By: Ridgeway Woulfe
Homelessness is an issue which is troublingly affecting all parts of San Diego’s political system at the moment. Special meetings and discussion forums are held, tent cities are erected, and city sidewalks are bleached. Many concerns are voiced about a city’s ability to address homelessness. One concern, however, stands out amongst the others because of how many ways there are to alleviate it: there is not enough money to properly implement solutions to homelessness.
San Diego has the fourth most homeless people of all American cities. Each of the top three – New York City, Los Angeles, and Seattle – have taken major steps to get the funding needed to properly address their homeless crises. New York allocated $300 million to building and renovating shelters. Los Angeles passed a sales tax referendum which is said to provide $355 million in annual funds for homelessness. In Seattle, the mayor has proposed a property tax hike that would provide for $275 million in homeless funding over five years.
Here in the city of San Diego, the annual budget to address homelessness is 1.9 million for shelters. Beyond little other funding at the city level (the County’s budget is far greater). To the Mayor’s credit, he is seeking to increase funding for homelessness through a special election to increase the Transient Occupancy Tax (or “TOT” or “hotel tax”). To his discredit, and with far more emphasis on discredit than on credit, the proposed method does little to address concerns regarding homelessness or any other piece of the equation.
The Mayor’s proposal starts with a good idea. Though the Chargers’ ‘convadium’ plan failed, it did establish that San Diego’s TOT has room to expand without sacrificing tourism income or becoming the highest TOT in country. The convadium proposal would have required a 4% city-wide TOT increase to fund a billionaire’s football stadium (and a Comic Con angering convention center). It is the right idea to use an increase to the TOT to fund public projects.
The mayor’s proposal is flawed because it is both overly ambitious and under-ambitious at the same time. In spite of polling which demonstrates that the majority of San Diegans prefer referendums which involve a singular cause, the Mayor has proposed a TOT increase to fund 3 public projects: convention center renovation, street repair, and homelessness. That is the overly ambitious portion, as it will be hard-pressed to receive the requisite 2/3 vote from San Diegans. On the under-ambitious side, the plan does not request enough funding to properly support any of the three causes. The plan divides San Diego into 3 zones for TOT purposes, each with a different percentage increase to the TOT. The highest increased zone would be limited to 3% to fund all of the projects. That simply will not provide the funding needed.
PIAC developed its own proposal before the Mayor announced his, and we waited to learn more about the plan and its reception in the community. As the proposal could not receive approval by City Council to be placed on a special election ballot, PIAC now reveals the PIAC Plan for the TOT. The plan is intentionally simplistic: a city-wide TOT increase of 2%, all to fund homelessness.
The PIAC Plan would create an estimated $40 million of funding toward homelessness. This would remove the City’s complete reliance on the County and charitable organizations to address homelessness and demonstrate a proper commitment to addressing the issue. With only 2% being committed to homelessness, half of the increase from the Chargers’ plan could still be available to address other public needs. The extra 2% could be divided in whatever manner on separate referendums, allowing San Diego’s commitment to addressing homelessness to stand on its own.
These funds could be used in countless ways, and it is not worth dividing a supportive group by dissecting the potential uses. One funding recipient that would be critical, however, is to create a city-governmental office to manage the funds and coordinate the city’s plans regarding homelessness with charitable organizations; private interests; and regional, state, and federal governments. By creating such an office, not only could the city create efficient systems for addressing the issue, but the office could dedicate efforts towards receiving additional funds, such as by federal grants.
San Diego has arrived as a major American city, and it needs to take the actions of one. Creating a proper office and funding stream to address homelessness is a needed step. It will improve the tourism industry, which has suffered due to the visible suffering of the homeless; help improve the economy and property rates that have suffered from the crisis; improve the City’s public health; improve the lives of the San Diegans currently suffering from homelessness; and prevent San Diegans from becoming homeless in the future. The PIAC Plan creates a simplistic route to a proper revenue stream in order to appropriately address homelessness.