The Coast News Group
Homeless encampments located along Roymar Road right behind Brother Benno's in Oceanside. Photo by Samantha Nelson
Homeless encampments located along Roymar Road right behind Brother Benno's in Oceanside in 2021. File photo.
CitiesNewsOceansidePolitics & GovernmentRegion

Brother Benno’s contends with newly amended safety, security conditions

OCEANSIDE — Brother Benno’s conditional use permit was recently amended to include additional police recommendations to improve the security and safety of the surrounding industrial park.

The Oceanside Planning Commission on Sept. 11 directed staff to return with amendments to the permit, which allows the soup kitchen to operate in the Oceanside Industrial Park.

At the meeting, staff provided another update on Brother Benno’s following its last on June 26.

The nonprofit organization fell under scrutiny earlier this year in May following months of complaints from neighboring businesses regarding the soup kitchen’s clientele. Complaints from neighboring businesses ranged from trespassing to loitering, littering, overnight camping, harassment, vandalism, crime, substance abuse, theft, reduced property value and loss of revenue.

At the time, the Planning Commission heard from police, business owners and Brother Benno’s representatives regarding the ongoing issues.

Brother Benno’s previously had its CUP amended in 2021 following similar complaints from other tenants in the industrial park. According to the police department, although many of the changes that the 2021 revised conditional use permit demanded were implemented on paper, like earlier cutoff of services, some weren’t being practiced until over a year later.

In May, police provided more recommendations, including monthly meetings between Brother Benno’s staff, police, city staff and industrial park managers. Law enforcement also suggested Brother Benno’s contract with a third-party security company to patrol the neighborhood, hire an on-site sanitation worker, and establish a 24-hour contact phone number for business owners.

The June 26 meeting provided an update on changes that occurred since May, during which OPD reiterated its proposed measures and suggested Brother Benno’s end its sack lunch food service and ensure hygiene kit distribution ends at 10:45 a.m.

Several members of the public spoke against eliminating the sack lunch program. Ultimately, the Planning Commission directed staff to return in another 60 days with more updates and spared the sack lunch program – for now.

As previously proposed, Meetings have occurred between Brother Benno’s management, city staff and industrial park representatives on July 13 and August 17. According to staff, these meetings’ goals were to improve the situation in the industrial park and have “enabled a constructive forum for information sharing” between businesses and the agencies. Two of these coordination meetings have since occurred, one on July 13 and another on Aug. 17.

Brother Benno’s has since hired a security firm to patrol the Oceanside Industrial Park in two shifts between 4 a.m. and noon and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The soup kitchen has also hired additional sanitation workers to assist with trash cleanup from 4 to 6 a.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. and submitted a security plan to the police chief that will be reviewed every six months.

The industrial park also added lighting and security cameras and plans to work with the city to impose parking restrictions on certain streets within the park between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m.

While there have been some improvements since the new rules were implemented, Police Capt. Taurino Valdovinos noted that there has been a recent uptick in complaints following the city’s cleanup of a homeless encampment in a nearby industrial park.

Former Escondido mayor Paul McNamara, the new executive director of Brother Benno’s, told commissioners the soup kitchen wants to be good neighbors to the industrial park tenants but also wants a stronger relationship with the city.

“We have to work in partnership,” McNamara said.

Ben Meyer, essential services manager for Brother Benno’s, noted the organization is footing the bill on security and sanitation for the whole industrial park.

“We’re hoping for some collaboration from the business park,” Meyer said.

Andrea Contreras, a land use attorney representing several property owners within the industrial park, said they continue to lose tenants and potential tenants because of the ongoing issues related to Brother Benno’s clientele.

“It remains our position that they are in the wrong location,” Contreras said.

Businesses in the park started a petition earlier this year to revoke Brother Benno’s conditional use permit.

Marco Gonzalez, a local attorney who often provides pro bono services to Brother Benno’s, told commissioners that they should be “ashamed of your city” for suggesting banning parking without first having a safe parking lot for homeless individuals living in their cars to stay overnight.

Gonzalez also warned the city about potential legal repercussions if they attempt to revoke Brother Benno’s CUP because of the organization’s Catholic religious affiliation.

“I’ve told the city this before: you have a very narrow window of land use regulations against religious institutions performing the express goals of that institution, which are feeding people and serving the homeless,” Gonzalez said. “Your attempt to revoke the CUP would infringe on its core services… they’re not going anywhere; they will not move.”

Some commissioners agreed the security program shouldn’t only be up to Brother Benno’s.

“You’re going to have to come together and share in that cost,” said Commissioner Dennis Anthony concerning the industrial park’s business owners.

Commissioner Tom Morrissey agreed, saying he believes park security needs a full 24-hour service to protect businesses from late-night criminal activity.

“The cockroaches come out at night,” Morrissey said.

Morrissey also agreed that the city should have a safe parking lot.

Commissioners suggested staff bring back a discussion regarding a safe parking lot, though City Planner Sergio Madera noted it’s outside the commission’s purview to enact such a program.

Leave a Comment