The Bakersfield-Kern Regional Homeless Collaborative (“BKRHC”) applied for a temporary conditional use permit for Kern Project Roomkey (“Project Roomkey”). The project provides housing of persons experiencing homelessness who are deemed high-risk of contracting COVID-19 to shelter-in-place at an existing hotel. The 5-month conditional use permit was approved by the Board of Zoning Adjustment on August 11, 2020 and subsequently appealed on August 14, 2020.
Location. The site is developed with the Rosedale Inn and associated parking. Surrounding properties are predominately developed with commercial uses and consist of restaurants, hotels, and the Bakersfield Heart Hospital to the north; the Kern River to the east; and Rosedale Highway and State Route 99 interchange to the south and west. The nearest residential development are apartments located approximately 800 feet to the east, on the opposite side of the Kern River and the Kern River Parkway Bike Trail.
Project Overview. Project Roomkey is a statewide initiative ran through the California Department of Social Services to aid in protecting the homeless population from the spread of COVID-19 by providing non-congregate shelter options. The initiative provides grant opportunities to implement the program at the local level. BKRHC has secured funding and coordinated with the owner of Rosedale Inn to lease up to 21 rooms for 5 months, where the total capacity at the hotel is 100 rooms.
Project Funding. Project Roomkey is a collaborative effort between the California Veterans Assistance Foundation, Housing Authority of the County of Kern, and the BKRHC. The project will utilize grant funds secured from the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), Homeless Housing Assistance and Prevention (HHAP), the Kern Community Foundation, and the Housing and Opportunity Foundation of Kern. The projected budget for Project Roomkey is attached.
Project Referral. Project Roomkey will operate on a referral basis from street outreach, hospitals, and service providers. Unsheltered individuals or family members who have not had any known or suspected COVID-19 exposure will be pre-screened and identified as a low, medium, or high risk level. Those individuals who are considered high risk can be referred to Project Roomkey. To be considered high risk and eligible for the program, a homeless person must be: over the age of 65; or have a chronic health condition (lungs, heart, immune deficiencies); or be pregnant; and be able to ambulate/self-manage. Also see the attached flow chart.
Project Operations. Upon verification that an individual is eligible for the program, the person must sign a Participate Agreement acknowledging they will be removed from the program if they fail to follow the rules of the Shelter-in-Place Order or the Agreement. Once enrolled, participants are provided with meals, medical monitoring, and limited to leaving the hotel for essential needs only. Transportation is provided for essential appointments, such as medical services, where remote services are not available. The program is strictly voluntary and the stated rules include but are not limited to the following. A complete list of rules is included with the Project Roomkey operational manual (see Exhibit D of draft Resolution).
- Each unit is designed to hold one occupant
- Outside persons are not permitted on the property
- Participants must keep rooms clean and orderly
- The on-site provider and/or property staff have the right to cancel a participant’s stay if there is damage to the room
- Pets/Service animals are permitted in accordance with motel policy
- No weapons or weapon like items are allowed on the property
- Use of alcohol and/or drugs is prohibited on the property
- Participants must dress appropriately when on the property
- Participants are not permitted in the pool area
In addition to the hotel staff, Project Roomkey includes a “Site Monitor” 24 hours a day, 7 days per week. The Site Monitor is responsible for monitoring the activities of participants of the program and ensuring compliance with program rules and expectations. Some of the Site Monitor duties and responsibilities include but are not limited to the following. Also see the attached job description.
- Monitors participant units, is visible and continuously interacts with participants
- Initiate emergency protocols (e.g., contacting local law enforcement, EMT, mental health)
- Ensures participants’ compliance with policy and rules
- Check for contraband through general observation, room, and/or package searches
- Maintain visitor protocol and follow daily log procedures for participants
- Conduct periodic inspections of the facility and grounds to ensure security of facility
- Collect trash from units and properly dispose of items
Project Participant Exit Strategy. There is a coordinated exit strategy for participants leaving the program that is focused on transitioning to permanent housing. Participants will be matched to a rental assistance resource within 14 days of project entry, which could include a housing voucher or rapid re-housing. Each participant will have two people assigned to them to help navigate through the housing search and retention process. Weekly conference meetings to discuss housing barriers and set target housing dates will be held to monitor progress on moving participants to permanent housing. Upon leaving the program, the project will provide direct transportation to the new housing location.
If a participant is leaving due to noncompliance, they will be provided a bus pass to their previous facility. If a participant chooses to not complete the program, direct transportation to an alternative facility such as the Bakersfield Homeless Center, the Mission at Kern County, or the M Street Navigation Center will be offered to the participant.
Applicant Outreach. As part of their “good neighbor” policy, the applicant scheduled a zoom meeting with 7 surrounding businesses on August 4, 2020. According to the applicant, the attendees focused their discussion on several main topics including security, community perception, availability of medical services, and other operational details.
BOARD OF ZONING ADJUSTMENT ACTION:
This project was considered by the BZA on August 11, 2020. Upon review of the initial request, and based on the information available at that time, Staff recommended approval of the project subject to specific operational conditions of approval. The BZA members heard a staff report, public testimony, deliberated, and then voted unanimously to approve the project. The BZA findings are contained in Resolution No. 230-11.
An appeal of the BZA’s decision was filed by Sparks Law Firm representing the Bakersfield Heart Hospital (“Hospital”) on August 14, 2020 in accordance with Bakersfield Municipal Code. The appellant claims in their letter that:
- The BZA failed to take into consideration the opposition letter dated August 10, 2020 due to technical issues with the City’s server.
- The proposed housing of homeless, who are in many cases likely experiencing mental issues and/or issues with drug addiction, would jeopardize the health and well-being of those participating in the program, and significantly add to the serious problems which already emanate from the Rosedale Inn which includes, but is not limited to, illicit drug use, vagrancy, theft and vandalism of Hospital property, theft and vandalism of cars parked on Hospital property.
- The lack of security and other safeguards of the project places those who work at or otherwise receive care and treatment from the Hospital at unnecessary risk.
- Those being housed at the Rosedale Inn as part of the project will tax the already limited resources of the Hospital by presenting to the Emergency Department with non-emergency conditions and/or that they will expose the staff, patients and other guests of the Hospital to the spread of COVID-19 due to their failure to maintain social distancing and the use of personal protective equipment.
ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW AND DETERMINATION:
Should the City Council deny the appeal and approve the conditional use permit, the project has been found to be exempt from the provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) and the City of Bakersfield's CEQA Implementation Procedures in accordance with Section 15301, of the operation, repair, maintenance, permitting, leasing, licensing, or minor alteration of existing public or private structures, facilities, mechanical equipment, or topographical features, involving negligible or no expansion of existing or former use.
CITY COUNCIL OPTIONS:
The City Council has a number of options regarding this appeal request:
- Uphold the Appeal. If the City Council were to uphold the appeal, the CUP would be denied and the applicant could not use Rosedale Inn for Project Roomkey.
- Deny the Appeal. If the City Council were to deny the appeal, the CUP would be approved and the applicant could use Rosedale Inn for Project Roomkey. In order to take this action, the Municipal Code requires that City Council make specific findings as follows:
- The proposed use is deemed essential or desirable to the public convenience or welfare; and,
- The proposed use is in harmony with the various elements and objectives of the general plan and applicable specific plans.
In taking this action, the Council would also require that the CUP must operate subject to the conditions of approval as outlined above.
- Continue the Hearing. The City Council may have unanswered questions and/or require additional information unavailable at the time of the hearing that is needed to make an informed decision. The City Council has the discretion to continue hearing to a date certain in order to obtain such information.
Staff notes that in originally approving the project, the BZA found that the project met the required CUP findings when the appropriate conditions of approval were included. It is also noted that, at the time of the Board of Zoning Adjustment’s decision, the letter of opposition had not been entered into the record. Therefore, Staff recommends that the City Council consider the items addressed in the Appeal letter as previously described, and render a decision based on the three options noted above.