decreases or private sector construction that is not assisted with public funding, do not offer explanations--such as federal cutbacks--for the failure to meet some goals, and get published too late to be of much help.

Roberts said the current report covers a time period in which the Housing Commission was directed by Ben Montijo, who later left under a cloud of allegations about mismanagement. Roberts said it was unfair to measure the commission today by those past problems.

“I haven’t felt the need to go back and fight all yesterday’s battles,” Roberts said.

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Others Not Happy

Others responded angrily to the memo outlining the discontinuation of the current review process.

“They’re saying, ‘Don’t do any more reviews and people won’t know what a lousy job we’re doing,”’ said Mel Shapiro, a member of the Housing Coalition of San Diego, a private nonprofit advocacy group.

“Roberts is obviously displeased with the review of his commission.”

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Shapiro said he will protest the move at today’s 9 a.m. meeting at City Hall. While the commission may not have to vote on the discontinuation, Shapiro questioned whether the reviews could legally be canceled without a vote of the City Council, which established them.

Asked about the legality of the move, Roberts said, “I don’t know if I know the answer to that. We’ll probably have to take a good look at that. I certainly didn’t do it with the intention of violating council policy. No one called attention to that.”

Judith Lenthall, who as the city’s senior planner drafted both reviews, said she has been instructed to cancel work on the 1987-88 review and concentrate on revising the overall Housing Element to incorporate whichever growth management ballot proposition passes in November, if any.

She suggested that future evaluations could be incorporated into broader growth management reports. “We’ll be missing a few years in between,” she said.

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Planning and housing officials said that from now on, housing staff members will have greater input in working with planning to evaluate the success of housing’s 90-odd public assistance programs.

“The rules have been changed because there’s been a lot of friction and animosity between planning and housing, said Paul Grasso, an aide to Roberts. “More people will be able to participate in the process of preparing the reports.”

“The rules would have changed anyway” if a slow-growth measure passed, he said.

Grasso said that planning’s criticisms are “blatantly unfair” and counterproductive, since they generated bad press about the need for housing the city’s poor.

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“Every time a negative article appears, it reinforces in the minds of communities that they don’t want that kind of housing there,” he said.

Planning Director Robert Spaulding said scrapping the present evaluations and bringing in housing staff to help review their own work might look bad to the public.

“I was aware there was the possibility of being open to criticism for the gap in information and for talking about the reports with housing,” he said.

“But for me it was worth the risk.”

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“The only way we can be accurate is to understand what’s being accomplished. The only way is to sit down with them,” he said. “We are going to include housing in the formatting and summaries and in making the review more workable and current.”

“There is no effort at all to play down the fact that we need to be focusing more on low-income housing. We brought that need up. It’s a matter of needing to be complete.”

‘False Impressions’

But Steven L. Mikelman, the Housing Commission staff member responsible for coordinating assistance with the planning reviews, criticized the present format in stronger terms.

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“It is inaccurate,” he said. “The conclusions are inaccurate. The information in the text is not accurately reflected in the summary, and it gives false impressions.

“I think we all realize the importance of effective and regularly scheduled ongoing evaluations. We subscribe to that. What we’re trying to do now is create a (new Housing Element) document that lends itself to effective evaluation,” he said.

Lenthall, the senior planner, said the Housing Commission wanted the reviews to pay more attention to positive developments. “The Housing Commission wants us to say we (the city) made progress toward low-income housing goals,” she said.

“I don’t have any problem in saying things are happening.

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“But the bottom line, as to whether the macro situation is improving, is doubtful. The problem is getting worse, not better.”


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