Thursday, December 4, 2008

Concord leaders debating homeless accommodations on weapons station land

CONCORD — City leaders are debating how to accommodate some of the county's homeless population on the shuttered Concord Naval Weapons Station.

City Council members are trying to decide whether Concord should put $25 million into a trust for homeless services and housing throughout the county, or instead approve a plan for 260 "homeless" housing units on the former military base. The federal government, through its base closure laws, requires that communities overseeing a base closure dedicate part of the land or money made off it to homeless causes.

Amie Fishman of East Bay Housing Organizations told the City Council on Monday she favors the "homeless" units be spread among 12,000 units of proposed affordable housing units on the base.

"This doesn't serve the entire need countywide, but it puts a dent in the need," she said, noting that homeless people should be able to stay in the units until they can get on their feet, with no stringent time limits.

"We urge you to not settle for $25 million," Fishman said.

A trust, regardless of how much goes into it, would be funded through development.

The cost for housing and services at the base will likely be around $78 million, including construction, operation and maintenance over two decades. Of that total, $23 million would go to building the 260 units.

Councilman Mark Peterson said he liked the idea of a large food bank on weapons station land, and an employment Advertisementcenter to help the homeless in their job searches. Others liked that idea, too.

"We're struggling with whether to build actual housing units versus a trust fund," he said. "We're trying to figure out the best use of money. I just need more information before making a decision. How many families would be supported by the units versus (by) the money?

"My gut reaction is that the trust fund is a better way to approach it because it's immediate, rather than five or 10 years out," he said. "And we're not only meeting needs in Concord, but in Clayton, Martinez, Walnut Creek and Pittsburg. Do 260 units really meet the needs in all those places?

"Yet we have the experts here telling us that people only stop being homeless if they have permanent housing, so I'd just like more information."

There are about 4,000 homeless people countywide, and in a given year 10,000 to 12,000 utilize services offered by soup kitchens, food banks or the like, said Councilman Bill Shinn.

"We have to be careful when we talk about the homeless — they're not under bridges and peeing on trees," he said. "That's a stereotype."

Shinn said he liked the idea of a trust fund, but wanted to make sure $25 million, which is the staff recommendation, would be enough money.

Councilman Guy Bjerke said he supports the trust fund idea because it would bring relief as early as 2010, which is when the Navy is expected to transfer the land.

"But I also know that when homeless housing providers are competing for land in the open market, they generally lose," said Bjerke. But this land might be had at a discount or even for free, he said, through the federal base closure process.

"Simply giving them money doesn't give them an advantage in the free market. But I also recognize that more often than not, development tends to produce one-time dollars (developer fees) at a point of sale but it doesn't generate ongoing revenue. So I struggle with the concept of moving forward with a project that has ongoing (maintenance and operation) expenses. We need to figure out a way to meet those ongoing obligations."

Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister also said she liked the trust fund idea, but perhaps balancing that with some standard housing out on the base.

"It's a balancing of needs with other development opportunities," she said.

"If we say great, we're going to build all these units out there, then maybe we don't get as much open space as we wanted. All these things are trade-offs — we can't just keep piling up out there."

  • Housing starts stronger in May
  • Teck-Cominco bids for Fording Canadian Coal Trust
  • Advocates want guarantees for affordable housing on weapons station land
  • Concord Council to take up Naval Weapons Station plans

  • Housing starts stronger in May
  • Teck-Cominco bids for Fording Canadian Coal Trust
  • Advocates want guarantees for affordable housing on weapons station land
  • Concord Council to take up Naval Weapons Station plans