Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Vice Mayor Mark Chandler was forced to recuse himself from the discussion due to a potential conflict of interest.
After a three-hour discussion with residents and business owners, the Lodi City Council finally settled on a location for the proposed homeless access center project.
The council voted 3-1 at Wednesday’s meeting to locate the project at 710 N. Sacramento St., and begin negotiations with the real estate agents and property owners to purchase the site.
Mayor Alan Nakanishi cast the lone dissenting vote, stating the council should listen to constituents who live in the surrounding neighborhood that do not want the project in the area.
Nakanishi also opposed having to buy the Sacramento Street property for the access center, and suggested pursuing a site the city owns.
“There is no ideal location that will satisfy everybody,” he said. “What some people consider the best location is the worst. We’ve heard form our citizens, and as we meet together, I realize we are elected by the citizens. We listen to them, we represent them, and we try to make the best decisions.”
Over the summer, City of Lodi had announced intentions to purchase the site on North Sacramento Street, which was met with strong opposition from neighboring businesses and residents of the Rivergate neighborhood.
Opposition was spearheaded by Robin Knowlton and Stefan Sekula, who co-own a number of properties in the immediate area. The couple circulated a petition in the neighborhood opposing the project, and was able to get more than 40 signatures.
They claimed the access center would lower property values, increase crime, jeopardize safety of the businesses, their employees and customers, as well as drive out businesses and discourage new ones from considering Sacramento Street as a home.
Sekula said Downtown Lodi had grown to attract residents and visitors alike with the influx of wine bars, beer venues, restaurants and boutiques.
The current expansion north of Sacramento on Lockeford streets with the bowling alley and the World of Wonders expansion project would compliment his business, as well as those of his neighbors, he said.
“These impacts will create a net loss of jobs and revenues, not just for the owners, operators and employees, but for the city as a whole,” he said. “It makes no sense to stymie the vital and successful economic growth of our downtown by locating the proposed access center here. This site that has the greatest density of businesses and residences of the three proposed sites.”
Resident Anita Herman lives in the area and said she and her husband usually walk down Sacramento Street to go downtown, but she does not walk by herself, even in the daytime, because it is too dangerous.
She said not all of Lodi’s 139 homeless individuals would use the access center, and they would end up congregating near it, as well as near the new bowling alley and even in downtown.
It was not only Sacramento Street property owners and neighbors opposed to an access center in their area.
Jim Woods, the manager at Lodi Toyota at South Beckman Road and Auto Center Drive, said while he supports providing an access center for the homeless, citing the facility in the Pixley Basin would only make the current situation in that area worse.
“We have just a few homeless that come through the dealership on a daily basis,” he said. “They vandalize our cars, break our windows, throw trash on the lot. We clean the lot daily. We have to walk people to their own cars at our own risk. (The homeless) come into showroom to use our facilities. When we tell them they have to leave, they don’t leave. They get mad and yell and throw things. They disturb our customers. It’s a safety concern putting this center next door to us. It will damage our industry and business.”
Nancy Beckman, executive director of VisitLodi!, said the Pixley Basin site was too close to three of the city’s best hotels, which account for 28% of Lodi’s lodging industry. The three hotels also pay about 44% in hotel occupancy tax revenue, and are already experiencing problems with the homeless that venture from Cherokee Lane, she said.
“They’ve had problems with theft, car break-ins, homeless entering the breakfast bar trying to get food and invading the restrooms,” Beckman said. “Is this how we want our visitors to experience Lodi? If we put a large shelter this close to major lodging, these types of incidents will happen more frequently, and we’ll see an increase of negative comments on social media and visitation websites. If our tourism is hurt, other industries will be hurt as well.”
Vern Vierra, owner of Delta Buildings, asked the council to delay any decision on the access center because he’s been working with a developer and a real estate agent to purchase the Sacramento Street property with the intent to build a rock climbing gym there.
Vierra said the 40-year-old building was designed to be a warehouse for producing steel and only has capacity for more than a few employees.
His plan is to demolish about 60% to make way for a 60-foot climbing wall.
“I’m very passionate about helping the homeless, but I bring to the city of Lodi a project that we would really like to see, and we’d like to see the city maybe back off and give us a chance,” Vierra said. “Give it maybe 90 days, maybe delay with your plans or pursue the Pixley Park area. I’d like to get the property for our project.”
Responding to the delay request, resident David Diskin, who is a member of the Lodi Improvement Committee, said the city can’t afford to continue pushing the discussion down the road.
He added that the Pixley Basin was too far for homeless individuals to walk to basic necessities that are located near central Lodi, and none of them have automobiles to get there.
Diskin also said he was “embarrassed” that Knowlton, who he considers a friend, assembled a coalition of people to oppose the Sacramento Street site.
“We have more homeless people that we need to serve than the people she has gathered together against this,” he said. “And I cannot believe that in Lodi we would allow such a small group of people to determine what’s going to happen with this. I would ask the council, don’t vote on a location based on property values. You need to vote on the needs of the people for whom we’re trying to serve.”
Following comments, Nakanishi said the city could look at the Thurman Street location, which was taken off the list of potential sites because the Lodi Electric Utility has plans to expand its infrastructure on that piece of property.
If that was not feasible, he suggested the city should look at other pieces of property it could purchase.
Councilman Doug Kuehne said while the city owns the Pixley Basin site, as well as the Century Boulevard property near Salas Park, neither were in close proximity to transit, grocery stores, healthy food and clothing stores.
He said the Thurman Street property is no longer a viable option because of Lodi Electric Utility’s plans for expansion.
“My goal as a city council member is to make sure whatever decision we make is a successful venture, not one set up for failure,” he said.” As for the Sacramento Street location, I’m not particularly fond of (the access center) being in our downtown corridor, but the bowling alley knew the Salvation Army and Grace & Mercy Foundation were already on that street, and I think having a service provider that is a homegrown service provider right next door to the Salvation Army facility adds to the ability of it being successful.”
Councilman Shak Khan agreed, adding he was surprised that many Lodians opposed every location for the access center, but offered no alternative sites.
“I think we’ve been going back and forth on this, and there is no end to it,” he said. “Nobody wants it in their backyard. But we all have this issue, so how can we solve it? We’ve listened to a lot of emails and public comments, and I heard everybody complaining about it being in their neighborhood, but none of them in their letters expressed what we should do or where we should put the access center. I’m really shocked and surprised, because those people out there are our residents. They’re somebody’s sons, somebody’s daughter, somebody’s brother. They made some bad decisions, and they’re not being given the chance to change their lives.”
“It’s clear no matter which site we choose, somebody is going to be upset,” Councilman Mikey Hothi said. “But we have to do something to address the issue for the reasons stated already. There is no is perfect site, as the mayor says. I don’t believe a perfect location exists. But our job as a council is to choose a site that’s most suitable from the options that are available. Based of all the dialogue, I believe that site is the Sacramento Street site.”
Vice Mayor Mark Chandler was forced to recuse himself from the discussion under threat of a Fair Political Practices Commission violation. Chandler had a presumed conflict of interest, as his wife is employed by a business next door to the site. Chandler‘s father-in-law owns the business.