The Tracy City Council’s efforts to come up with short-term help for the city’s homeless population are close to partial success but also face continued delays as city leaders seek consensus, or at least the support of a majority of the council, for proposed strategies.
The council is due to review a comprehensive plan to address homelessness in town on March 17. In the meantime, emergency proposals that the council agreed upon at its Feb. 4 meeting include a warming center, which Assistant City Manager Midori Lichtwardt said is near fruition.
Lichtwardt reported on Tuesday that the city put out a request for proposals last week and she expected to have an informational meeting Thursday and then review specific proposals next Monday and Tuesday.
The council had authorized up to $25,000 for the center, which City Manager Jenny Haruyama could spend at her discretion. By next Thursday, a contract could be in place, and the program could begin as early as March 2.
The other part of the Feb. 4 proposal, a city offer to allow overnight parking to people living out of their cars, is turning out to be more of a long-term strategy. Lichtwardt noted that this solution is subject to a web of legal intricacies that would require the council to establish policies beyond just setting aside parking lots.
She advised the council to act on a list of seven policy considerations — including limiting overnight parking to people who have been Tracy residents, deciding whether public or private land could be used, and deciding whether the council should declare that the city has a shelter crisis — as a first step in creating an overnight parking program. She added that it could take up to four months to put the plan into action.
“At the meeting on Feb. 4, it was asked if we could develop a safe parking program, and staff said we need to do a little more research and come back with some information on what needs to be done,” Lichtwardt said.
“What was brought up at the last council meeting was city-owned property, which brings with it some red tape, for lack of a better term,” she said. “That’s what we’re asking today: Are you open to making the RFP available to private property owners, which has a different set of rules, for example.”
Council members were more concerned that the idea of overnight parking lots was turning out to be a much longer-term solution than they expected when they gave the city staff the go-ahead to create a plan two weeks ago.
“The whole purpose was to do this as expediently as possible, as quick as possible, with the understanding that this was basically a Band-Aid to do something until we can all vote and discuss the strategic plan, which will be coming out next month,” Councilman Dan Arriola said.
Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Young agreed that she had expected to see more accomplished in the past two weeks.
“It seems as though now it’s more complicated. From last time, it seemed like the parking would be much simpler, the warming center more complicated. Now it seems that the parking is way more complicated,” she said. “I just want to know if there’s a Plan B for emergency for parking, because 120 days is not emergency. That’s four months out. That’s June. That’s summer.”
Haruyama said she needed assurance that any site her staff chose for overnight parking would be acceptable to the council and the public.
“What’s missing from this conversation on the safe parking is, what are the designated public lots or public areas that council is willing to entertain?” she said. “Part of our research needs to be making a recommendation on those sites, because which sites have challenges?”
Councilwoman Rhodesia Ransom said she was confident that the city staff could quickly find public land that could be put to use.
“I’m pretty sure that you’re more than capable of going to find a site where we can get this in motion and start moving on it right away. I think this is actually easier to implement than the warming center, in regards to the city’s participation in it,” she told city staff. “We can just put it out there, vote on it, move it forward or not move it forward, but I don’t want to leave here knowing that we’ve still not made progress on anything in regard to safe parking.”
City Attorney Leticia Ramirez said that the city staff was delivering what the council had asked for two weeks ago.
“I understood that the council’s priority was to get an RFP for the warming center up and running. I understood that we would come back today … to get a little more direction on the safe parking program,” she told the council. “I do think that 120 days is a very generous timeline. I do think it can be expedited.”
She said that most city-owned parking lots are at community parks or around City Hall, and she hoped to get a better idea of which places would be best for people to park overnight.
The council remains divided on the issues. When it came time to vote to have the city staff continue work on the warming center and pursue proposals for the parking lot, including site selection, restrooms and security, the council voted 3-2 in favor, with Mayor Robert Rickman and Councilwoman Veronica Vargas dissenting.
“We just need to have a clear, transparent process,” Vargas said. “I understand the urgency. I understand what we want be done. We also need to have the process of public input.
“I’m assuming we’re not going to do something and not let the public know that near to your house, we’re going to be establishing a new land use.”
Rickman also restated his position that he believed the public had been left out of the discussion and was reluctant to leave the choice of sites up to the city staff.
“If you woke up one day and you saw a bunch of RVs next to your house, would you be happy? Do you think that person has a right to know? Does that neighborhood have a right to know? It’s that simple,” Rickman said. “Plus, we’re taking about emergency safe parking, but where is the emergency side of it? Did something happen? Did we have some kind of crime? Where is this coming from?”
Arriola replied, “There is an immediate need for shelter in this community,” and Ransom added that the city knew of families living out of their vehicles.
“We have families that we know that live in RVs in Tracy,” she said. “We have families with children that we know sleep in vans in Tracy. We have women that we know go to work, but live in their cars, in Tracy.”