Developer pulls fairgrounds housing proposal for homeless vets
Community opposition too steep, developer says
A proposal to place temporary housing for homeless veterans at the Del Mar Fairgrounds has been withdrawn because of widespread community opposition to the idea, one of the partners in the project said this week.
“We’re not going to do anything,” said Jeffrey Pink of Fixx Solutions, LLC. “There was so much opposition .... we just put it on the back burner.”
Pink presented the plan earlier this year to the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which runs the state-owned fairgrounds. The fairgrounds board of directors agreed to look into the idea as a way to address the regional homeless issue and provide a much-needed source of revenue during the ongoing financial crisis.
Even though Fixx has withdrawn, fairgrounds employees will continue to review “the overall concept of temporary housing at district-owned properties,” Jennifer Hellman, the fairgrounds marketing director, said Wednesday, Aug. 5. A report on their progress will be presented at the board’s regular meeting next Tuesday, Aug. 11.
Details of the Fixx plan were never settled, but the initial proposal called for 200 to 1,000 or more ready-to-occupy, modular units to be installed on fairgrounds property. The operator would provide security, counseling and other services to help the occupants transition to permanent homes.
The most likely site appeared to be the Del Mar Horsepark on El Camino Real, a few miles east of the fairgrounds. Another possible location was the fairgrounds recreational vehicle area on Jimmy Durante Boulevard.
Nearby residents who learned of the plan opposed it, and many signed petitions and wrote letters to the board.
They said the close living quarters with shared spaces would be unsafe during the pandemic, that the site has no nearby markets or other services residents would need, and no easy access to public transportation. They also questioned Pink’s background, which includes a bankruptcy in 2009, several financial judgments against him and no previous experience in operating homeless shelters.
“Nobody searched his background,” said Erwin Shustak, an attorney and president of the 125-home Rancho Del Mar community.
“I’m very concerned,” Shustak said Wednesday, Aug. 5. “Who’s watching the store? Why would they even engage in discussions with somebody who has that kind of a background.”
He and the residents of his community don’t oppose housing the homeless, he said. But they believe the fairgrounds, which has been home to horses and other livestock for generations, is not a clean, convenient or appropriate location for large numbers of humans, many of whom need special services.
Some Del Mar fair board members saw the housing proposal as a possible source of much-needed revenue, which would come from leasing property to the operators of the housing program.
Pink said Tuesday, Aug. 4, that his opponents “didn’t give us a chance.” The goal of the project is to help homeless people get back on their feet, he said, and “it’s a sad thing” that it didn’t work out.
“The homeless people we want to help are the ones who want to help themselves,” Pink said. “These are the homeless people who are looking for jobs, people who are responsible.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom suggested in his State of the State address in February that state-owned properties such as the fairgrounds could be leased to local governments for shelters or other homeless services.
Since then, the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down county fairs and other large gatherings, which provide nearly all of the revenue for the 22nd DAA and most other state-run fairgrounds. The Del Mar fair expects a 90 percent drop in revenue this year, and plans to lay off nearly 60 percent of its full-time staff in October.
Among other innovative revenue ideas, the fairgrounds leased its parking lot to rental car companies to store their surplus inventory in the spring. This summer a growing number of concessionaires have sold fair foods, from grilled turkey legs to kettle corn and funnel cakes, to drive through-customers.
— Phil Diehl is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune
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