Note: Heads up! Right before we went to press we were told the Cal Expo Board of Directors will take this up on their agenda on Sept. 22nd. Stay tuned for more info, meeting location, time, etc.
Can the “Homeless Issue” be solved without compromising our businesses and residential communities? That's a central issue that's challenging the Mayor of Sacramento's cozy arrangement with the Governor of California to place 350 tiny homes at Cal Expo's Lot H, across the street from unincorporated Arden Arcade. As you may recall, back in March the Governor said the state would pay for 1200 tiny homes on "surplus state land". According to the Governor's office, Sacramento would receive 350 homes, Los Angeles would get get 500, San Jose would receive 200 and San Diego County would get 150. Well, paying for the infrastructure is one thing, operating a tiny home village is another. Here we are 4 months after the announcement and nothing has happened so far. This raises some questions about whether the proposal is just another nice-sounding talking point or something real.
By now, it is fairly obvious that there has been a disconnect between Mayor Steinberg's talking and reality. Before Mr. Steinberg was the Mayor of the City of Sacramento he was the Speaker Pro Tem of the state Senate, where he was used to snapping his fingers to get stuff done. That might work for something like naming an overpass after a heroic Highway Patrol Officer, but it isn't the best way to solve a thoroughly complicated problem like "getting the homeless off the streets". A successful "tiny homes" village involves a whole lot of moving parts, all of which have to function together seamlessly such that the residents can move on to permanent housing without backsliding or draining the public coffers. On the other hand, a "Steiny Homes" village is successful if the infrastructure is built as far from the City of Sacramento's voters as possible, such that the operational deficiencies are off radar for the city's residents and the media. By smooth-talking the Governor's Office into building a large "Steiny Home" village at Cal Expo, Mr. Steinberg is reprising his city's failures at the Auburn Blvd. Respite Center. The City of Sacramento did not think things through at the Auburn Blvd. facility and appears to be doing the same thing at Cal Expo.
For starters, consider the environmental factors at the Cal Expo site. Lot H at Cal Expo adjoins the stables and has no shade. It is environmentally unsuitable for habitation. Anyone who has spent time around horses, livestock or a 4-H project can attest to the issues of flying insects and odors that are part of the landscape. Tiny Home projects across the state are experiencing difficulty encouraging unhoused populations to take advantage of those shelters. To make the "Steiny Home" units more attractive will Mayor Steinberg furnish fly swatters and plug-in air fresheners as standard equipment? Meanwhile, the Governor's Office has already stated that, though all of the homes will be wired for electricity, not all will have a heating and cooling system. It can get very cold at Cal Expo in the winter and threateningly hot in the summer, particularly given the lack of shade trees. It's not clear that there are adequate funds for the HVAC challenges - installation, operations and maintenance - at Cal Expo.
The Cal Expo facility will not be a prison, nor will its residents be "inmates". People who live there will be free to come and go as they would from any other residence. Where will they go to get away from the flies, the heat and the otherwise stark environment at the "Steiny Homes"? Howe 'bout Arden, Howe and Hurley, Howe and Hallmark, Arden and Howe, Encina H.S., the American River Parkway? We just don't know. What we DO know is that nobody has said an official word about that, because there is NO PLAN for operations and NO OPERATOR has been designated. All we know is the Mayor has cooked a deal with the Governor to, "...humanely move people from encampments to shelter." You can bet the residents will not stay in the little buildings 24x7. They will be out and about in the community. The County has hastily installed mid-street fencing and cobblestones in some places to discourage panhandling at center islands. Will more of that have to be installed? Who will pay for that? Is that what we want our community to look like? Will the panhandling shift to nearby business complexes and residences? None of those questions have been answered - or even addressed.
Cal Expo is public land with a specific purpose. It is not "surplus state land", it is a vital component of our evolving region. It was established as a place to celebrate California’s achievements, agriculture, diversity of its people, traditions and trends that will shape the Golden State’s future. Cal Expo's mission is to create a State Fair experience reflecting California, including its industries, agriculture, and diversity of its people, traditions and trends shaping its future supported by year-round events. It is an ongoing economic engine for our region. County Supervisors and the Arden Arcade business community have been encouraging interest in developing a movie production facility, campus support facilities for Sac State, and a sports complex at Cal Expo. A "Steiny Homes" village on Lot H would surely kill any opportunity for business development and job growth there and in the surrounding area.
The Mayor of Sacramento and his City Council seem to be driven primarily by politics when it comes to dealing with their homeless population. The welfare of the population that they are trying to help doesn't appear to be part of the site selection process. They have been pushing the solutions as far away from their voters as possible, oblivious to and/or unconcerned about impacts on our unincorporated area. The respite center/shelter in Del Paso Park has been a disaster; Cal Expo is a similarly unsuitable place for a homeless shelter.
Cal Expo is and should remain a community experience. It defeats its purpose if it is used as a homeless shelter, especially a shelter with no plan of operations. It is not appropriate for the City of Sacramento to use Cal Expo as yet another place to fumble and stumble into a fake homelessness "solution" for their Mayor to crow about at a city council meeting. Homelessness is a serious issue for our region and our community that cries out for cooperation. Failure is almost a guarantee if an individual's agenda or one city's interests get to tromp all over everyone else. Projects won't work if they are hastily conceived and half-baked like the "Steiny Homes". Mayor Steinberg and his City Council ought to consider ALL the necessary factors, not just the ones that garner media attention. Progress can happen if the state and local governments work together in partnership with businesses and residents. Instead of "Steiny Homes", the City of Sacramento has to start working with - not against - the County, our businesses and our residential communities to solve, rather than exacerbate, the “Homeless Issue”.