The Coast News Group
Homeless encampment Oceanside
Homeless encampments located along Roymar Road right behind where Brother Benno's Center is located in Oceanside Industrial Park. Photo by Samantha Nelson

Oceanside commissioners accept changes to Brother Benno’s operations

OCEANSIDE — After more than a year of review, the Oceanside Planning Commission has approved several revisions to Brother Benno’s conditional use permit at its industrial park location.

Located at 3260 Production Avenue, Brother Benno’s is a non-profit organization that provides food and several other services to low-income and homeless people. The organization began operation here in 1991 under certain conditions that the city had approved for site operation.

Two years later in 1993, the Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit (CUP) with revisions to several conditions related to Brother Benno’s operating procedures, including further review of the CUP if there were a reasonable amount of complaints regarding violations of the conditions.

Those complaints have increased in the last several years and deal with Brother Benno’s clients’ trespassing on neighboring properties, loitering, littering and vehicle and tent camping. According to the Oceanside Police Department, complaints regarding homeless-related issues have increased with proximity to Brother Benno’s facility.

In summer 2019, the Planning Commission appointed three commissioners to serve on Brother Benno’s Standing Committee that would review the organization’s CUP. The first meeting was held in October of that same year and the fourth and final meeting was held in November of last year, after which the committee sent its recommendations for CUP revisions to the Planning Commission.

The Planning Commission reviewed the recommendations on Feb. 8. Staff had presented suggested revisions to those recommendations, but those revisions did not pass and the item was moved to March for further discussion and approval. There were several members of the public who spoke out against those changes as well.

The conditions were then changed back to their original form in the Standing Committee’s recommendations at the March 8 meeting.

According to staff, revised conditions 33, 34 and 36 address the facility’s need for improved security. The changes include requiring the organization to prepare an operational and security plan to be reviewed and approved by the police chief annually, requiring clients to review and sign a form acknowledging the facility’s Rules of Conduct and turning away those who break them, and allowing the Standing Committee to reconvene when the Planning Commission or City Planner deem it fit to review the CUP conditions.

Originally, the revised CUP established that the city’s Planning Division would prepare an annual report regarding Brother Benno’s compliance and provide it to the Standing Committee on an annual basis. Planning Commission Vice-Chair Louise Balma asked fellow commissioners to modify that to every six months, which was approved.

Though commissioners acknowledged that the city has seen a decrease in issues related to Brother Benno since the Standing Committee first met in October 2019, Balma noted that the situation could take a different turn quickly and waiting a year to review Brother Benno’s compliance might take too long.

Additionally, three new conditions 37-39 were added to the CUP. Under the current CUP, mail service isn’t mentioned. Brother Benno provides mail services to its clients without a time restriction, but the added conditions limit that service.

Brother Benno would discontinue on-site mail service when it determines that a client isn’t progressing towards getting off the streets in a reasonable period of time. It also establishes that mail service pickup times are from 6:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Additionally, the new conditions include requiring more rigorous on and off-site trash cleanup and the establishment of an identification card database system for clients to allow for better monitoring. That data will not be directly shared with the city but will help the facility identify those who are frequent rule breakers.

Commissioner Robyn Goodkind was the only vote opposed to the CUP revisions due to added Condition 39 regarding the ID card database.

“I cannot support that kind of government overreach,” Goodkind said.

According to attorney Marco Gonzales, Brother Benno’s was already working on implementing such a database into its operations.

Gonzales explained that the database will help the nonprofit organization to identify clients who may need more aggressive assistance as well as those who aren’t really interested in becoming housed again.

“If someone is transient and only gets mail a couple of times a year then disappears, we’ll know with the digital database system,” Gonzales said.

In addition to mail and meal services, Brother Benno’s also provides a drug and alcohol recovery program, clothing, showers, telephone, transportation, rental and utility assistance and several other services to its clients.

Currently, due to COVID-19, its dine-in hot breakfast, laundry and haircut services are unavailable until further notice.