Hotel master lease approved for homeless shelter to reduce wildfire risk
A temporary homeless shelter will be provided at the Rose Garden Inn on Upper State Street to remove individuals from fire-prone areas and clean them up to reduce wildfire risk.
The Santa Barbara City Council unanimously approved City Net’s master lease with the inn on Tuesday, and directed staff to use up the one-time Socioeconomic Mitigation Program reserve funds and Permanent Local Housing Allocation funds for the $1.6 million price tag.
“This is a human crisis,” Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon said. “Everything we’re putting forward today dovetails into (the city’s) strategic plan.”
She addressed emails she’s received about this issue that have taken concerns with the cost per room of the shelter, specifically pointing out that it will cost thousands per guest. Ms. Sneddon said the reason the cost is so high is because of the wraparound services, and that the rooms themselves only cost $100 to $200.
“It’s the services that will make an actual long-term, impactful difference in transforming people’s lives and in transforming our lives as a community,” she said. “So it is expensive. It is transformative, and you don’t get transformative without funding.”
The services that will be offered to the homeless individuals at the Rose Garden Inn will include things such as housing-focused case management services, family reunification, self-resolution of homelessness and referrals to local resources for food, medical care, legal assistance and more.
Councilman Eric Friedman spoke to the importance of avoiding any wildfires in the city, and that this solution reduces the risk while also providing a way to learn if this is a good solution for the rest of the homeless population.
“If we were to have another fire or a devastating fire in the city, it would have a whole host of consequences — one, the loss of life, including those who live in the encampments, but also those in the neighborhoods, the loss of property,” he said. “And to have another disaster in our town could really affect the livelihoods of our businesses and the community we love…We have an opportunity here, now, to really see how this works and see how effective it is.”
Many public commenters supported the measure, while others pointed out other areas that they hope can be addressed other than just the high-fire prone areas. Some questioned what determines a high-fire prone area from a not high-fire prone area.
Ben Romo, who said he lives near Red Rose Inn, spoke up during public comment that he supports the measure, but wished more action occurred sooner.
“I can’t really help but see that this council is being prompted to take this drastic action because the issue of homelessness had a spillover effect on residents who are housed,” he said. “I just wish that the human tragedy we see every day prompted this same level of angst, interest, responsiveness and investment by council members … Why aren’t we moving mountains for them as they’re suffering right before our eyes every single day?”
In other business, the council received a water supply update for the city.
Although the city falls under what is considered extreme drought conditions, the outlook of water supply was optimistic. City staff reported consistent production of desalinated water that has allowed Lake Cachuma to have a strong reserve — 57% capacity at nearly 24,000 acre-feet. Staff said this puts the city in a good place, despite the empty Gibraltar Reservoir, low groundwater levels and only 5% of a share of the State Water Project.
“If we were to go into drought right now — which it looks like for the next five years — we would be OK, and that is an astonishing place to be in,” Ms. Sneddon said. “This plan looks over a 30-year horizon, and it’s unheard of that we could be having the water security that we have with this diversified portfolio.”
The City Council commended the work of staff for outreach and the work of the community for conservation.
“It’s not even a conservation effort,” Mayor Cathy Murillo said. “It’s a conservation lifestyle. People just don’t waste water like they used to … Every school child in California learns about water and how to be careful with water.”
The City Council also tackled appointments to city advisory groups and State Street Advisory Committee applicant interviews on Tuesday.