Harmony between the Davis Community Church (DCC) and the D Street neighborhood may be possible after the City Council’s passage of a Memorandum of Understanding by a 4 to 1 vote.
In recent years, the D Street area residents have become increasingly frustrated with what they believe is an over-concentration of homeless services in their neighborhood. The church provides brown bag lunches for the homeless daily, as well as a spiritual ministry program for the homeless called Grace Alive, and an interfaith winter shelter for three to four weeks out of the year.
The C-D-4th-5th block owned by the city and DCC has a zoning designation of Core-Infill, which allows for public and semi-public uses by right without requiring a public review of these uses and their potential impacts.
In October of 2008, staff brought a recommendation to City Council to adopt an emergency ordinance to change the zoning for this district.
The city settled on an MOU, which requires the church to give a detailed description of future program plans, let the neighborhood know and have a meeting to form an agreement between the neighborhood and the church. There will also be a mediation program through the city, such as the Community Mediation Service. If the mediation is not feasible, the proposal will go to the Planning Commission for review and action.
Mayor Ruth Asmundson believes that after a year of trying to resolve the conflict between the neighborhood and church, the memorandum is more amicable than rezoning the area.
“This memorandum allows the neighborhood and church to work together,” Asmundson said. “Also, if the church doesn’t follow the process and violates the understanding’s terms, the city will initiate a rezoning process.”
DCC Pastor Mary Lynn Tobin said the church is not happy about the MOU, but with the city considering a rezone, this is a better option.
Tobin said there is a false perception that the church’s programs are at the root of homeless coming to Davis.
“We’re located across the street from Central Park,” Tobin said. “The police have told us that by and large the issues caused by homeless around here in the past have not been people that we serve at the church.”
Councilmember Sue Greenwald believes the problem lies in chronic homelessness, which according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is defined as a person is an unaccompanied disabled individual who has been continuously homeless for over one year.
According to 2006 data HUD indicates there were 155,623 chronically homeless individuals in the U.S.
“There is a desire to balance the services for the homeless and keep a vibrant downtown,” Greenwald said. “Davis can handle its fair share of homeless, but there is a certain point where a small town like Davis has to be careful because problems are created. There needs to be a nationwide solution.”
Greenwald compared Davis to Berkeley in the 1960s.
“Nobody thought that there would be such a problem with homeless in Berkeley when I went to school there,” Greenwald said. “We want to avoid what happened to Berkeley, losing businesses because of chronic homelessness and having students feel unsafe walking around at night. University towns should allow students to feel safe.”
Councilmember Don Saylor voted against the memorandum, feeling Davis is not helping the homeless.
“It’s good that there have been discussions, but the process was flawed,” Saylor said. “This MOU has controls and precise limitations. This is constraining mercies of community, rather than showing heart.”
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, City Manager Bill Emlen said the MOU is very specific and that the increased communication between people in the community will help problem solve in the future.
Some stakeholders and councilmembers, such as Lamar Heystek, believe a broader effort should be made to consider local planning needs citywide for households who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness. This work could tie into the Countywide Homeless Coordination Project and the Countywide Ten-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness, which are two larger efforts that the City is actively participating in.
ANGELA SWARTZ can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.