Sean McGlynn attended his first meeting of the Escondido City Council as city manager on Wednesday, July 14 (“Bastille Day” as Mayor Paul McNamara observed.)
McGlynn told the audience, “It’s been a great first couple of weeks on the job. I’m looking forward to meeting everybody, getting a chance to learn and have everybody teach me about this great community. Thank you and my heartfelt thanks moving forward.”
McNamara said, “On behalf of the entire city council welcome aboard.” He looked out at the audience. “You may not have noticed but when we had to select Sean it was in a very enthusiastic 5- O vote—so everyone was really excited about Sean. So there’s no pressure! And who remembers old what’s his face!” he said, joking about former city manager Jeff Epp. “Yeah, sure, after thirty-six years he’s probably not watching this!”
Converting motels to residences
The council voted 5-0 to take action that will enable existing hotel and motel owners to convert facilities into low cost residences and homeless residences with a minimum of red tape.
Interim Community Development Director Adam Finestone updated the council on the staff request that the council adopt a resolution “determining that Proposition S does not apply to properties with non-residential General Plan land use designations,” and adopt an ordinance amending the Escondido Zoning Code so that existing hotels and motels in all zoning districts and in specific plans may be converted to supportive housing, transitional housing, single-room occupancy and multi-family housing.
Prop. 6, adopted by the people in 1998, requires a referendum for certain land uses changes to the General Plan. Especially to increase maximum residential density. Staff analysis determined that Prop. S does not apply for allowing such a conversion.
This would allow developers to submit plans that allow hotels and motels into other uses, such as low income and transitional housing does not violate Prop. S. This would, said Finestone.
This would enable the city to support additional residential development and increase affordable housing, he said. “This came about as a result of recent interest in converting hotels and motels into housing units. It is a cost effective and efficient way to do this because properties are already constructed and require significantly less rehabilitation than conversion of other existing structures.” Finestone added, “The hotel conversion ordinance would identify objective development standards leading to revitalization and upgrades to properties and incentivize the production of affordable housing units which would count towards our arena numbers.”
The state requires that cities provide a certain percentage of low income housing.
Finestone said such conversions must be consistent with the general plan and zoning designations.
They will also require an economic impact analysis to ensure that any conversion does not negatively impact the city’s budget. “This includes the requirement to cover ongoing costs of services the city would provide.” He added, “The ordinance also incentivizes affordable housing production by reducing parking and open space requirements.” He continued, “The hotel conversion ordinance allows for the expansion of residential uses in areas where commercial goods and services are readily available. It will help rehabilitate neglected properties and increase housing stock.”
Councilmember Joe Garcia recently toured such a facility. One thing that concerned him was sometimes such units allow either a bathroom or kitchen, but not both. “I think we should have both. I think that is necessary,” he said.
During public comment, former councilmember Ed Gallo had warned that such an ordinance could reduce the city’s Transient Occupancy Tax revenues. He advised the council to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Garcia asked Finestone about that. He said the city will lose TOT revenues, but the ordinance includes a requirement that the developer fund the shortfall and provide funding for public services. “The way the ordinance is written, the developer whether profit or nonprofit would provide funds to make up for TOT,” said Finestone.
Garcia said, “One of the main issues for the ordinance is to help us revitalize some of the hotels having difficulties in our city. So I ask in regards to some of those hotels that are having difficulties: How many service calls is the police department receiving?”
EPD Chief Ed Varso said that for problem properties they respond to consistently, “We may have anywhere from as few as ten calls in a month to over one hundred.” Last year they saw a significant spike in calls at some of the motel properties. “There was a 420 percent
increase in calls for service. We quickly discovered that a lot of homeless housing vouchers were being given from outside jurisdictions which was contributing to that spike.”
He said, “This homeless piece really skews the numbers that came out of COVID.” Varso added that some of the properties have patterns of narcotics and human traffic issues. He noted, however, that service calls from hotels that had conversions lowered the number of service calls from 400 a year to 80.
Finestone mentioned that after Interfaith Community Services recently converted a motel that calls for services dropped dramatically. Garcia said, “I think we should take some time to work with everyone who wants to work with our city.”
Councilmember Consuelo Martinez asked if there had public outreach on the proposed change.
“There was no formal stakeholder outreach,” said Finestone. His predecessor Mike Strong spoke to developers looking to do such conversions. In fact, the staff proposal derived from those conversations, he said.
“I do support the ordinance,” said Martinez. “Since these are mostly hotels, we really aren’t losing opportunities on tourism. A lot of people who use them are not here on vacation.”
Councilmember Tina Inscoe asked how the conversions would be expedited.
Finestone said one delay is unavoidable: the 90 day consultations with area tribes. “Once that consultation is completed we can get it ready to go.”
Inscoe said she hopes they are expedited as quickly as possible, “because during that delay you are not getting the TOT.”
She said she has seen some of these conversations. “Some are operating fairly successfully,” she said. “I did a virtual tour of a property. As they go through this process you want to look at competency. Do they lower police calls? I know this helps our RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Allocation) numbers. I’m happy because I see this helping people who are at risk of homelessness and who need a place.”
She asked about the Homekey program, which was funded last year for $650 million in California and will be funded at $750 million this year. Using this money the city acts as the applicant for the funds and only deals with willing sellers. This program employs the principle that people living permanently at a site treat it differently than a temporary site.
Councilmember Mike Morasco followed up on what Chief Varso said about other jurisdictions sending their homeless to Escondido with vouchers.
Varso said this was a program by the Sheriff’s Department to send homeless from the unincorporated areas to Escondido. “We learned about it,” said Varso.
“They made a decision that affected our city without discussing it with us?” repeated Morasco. “Man, that’s irritating.”
The ordinance before the council was amended to address Garcia’s concerns about making sure bathrooms and kitchens are provided. It was approved 5-0.