The Calaveras County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday tabled two controversial housing project proposals in San Andreas.
The first was a “scattered site” emergency shelter pilot project, which aims to build five mobile tiny-house shelters on a portion of Government Center property in San Andreas, and provide intensive case management for residents temporarily placed in the units.
The other proposal being discussed was a planned housing project in San Andreas to build five housing units for individuals with severe mental illness who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. The site for that was tentatively to be on a parcel on the corner of Cemetery Avenue and Gold Strike Road, near San Andreas Elementary School.
Both are funded entirely by state grants or agencies.
In recent months, the planned developments have drawn heated debate among residents in outreach meetings, with many arguing that it would be unsafe to allow people that are mentally ill to live next to a school.
In a presentation to supervisors, Health and Human Services Director Kristin Stranger denounced stigma toward people with mental illnesses and people living in poverty.
She said that people diagnosed with a severe mental illness – meaning they require treatment to engage in daily activities of living – only commit 3% to 5% of violent acts in the country and are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators, a statistic the American Psychological Association has supported.
The decision before supervisors was to allow the projects to continue, or opt for some alternative use of the state housing grants.
For instance, the $302,412 Homeless Emergency Aid Program grant for the emergency shelter project could instead be used for social services like health and safety education or criminal justice diversion programs; capital improvements to structures supporting low-income families; and rental assistance, among other applications, according to Stranger’s presentation.
For both projects, District 1 Supervisor Gary Tofanelli – the supervisor whose district the houses would be built in – said he would not support the developments for a few reasons.
For one, 103 of the 161 available low-income housing units in the county are in San Andreas, Tofanelli said. Other parts of the county should be sharing the burden, he said.
“Let’s be equal here. You’re talking about people that invested and bought homes here in San Andreas just like everybody else had bought their homes,” Tofanelli said. “Nobody wants their homes devalued. When you see 75% of low-income housing in a certain area, you’re going to scratch your head and wonder, ‘Do I really want to move there?’ … I would suggest that we find another location to move those two outside of San Andreas. Those are mobile units and we can try and find a location for those outside this area that already houses 65% of low-income housing.”
Tofanelli also cited concerns with the close proximity to the elementary school with the scattered site homeless shelter project.
“I cannot vote for this at all,” he said. “I can’t predict people and what they do. If something ever happened at that school, I couldn’t forgive myself.”
Other supervisors were in agreement that low-income housing developments should be distributed more evenly throughout the county.
“I will commit to working with people in my district to find an area for tiny homes,” said District 3 Supervisor Merita Callaway. “It belongs all over the county because it is an issue all over the county. If we don’t do anything, we’re still paying, we just can’t see it.”
That said, Callaway was in favor of letting the projects in San Andreas commence, arguing, “We have done nothing as a county. When I had to call Amador and Tuolumne to see if they had space for a homeless family, I was embarrassed.”
The board eventually directed Stranger to bring the item back to present a more in-depth analysis of alternative uses (or locations) for the grants funding the housing projects.
In other business, supervisors extended a contract with TSS Renewables for tree mortality project management to $1.95 million with the term ending on Oct. 22, 2020.