County board ponders homeless shelter issue left off agenda

Alex Pena rides his bike along the path that leads to the homeless camp along the San Benito river in January.

County supervisors learned Tuesday they may have to tear down the building on a preferred site for a new homeless shelter if they want to build it there and engaged in discussions on the item despite no mention of the topic on the meeting’s agenda.
Having dialogue on a specific matter or taking action without inclusion on an agenda equates to a violation of the state open meetings law, the Brown Act. Government entities must include all matters up for discussion or action on an agenda available to the public at least 72 hours before such regular meetings. This county board has previously used the department head announcement or board announcement periods to engage in such extended, back-and-forth discussions without including those issues on agendas.
On Tuesday, newly installed Board Chairman Robert Rivas, who has vowed to improve the county’s transparency during his tenure in the seat, announced that discussions on the homeless shelter and incoming fire station will get listed on regular agendas from this point forward. In subsequent dialogue on Twitter with the Free Lance, Rivas went beyond just the two issues and agreed that all specific department head announcements should go on the regular agendas.
“I couldn’t agree more,” Rivas tweeted in reply to the Free Lance, which had underscored how those reports often evolve into full-blown discussions among supervisors. “I’ll certainly work with the CAO and Clerk of the Board to ‘tighten-up’ the Board agenda.”
Before that, however, supervisors already heard a report from three high-level county officials on the matter and some gave their own comments on the current situation that is now complicated by additional, unanticipated costs necessary at the 1161 San Felipe Road property.
Supervisor Anthony Botelho recounted to the board how he took a tour with Supervisor Jerry Muenzer of the proposed site and how he was dismayed by engineers’ conclusion that it wasn’t structurally sufficient for a permanent homeless shelter.
Supervisors in December veered toward the San Felipe Road property after opposition to other targeted locales such as the Southside Road and Flynn Road sites that were chosen as preferred locations at separate times.
“The building didn’t leak, not one bit,” Botelho said of the San Felipe Road location, which has garnered the least amount of opposition among three preferred choices.
County staff officials, though, pointed out how it’s a metal building that isn’t equipped to handle the weight of a required sprinkler system. Public Works Director Joe Horwedel said the building was designed for cover and “it’s not designed to be habitable.”
Department-level officials still pushed forward on that preferred location and reported the county is seeking an appraisal on the property.
Rivas closed the conversation by saying there had been talk in the community of improved cleanliness at the shelter, but that he then “heard otherwise” about that and other issues there in the final year of the homeless coalition’s oversight. The county is transitioning to a model involving contracted services for running of a permanent homeless shelter as opposed to the nonprofit homeless coalition’s management in recent years of the seasonal Southside Road shelter facilities.
“I think there are some issues we need to bring up,” Rivas told board members.
He said from what he has heard, the winter season has been “anything but a success.”
“It warrants a further discussion by this board,” he said.

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