Sweet charity

People who devote their professional lives to the task of helping the homeless tend to be trusting souls. They’re not the hard-driving dealmakers you find in the development industry. They’re not attorneys. They’re not politicians. And that’s exactly why, when representatives of local charities say they’re worried that Sacramento County is about to pass them over in favor of a private developer as it parcels out property in the wake of the McClellan Air Force Base closure, the community had better listen.

Three charities—Sacramento Food Bank Services, Sacramento Cottage Housing and Winter Youth Center for Homeless Kids—were awarded facilities at McClellan under the tenets of the federal law governing base closures, which requires local agencies to balance the interests of homeless assistance against those of economic development in deciding who gets base properties.

According to the law, resolution of homeless assistance claims must take place before any development deals can be made.

The three charities’ claims for McClellan property were approved in 1997, but the following year, the county entered into a partnership with a private company, McClellan Business Park, giving the developer the exclusive right to purchase whatever portions of the base it wishes and entitling it to participate in all decisions relevant to the redevelopment of the base.

This has the charities nervous, and with good reason: McClellan Business Park has plans to turn the McClellan Inn into a conference center, even though the 118-bed facility supposedly has already been given to Sacramento Cottage Housing for use as a halfway house for the homeless. Meanwhile, the county has asked the charities to prove their “fiscal viability” as a precondition to awarding properties, arousing further concern. The charities are asked to submit an extensive analysis of site renovation requirements even though two have been assigned sites, and given a deadline of a few weeks to provide detailed financial information and program plans that would take months to compile.

The situation prompted representatives of two of the charities to write a letter to the county voicing “concern about the good-faith basis” of the property transfer and calling for a neutral third party to conduct the fiscal viability review. That shouldn’t be necessary. The county should simply approve the charities’ fiscal viability and either award them properties at McClellan or some reasonable equivalent. To do otherwise would send the process into a legal quagmire and needlessly delay relief for the area’s homeless. It would also violate the public trust.