Fairgrounds continues study of homeless housing proposal, despite stiff opposition

The Del Mar fair board is considering a plan to install temporary modular housing for hundreds of homeless veterans.
The Del Mar fair board is considering a plan to install temporary modular housing for hundreds of homeless veterans and their families at the Del Mar Horse Park, a 65-acre equestrian facility about three miles east of the fairgrounds. The site has access to Interstate 5 and facilities such as parking and hookups for water, sewage and electricity.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Del Mar residents say location is far from needed services, raise concerns about company


Del Mar Fairgrounds officials are continuing their investigation of a proposal to install temporary housing for homeless veterans and their families on the state-owned property, despite widespread opposition from nearby residents.

The idea, first presented to the 22nd District Agricultural Association board in May, calls for installing somewhere between 200 and 1,200 temporary modular buildings. The operator would provide security and housekeeping services, a kitchen and cafeteria, recreational rooms, medical care and counseling services.

Fair board members have said the housing program, in addition to helping the homeless, could provide a new source of revenue for the district.

Fairgrounds in California and across the United States are struggling financially under the ban on large gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic. The 22nd DAA expects its revenue to be down 90 percent this year, and it plans to lay off 60 percent of its full-time staff in October.

Gov. Gavin Newsom suggested in his State of the State address in February that state-owned properties such as the fairgrounds could be leased to local governments for shelters or other homeless services.

He also proposed allocating up to $750 million in state money, on top of previous allocations, to expand homeless services and get more people into housing.

A small and relatively unknown Los Angeles company, Fixx Solutions, presented the unsolicited idea to the board.

The company made a similar proposal in March to the small Northern California town of Oroville, according to a story in the Chico Enterprise-Record newspaper. One Oroville City Council member said the shelter could be a “game-changer” for the Butte County region, which had 2,300 homeless people in March 2019, but a majority of the council opposed the idea.

So far, the Del Mar fair board has held only preliminary discussions and made no commitment to the housing idea.

“The concept of temporary or low-income housing was simply that, a concept,” said fair board member Kathlyn Mead, who serves on an ad hoc committee that is studying the idea. “We are considering a lot of other options ... to generate revenue and jobs for staff affected by the crisis.”

Del Mar Horse Park

The most likely site for the housing appears to be at the Del Mar Horsepark, a 65-acre equestrian facility about three miles east of the fairgrounds at the corner of El Camino Real and Via de la Valle. Another possible location is the fairgrounds’ recreational vehicle lot near the tennis courts on Jimmy Durante Boulevard.

Mead and Director Lisa Barkett were appointed in June to an ad hoc committee created to study the housing proposal. Their report will be presented at the fair board’s Aug. 11 meeting.

“It was very clear that this was out of our area of expertise,” Mead said. “We needed to consult with experts to determine if it was a viable opportunity.”

Nearly everyone who spoke on the subject at recent fair board meetings were people living near the fairgrounds who strongly opposed the homeless shelter.

Erwin Shustak, a San Diego attorney and president of the Rancho Del Mar Association, said he represented a community of 125 homes and more than 350 residents at Via de la Valle and Via del Canon, submitted a six-page letter opposing the project.

“We are sensitive to the plight of the homeless, particularly veterans,” Shustak said by phone recently. “We also understand the tremendous financial loss the fairgrounds has and will continue to sustain as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, a once-in-a-lifetime event that has upended and affected virtually everyone.

“There are, however, aspects of the proposal to install (up to) 1,200 modular housing units, sharing common kitchen, sewer and bathrooms, that concern us.”

The densely packed housing would be a “logistical disaster” for COVID-19 infection, he said. The nearby streets are busy, dangerous and do not have sidewalks, and the area offers none of the medical, counseling, job placement and other services that the homeless would need.

Shustak and others have pointed to public records that they say raise serious concerns about the background of one of the partners proposing the project.

The records show Fixx Solutions was formed earlier this year and has operated no previous homeless housing projects. Court documents show one of the partners in the company, Jeffrey Pink, has had multiple civil judgments against him. By far, the largest is a breach of contract claim for $858,736 filed against him and his company EV Rental Cars LLC on April 17, 2009, in Los Angeles Superior Court and dismissed on Oct. 12, 2010.

Also listed are collections claims by American Express and Ford Motor Company that were dismissed or settled in 2009 and 2010. Pink said all the claims were settled by the bankruptcy and are no longer an issue.

“The only truthful allegation is that I was forced to file a Chapter 7 personal bankruptcy in 2009 because of a personal guarantee I provide a lender to the environmentally friendly rental car company EV Rental Cars, LLC, in which I originally held a majority interest,” Pink said in a written response to Shustak’s letter.

“Since the bankruptcy, I have not had any judgments rendered or recorded against me,” Pink said. “Any claims or judgments which pre-dated my personal bankruptcy in 2009 were discharged in 2009. If Mr. Shustak has discovered any current judgments against Jeffrey Pink, then it must be a different Jeffrey Pink who is the judgment debtor.”

Pink said by phone that he has built more than 2,000 homes and apartments in Southern California and Las Vegas.

He and his partners started Fixx Industries to help the homeless, Pink said. One of the partners, Ballard Hospitality, was founded in Louisiana in 2005 to provide a variety of remote feeding and lodging programs after Hurricane Katrina. Pink said their idea is to give people “a hand up, not a handout.”

“There’s a lot of people out there that are homeless and still work,” he said. “Those are the people we want to take care of ... the people who really want to get better.”

Among the speakers at recent board meetings was Del Mar Councilwoman Terry Gaasterland, who said homeless programs need a wide range of services to succeed, and none of them are in place in Del Mar.

Like several others, Gaasterland said the program has the potential to overwhelm tiny Del Mar, the county’s smallest city with about 4,300 residents.

“An additional 1,000 people would be a 25 percent increase of the population in Del Mar,” she said. “Just the pursuit of this project would swamp our city staff.”

She said the fairgrounds should pursue ventures more in line with its mission of promoting agriculture and entertainment for county residents.

Fairgrounds officials announced last month they will be forced to lay off 60 percent of their 187 full-time employees in October if they can’t resume major events or find some other significant source of revenue by the end of this year.

The expected layoffs would reduce the fairgrounds monthly payroll from $1.6 million to $700,000.

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