Salvaging an ill-advised housing project


LISA ROSS
ROSS is a member of the Carmel Valley Planning Board.

04-May-1995 Thursday

The issue of low-cost housing -- specifically Carmel Valley's $6.5 million
project -- may be one many of us would rather just go away. But it won't,
and there are important concerns of community control and wasted tax
dollars that cry out to be addressed.

With the project scheduled to open in June and many Carmel Valley residents
wanting their concerns addressed, many of our City Council members had
hoped the project would open without notice, and the new residents would go
about their business quietly, basking in the same radiant sun as the rest
of Carmel Valley.

I can't speak for San Diego city officials, whose historic failure to
seriously listen to Carmel Valley residents appears to be set in stone as
public policy, but I can speak in the spirit of those around me.

I grew up in a tradition of tolerance and unabashed liberalism. Jewish
family values center around justice and social conscience-Mitzvah. I lived
and worked in the inner city and the barrios of Los Angeles for 12 years
before gangs laid claim to those communities. And I have been a single
parent desperately looking for affordable housing in a good school
district.

My heart could support this project, which appears to have all the elements
to succeed. Although many disagree, the Rob Quigley architecture is
imaginative. On paper, the San Diego Housing Commission sets strict
management standards and applies a careful resident-selection procedure. On
the other hand, a reasonable person might wonder what Habitat for Humanity
could do with $6 million. With 30,000 people on the Housing Commission's
waiting list, a 47-unit project seems like a boggling waste of resources.

Seeking answers, I attended a Carmel Valley community forum in March with
no particular point of view. Any notion of the utter stupidity of this
project was confirmed at that forum, where Councilman Harry Mathis and four
members of the Housing Commission tried to placate an angry crowd. The
commission, with 240 staff members, oversees an annual public housing
budget of $93 million.

Facing veterans of the San Diego political establishment, Carmel Valley
residents have fought humiliating losing battles against a freeway
splitting their community, and a community plan change allowing an
inappropriately placed shopping center.

They have repeatedly asked the City Council for unrealized parks as
population densities dramatically increase. In 1988, planning board members
asked the council to reconsider this high-sticker, low-cost housing project
to no avail.

Predictably, the March forum was a colossal flop. The Housing Commission
came with no solutions, just assurances that they run a tight ship. But the
real question remains: When their agency disappears, which it most
assuredly will in a world of government cutbacks, who will keep this
project afloat? The community will be left with the responsibility and the
consequences.

If it were up to me, I would sell the project at fair market value. The
money could be used for housing vouchers, granting low-income families the
dignity of choosing where to live as integrated members of a community. Or,
following Councilman George Stevens' advice, use the money to help people
in his district buy their own homes, stabilizing a community that
desperately needs attention.

Short of the more efficient and humane notions bureaucracies eschew, I
offer the following to the Housing Commission for the Carmel Valley
project.

Form a citizens' advisory committee from Carmel Valley to work in a
meaningful way on all aspects of the project, including resident selection
and management. Tap your real experts, the people who live in the
community.

Give first priority to low-income families who have worked in Carmel
Valley for at least a year. They are already involved in the community.
Physically challenged people should also be given priority, since
wheelchair-accessible housing like this is in short supply.

Install parking shelters in the project. The current plan has no
sheltered parking, a potential attraction for vandalism.

Appoint a project representative to the Carmel Valley Planning Board in
a nonvoting role. Participation would involve residents in the future of
Carmel Valley.

Carmel Valley residents will likely face loud and angry criticism in
upcoming weeks for their opposition to this ill-conceived project. The
issue is as much about community control as it is about a lot of wasted
dollars. One wonders when the San Diego City Council is going to get the
message.


Copyright Union-Tribune Publishing Co.