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City upholds zone changes, ACLU upset

ESCONDIDO — City Council voted on Wednesday to uphold a commercial zoning change which they voted for earlier in the month.

According to Barbara Redlitz, director of community development, the code amendment would allow government agencies to apply for a Conditional Use Permit in commercial zones.

“Currently the type of government services allowed in commercial zones are very narrow,” said Redlitz.

Recently, the federal government applied for a permit through Southwest Key to operate a 96-bed residential care facility for unaccompanied youth who cross the border illegally.

David Loy, legal director for the American Civil Liberty Union of San Diego, which filed an appeal against the city’s denial of the facility, said the difference between a shelter and a residential care facility is the children served by Southwest Key are not homeless. They are traveling from one home to another.

The proposed facility, which was located in a residential zone, was denied after a long public hearing in front of the Planning Commission for a variety of reasons, including safety and noise concerns, and because some commissioners felt the location was too small for children.

The code amendment that was upheld at the meeting on Aug. 13 would allow the federal or state government to apply for a permit in a commercial zone.

“We’re providing an opportunity they don’t currently have,” Redlitz told the Council.

Mayor Sam Abed said the code change could apply to a variety of government services, not just the proposed shelter. He mentioned the possibility of a courthouse.

“I’d rather have the option of more flexibility,” Abed said about allowing government agencies to apply for permits in commercial zones. He said it was basically just code cleanup.

“The conditional use permit process is not onerous but it’s not carte blanche,” said Councilman Ed Gallo.

Any organization that files for a conditional use permit must have a public hearing. For this reason, Loy feels that the city is further preventing Southwest Key from operating a facility since the last public hearing for the proposed shelter was full of residents voicing their dissent.

“I have a hard time concluding that [the zone change] is anything other than directly aimed and targeted at excluding Southwest Key and excluding immigrant housing,” said Loy.

Loy said the previous zoning would have allowed Southwest Key to open a facility in a commercial zone without applying for a conditional use permit but will have a much harder time being approved now with the code amendment.

He said that being forced to hold a public hearing is equal to being denied, since many residents are against immigrant housing.

Southwest Key officials are leasing two motels, The Quality Inn on North City Parkway and The Howard Johnson Inn on Washington Avenue, according to Loy who believes it will now be extremely difficult to open due to the code update.

Loy said the ACLU is looking into different legal routes for the proposed immigrant temporary housing facilities.

The appeal for the proposed immigrant housing will be heard by city council on Sept 10.