Letter From Mayor Matt Mahan May 22, 2024

Dear Neighbor,


Thank you for engaging, attending our community meeting, responding to the survey and helping us address this unacceptable situation for you and your neighbors – housed and unhoused. 


We had over 300 people take the time to provide meaningful feedback. After each of us had a chance to read through your responses and talk to city staff and Valley Water, we believe we have next steps that will answer your immediate concerns while setting us up for longer-term solutions. 


So here’s the plan: 


To address the unsafe conditions in the encampment and ensure that Valley Water can complete much-needed erosion projects along the Guadalupe at Willow and Lelong, the City will prioritize abatement of the encampment at Willow and Lelong before the end of June. However, because we have no new interim or permanent places to offer people to go, we can’t prevent re-encampment in the area. In our experience, whether it’s weeks or months later, the folks who are abated tend to return to the same site. In the meantime, they will most likely move just a block or two away – still in unmanaged, unsafe conditions and negatively affecting the neighborhood’s quality of life. 


Currently, we face a multifaceted challenge with hundreds of encampments dispersed throughout various neighborhoods within our city. Additionally, we must come into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act by eliminating the discharge of waste and debris along our waterways, much of which can be attributed to encampments. 


In the coming years, we must devise and execute a comprehensive strategy to relocate over one thousand residents dwelling along our creeks and rivers to reduce potential legal and financial risk. We must ensure that our efforts to restore the cleanliness of our waterways and uphold regulatory standards do not inadvertently displace unmanaged encampments into other residential areas within the city.


To do this, we need to create shelter and other managed places where people can go as we and the County continue to build affordable housing, treatment facilities, and longer-term alternatives to the streets. Building these sites also allows us to set and enforce no camping zones in neighborhoods and shared public spaces, which guarantees that the neighborhoods that take on solutions to homelessness are better off for it. 


As part of our annual budget process, the Council is currently discussing the establishment of safe sleeping, safe parking and congregate shelter sites. Because the paved Valley Water parcel across the street and the VTA parking lot between Lelong and 87 are both potential locations for a safe sleeping or parking site, we’d like to establish the Community Advisory Committee (CAC) discussed at the townhall now. This will help us ensure we have ongoing and open communication with interested neighbors as we discuss our options and work toward solutions that reduce impacts on our entire community. 


We’ll start by reaching out to the 75 of you who indicated your interest in joining the CAC via the survey and we’ll happily include anyone else living in the area who wants to be a part of a conversation about solutions. 


While we are still very early in this process and there are many outstanding questions related to our budget, our obligations under the Clean Water Act, the role of partner agencies, the availability of service providers to manage sites, and much more, we want to give you as much information as we can at this time. Below you’ll find preliminary answers to some of the frequently asked questions you submitted in the survey. 


To summarize our plan – the encampment at Willow and Lelong will be abated in the coming weeks to provide immediate relief to the community as we also establish a Community Advisory Committee to discuss and begin planning for more sustainable solutions that help us comply with the Clean Water Act and permanently close unmanaged encampments over time. 


We look forward to continuing the conversation, 


Mayor Mahan, CM Davis, CM Torres 



How is this proposed solution any better than the current situation in terms of the environment and overall community impact?


The proposed site located across the street from the existing encampment would eliminate trash and debris entering our waterways and many of the quality of life issues created by the encampment. The existing unmanaged encampment is regularly polluted and doesn’t receive regular outreach or case management services. Alternatively, safe sleeping sites provide basic services in a managed setting that could include uniform tents and cots, fencing, access to bathroom facilities and mobile showers, regular trash service, and on-site staff and security. Further, residents would be expected to adhere to a basic code of conduct in order to stay in the site. Moreover, our plan would be to pair a managed site with a no encampment buffer zone around it that would prevent any other encampments–including re-encampment by any bad actors kicked out of the safe sleeping site–going forward. 


The design and operations would be developed with input from a community advisory commission (CAC). Here are some images of San Diego’s safe sleeping sites to help you visualize what a safe sleeping site could look like:

When is the next community meeting scheduled on Willow/Lelong?


We haven’t scheduled one yet. Our plan is to invite interested neighbors to an initial meeting of the Community Advisory Committee (CAC) in the coming weeks to begin outlining the questions that would need to be answered for the community and the Council long before we could move forward a future safe sleeping site.  


What enforcement measures would be implemented around the safe sleeping site to maintain safety and order?


The Mayor’s March Budget Message directed City staff to implement “no-encampment zones” within a two block radius of every existing and planned interim housing, safe parking, and safe sleeping site. The City Manager’s Proposed Budget assigns resources to abate encampments that appear in these zones. All of our interim sites have on-site security. They also have rules that residents of the site must adhere to. Additional measures to ensure safety and proper management could be established with input from the CAC. 


Would it be possible to start with a smaller number of tents as a trial to understand feasibility and community impact?


City staff are evaluating the ideal number of tents that can be accommodated at given potential safe sleeping sites to balance the need to move people out of the waterways while limiting impacts to adjacent neighborhoods. This is a developing conversation at the City Council that will be informed by staff’s analysis and conversations with residents.  


Are you exploring alternate solutions along with the County, such as the fairgrounds and unincorporated areas?


We will continue to advocate to our partners at the County, Valley Water, Caltrans and other agencies for access to underutilized public land that could help address this crisis. Even with access to space at the Fairgrounds, we know that the crisis requires much more than a single site. We cannot crowd 4,500 homeless individuals into a single managed campground. 


We will need to build and operate safe sleeping, safe parking, shelters, treatment centers, and affordable housing at scale and, as best as we can, fairly distributed across the city to address a crisis of this magnitude. You can help us get additional sites on the table by talking with your elected representatives at other levels of government, such as the County and State, and we’re happy to help facilitate that engagement.