City plans to house criminals in South Bay Hotel

SMART House program helps addicts stay out of jail

San Diego - A plan to turn a South Bay hotel into a home for up to 84 non-violent repeat offenders is meeting some heavy opposition from people who live nearby.

San Diego's City Attorney's office launched the San Diego Misdemeanants At-Risk Track (SMART) Program in December of 2016. It was aimed at people who were let out of jail by Proposition 47. The program works to help petty criminals avoid return trips to jail.

Part of it involves housing. To do that, the program will spend $11 million dollars to buy and rennovate the Super 8 Motel at 1788 Palm Avenue.

The money for the building comes from Community Development Block Grants and from State Grants related to Proposition 47.

Up to 84 people can live in the hotel. To be eligible, offenders need to have had one or more drug offenses since Proposition 47 took effect in 2014, and have been arrested at least twice in the past six months for a quality-of-life offense. They also have to pass a strict background test and maintain good standing in the SMART program.

(Find more information about the SMART Program here)

"For those individuals who wash out, jail time is waiting for them," says Deputy Chief City Attorney Lara Easton, who's in charge of the program.

But people who live near the hotel worry it could lead to more crime in the neighborhood.

"It's not a good idea to have those kind of people around here," says Margaret Huerta, who lives in the Imperial Sands Mobile Home Park next door.

She says at least two neighbors have already been robbed on the streets in front of the park, and she worries that adding more criminals would make things work.

A search on the 10News Crime Tracker showed 41 arrests within a mile of the hotel in the past month.

Easton says the SMART home won't add crime to the area.

"In reality, these are low level misdemeanor offenders," she says. "My office screens all of them. We do comprehensive background checks."

"There are a lot of myths that we're taking individuals from the State Prison, convicted sex offenders, murderers, arsonists, and putting them in the South Bay," Easton says. "That's just not the case."

The City Attorney's office will host a town hall meeting on Wednesday night to address the concerns of people in the area. It will be at 6:30 pm at the Otay Mesa-Nestor Library. In addition to City Attorney Mara Elliott, Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman will answer questions about security at the hotel.

The City Attorney's Office also wants to create an Advisory Board of citizens to help oversee the program.

Huerta says she plans to go, and so do several of her neighbors.

"It's okay, find a place to put them so they can become better citizens, or whatever," she says. "Guide them better, but not here."

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