Concerned about safety and being saturated with residential-care programs in the city’s poorest sections, Barrio Logan residents will attempt to block the city from issuing its first permit to a prison furlough program during a hearing before the San Diego City Council today.
The Pacific Furlough Facility, an alternative sentencing house primarily for felons convicted of nonviolent crimes, is asking the council to uphold a Planning Commission decision granting it a permit and allowing it to move to larger quarters in the 2700 block of Boston Ave.
Operated by former San Diego Charger Ernie Wright, the facility is home to about 75 convicted felons who pay $17.50 a day for the right to serve their sentences outside county jails. They are allowed to travel to and from their jobs and receive visits from family members on weekends, but otherwise are confined to the facility, now located at 3046 National Ave., about four blocks from the proposed new facility.
‘How Can They Turn It Down?’
“When you look at the problems in this city about the overcrowding in the jails . . . how can they turn it down?” asked Wright, who claims to have saved taxpayers $1.8 million that would have been spent to house prisoners in jails since his facility opened in June, 1987.
“They’ve got to bite the bullet somewhere, whether it’s (Councilman Bob) Filner’s district, (Councilman Bruce) Henderson’s district or (Councilman Ed) Struiksma’s district,” he said.
A report from Wright to the city’s Planning Department shows that most of the men in his program are in for nonviolent offenses, guarded by round-the-clock security that he said will protect residents of the Barrio Logan neighborhood near the building he purchased in October.
Of the 375 people who have served time in the facility for 51 crimes, 114 have been convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs; 29 have been convicted of being under the influence of drugs and 28 have been sentenced for possessing drugs.
But seven other inmates were convicted of assault with a deadly weapon, 11 committed a “lewd or lascivious act” with a child under the age of 14, three committed robbery and one is a kidnaper.
Tests for Drug Use
The facility holds Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings six nights a week and requires inmates to submit to regular, random drug tests. Anyone caught “dirty” is sent to jail, Wright said. About 18% of the facility’s residents have been expelled at one time or another, mostly for using drugs or alcohol.
After a presidential campaign that made prison furlough programs a dirty word, Wright’s prospective neighbors are asking the council to overturn a Planning Commission decision to grant him a “conditional use permit.” Three hundred have signed a petition opposing the facility.
“We feel we have enough problems with the gangs and the drugs,” said Dolores Celia, principal of Logan Elementary School and a leader of the opposition effort. “Many of us feel we need more positive establishments in our community.”
Cal Cardiff, president of NBS Supply, which would be next door to the furlough house, said he will complain that the city lacks a consistent policy about which neighborhoods these facilities should be placed in, and opposes Pacific’s plan for a parking lot two blocks away that would require the felons to walk through the neighborhood on the way to the facility.
The parking lot would be next to senior-citizen housing planned by Barrio Station, a community organization run by Rachel Ortiz, a former drug addict who served time in jail. Barrio Station also will oppose the permit on the grounds that the facility’s nonviolent residents may have been guilty of violent crimes in the past.
Councilman Bob Filner, who represents Barrio Logan, said he is leaning toward opposing Wright’s request because the barrio and Southeast San Diego are saturated with residential facilities for the elderly, retarded, mentally ill and prisoners.
With land prices in those neighborhoods among the city’s lowest, 59 residential facilities are housed there. Five of them are prison furlough programs. According to Wright, at least nine others are situated elsewhere in San Diego, but Filner acknowledges that the city has no idea exactly how many there are.
Cited for Violations
When four of the facilities were recently cited by the city attorney’s office for zoning violations, Wright’s facility became the first to seek a permit allowing it to stay open. The others appear to have ignored the citation or are fighting it. But Wright’s decision to cooperate with the city may backfire if Filner convinces the council to block the permit.
Conceding that judges have told him that Wright’s furlough house is one of the city’s best, Filner said he will ask the city attorney’s office and the Planning Department to find other, more poorly operated, furlough programs without permits and close them. Nevertheless, he will probably oppose Wright’s request.
“We’re in a funny position here,” Filner said. “Because of the overabundance, I can’t go along with another one. But, on the other hand, testimony I’ve heard from judges is that this is one of the better ones.”
Wright has also appealed the Planning Commission decision in an attempt to reverse one section of the permit that prohibits the program from accepting people convicted of certain crimes, including assault, battery, assault with a deadly weapon, unlawful sexual intercourse with a female younger than 18, or willful cruelty to a child.