Fairgrounds could host temporary housing for homeless vets

Del Mar Fairgrounds
(San Diego Union-Tribune)

One-year pilot program would include 200 or more modular units at Del Mar site


The Del Mar fair board is considering a plan to install temporary modular housing for hundreds of homeless veterans and their families.

The most likely location appears to be at the horsepark, a 65-acre equestrian facility about three miles east of the fairgrounds. The site has easy access to Interstate 5 and ample facilities such as parking and hookups for water, sewage and electricity.

“This is supposed to be transitory housing that would lead to permanent low-income housing,” said Lisa Barkett, vice president of the 22nd District Agricultural Association board of directors, which oversees activities at the Del Mar Fairgrounds and the horsepark.

“We are just at the beginning of this,” Barkett said at the board’s meeting Tuesday, May 19.

She called it “a great idea” that could provide income for the district, which has taken huge financial losses from events closed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The temporary housing also could help the neighboring cities of Del Mar and Solana Beach meet their state-mandated goals for affordable home construction.

The fairgrounds could place 200 of the modular units on 2.5 acres at the horsepark, Barkett said. A second possible location is the recreational vehicle lot near the fairgrounds tennis courts on Jimmy Durante Boulevard.

Up to 1,000 units could be installed at the fairgrounds, she said. The individual units are self-contained and can be occupied without water, sewer or electrical system hookups, although those can be provided. The buildings are available in various plans, with up to five rooms each, and can be stacked on top of each other.

Financial assistance could be available for the program because of the pandemic, Barkett said. Also, temporary shelter that’s now provided for the homeless at the San Diego Convention Center and some motels will no longer be available after the county and state safety restrictions are lifted.

Details such as when the pilot program might begin remain to be decided.

“Staff has been approached by Fixx Solutions to use 22nd DAA property as a pilot program for homeless veterans housing,” fairgrounds communication manager Annie Pierce said by email Wednesday, May 20. “At this point, staff is doing due diligence to determine if this is an appropriate use, learning what approvals may be necessary and compiling a detailed list of questions/uncertainties to address with Fixx Solutions.”

The Del Mar City Council has talked repeatedly over the years about a partnership with the fairgrounds to create affordable housing, as documented in the city’s “22 in 5” report issued in May 2018. The report outlined a goal of building 22 affordable housing units in five years. So far, the city has not built any of the affordable housing required by the state.

“The pandemic has made it more urgent for Del Mar to work with the fairgrounds and our neighboring cities to develop projects that provide housing, clean energy and streamlined services to our community,” Del Mar Mayor Ellie Haviland said by email Wednesday, May 20.

“The proposal to provide much-needed housing for homeless veterans and their families is currently under review,” Haviland said. “We are continuing to work with the fairgrounds and Solana Beach to explore other opportunities for housing at the fairgrounds.”

Solana Beach Mayor Jewel Edson said late Wednesday, May 20, the idea has merit, but it’s unlikely to help Solana Beach meet its state housing requirements.

“While I embrace the intent, substantially more project design and community-wide discussions will be necessary to get me fully on board,” Edson said. “A well-run program that creates dignified housing options for veterans, including wrap-around services to help permanantly lift them out of homelessness, is certainly something that I can get behind.

“However, it is unclear whether the proposed modular units would comply with the HCD-required federal housing unit definition necessary to be counted toward our respective city’s (state low-income housing) allocations,” she said. “Also, neither of the potential fairgrounds locations, horsepark or the RV lot, fall within the Del Mar or Solana Beach city boundaries. Consequently, as currently proposed the one-year temporary pilot program would not count towards either city’s low-income housing requirements.”

Del Mar has previously discussed the possibility of annexing the RV lot property so it could get credit for low-income housing there. That’s unlikely to be an option for Solana Beach.

The fairgrounds would contract with the company to install, maintain and operate the transitional housing, said Dustin Fuller, a supervising environmental planner for the agricultural district.

Occupants would be required to observe strict protocols. Meals would be provided, and residents would have curfews. The units would have no kitchens and would be similar to some of the “tiny homes” that are becoming popular.

“It could be easily set up and easily removed,” said Director Don Mosier, who serves on a committee investigating the idea.

“This is just introducing the concept,” said Carlene Moore, deputy general manager of the agricultural association. “We’re getting support from the cities. We’ve got some work ahead of us. We need to see if they could qualify for (housing) credits.”

Some residents near the fairgrounds could have concerns about the housing, said fair board Director Joyce Rowland. Events such as concerts and soccer tournaments have brought complaints about noise and traffic in the past.

It’s important to publicize the program before it happens so people can air their thoughts on the plan, Rowland said.

— Phil Diehl is a reporter for The San Diego Union Tribune