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Barrio Logan Site Rejected for Homeless : Government: Bowing to demands of residents, Planning Commission votes against a proposed $4-million shelter for women and children.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Handing residents of a minority community a rare political victory, the San Diego Planning Commission turned down a bid Thursday by the San Diego Rescue Mission to build a center for homeless women and children in Barrio Logan.

The commission’s 4-3 vote surprised even some leaders of a community group formed to block what even opponents viewed as an altruistic attempt to do something about the city’s growing problem of homeless women and children living on the streets.

However, the commission majority agreed with Barrio Logan residents that, for a variety of reasons, their community was not the right place for such a shelter.

Officials from the Rescue Mission vowed to appeal the decision to the City Council.

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Soon after plans for the shelter were announced, Barrio Logan residents rallied to oppose the $4-million, 130-bed Rachel Grosvenor Family Center planned at 16th Street and National Avenue. The site was purchased with the aid of a $1-million donation from Judson and Rachel Grosvenor, members of a prominent San Diego family.

Barrio Logan residents, who are mostly Latino, accusing city officials of dumping social service facilities in their community, vowed to defeat the proposed center. They organized a group called the Concerned Citizens for Safe Neighborhoods and began cataloguing the number of facilities in their community.

Using data provided by the city Planning Department, opponents showed there were 189 residential-care facilities for the homeless, parolees, drug offenders, battered women and others in San Diego. Of these, 84--almost half--are in Barrio Logan and Southeast San Diego.

Local residents charged that opening another such facility would lead to an increase in crime in their community, which already has one of the highest crime rates in the city.

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On Thursday, some commissioners agreed that Barrio Logan was overloaded with such facilities and voted to deny the Rescue Mission’s request for a permit to operate the Grosvenor Center.

After the vote, Al Ducheny, a community leader who opposed the center, walked around the packed City Council chambers, where the commission meeting was held, hugging allies and saying, “We did it.”

Al Busse, director of development for the San Diego Rescue Mission, angrily criticized the commission’s action: “We think it was rank discrimination against women, period. That’s how we see it.”

Barrio Logan, with about 3,000 residents, is one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. It was built in an area that includes commercial, industrial and residential lots that often sit side by side.

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Commissioners also expressed concern over the center’s location, which lies in an industrial area said to be contaminated by toxic chemicals. In fact, the cavernous warehouse being renovated for the center previously housed a toxics treatment facility.

An attorney representing the owners of a petroleum tank farm across the street urged the commission to reject the permit out of liability concerns for her clients. The property’s owner, Graybill Terminals, is cleaning the huge tanks, which are no longer used, said attorney Franne M. Ficara.

Until the cleanup is completed, in at least two years, Graybill fears that an explosion or other disaster could endanger the women and children who would live in the shelter, Ficara said.

“Our feeling is not that it (center) shouldn’t go there, but that putting it there now is premature,” Ficara said.

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Commissioner Tom La Vaut, who opposed the center, expressed concern that hazardous wastes on properties near the site would pose a danger to women and children living at the center.

“Proponents would not be placing cattle and sheep there . . . . I can’t believe any group of sensitive human beings would want to place women and children in an area surrounded by hazardous wastes,” La Vaut said.

Commissioner Ralph Pesqueira, who supported the center, denounced opponents’ claims that hazardous wastes in the area posed a threat to the Grosvenor Center.

“Hazardous waste is nothing but a smoke screen,” Pesqueira said.

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Busse also complained that the environmental concerns raised by La Vaut were “a false issue.”

Rescue Mission officials told commissioners Thursday that soil samples of the property showed there is no significant problem with hazardous wastes. However, they conceded that there is some pollution near the surface, which they said will be cleaned up by scraping the ground to a depth of 6 inches.

Commissioners who opposed the homeless center agreed it is sorely needed, but each said that Barrio Logan is not the place to put it.

Commissioners Lynn Benn and Chris Calkins sided with Barrio Logan residents and said the community already has enough residential-care facilities.

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“The impact on the community is great,” Benn said. “I don’t think there should be a concentration in any one area . . . . It’s an unfair burden to the community. There should be an effort to distribute these facilities more equitably.”

Calkins said he would prefer to see the center in Point Loma, where he lives, or in La Jolla. He challenged the City Council to muster some political courage and distribute such centers equitably throughout the city.

Pesqueira pleaded that the privately run center is desperately needed to help the city cope with the growing problem of homeless women and children. He accused opponents of the project of turning their backs on the homeless.

As for putting the center in Barrio Logan, Pesqueira said that is where the homeless are.

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“Homeless people tend to congregate with each other,” Pesqueira said.

This brought a sharp rebuke from Calkins, who said the homeless are “thrust together by those of us who want to avoid them.”

Busse said the Rescue Mission will appeal the Planning Commission’s decision today to the City Council, which is expected to make the final decision.


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