North Redlands resident Amanda Glenn was appalled when she learned that Liberty Lane, an affordable housing project for homeless veterans was facing opposition from some of her neighbors. Those neighbors, calling themselves the Northside Impact Committee, recently submitted a petition with almost two dozen signatures of residents who said the project would increase traffic, decrease property values, impact air quality, and increase crime. Amanda, however, sees the project as an opportunity to transform a vacant lot into a safe and comfortable place for San Bernardino county’s wounded warriors and struggling former service men and women.
Amanda understands first-hand the challenges facing our veterans when they return home. Her brother-in-law Alexander, who is featured in George W. Bush’s book Portraits of Courage, was wounded while serving in Afghanistan as an Army infantryman when his platoon was caught in an ambush and he was shot in the neck between his C3 and C4 vertebrae. The bullet still remains. “Often they return home with injuries – both visible and invisible – that intensify the challenges of transitioning into civilian life,” former President Bush notes in the book. Amanda agrees. That’s why she supports the project and believes the “housing first” approach is one city leaders should enthusiastically support as well.
A Community of Friends, a nonprofit affordable housing developer, has proposed to build the Liberty Lane project to benefit veterans and their families and people with special needs. The County of San Bernardino secured funding for the proposed project and, after listening to the concerns of some residents, added supportive services and additional law enforcement resources to the plan. Supervisor Josie Gonzales, Chair of the Interagency Council on Homelessness, said in a letter of support that reducing veteran homelessness is a high priority for the county. Supervisor James Ramos, whose district includes the proposed site, made sure the county’s Department of Behavioral Health and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs were committed to providing additional support services. Even S.B. District Attorney Mike Ramos, who grew-up in the North Redlands community, sees it as an opportunity to honor the service of men like his father who served in the Korean War. “Make no mistake,” he stated in a letter explaining a multi-crime free housing approach, this “will only further our efforts to provide safe housing and services for homeless veterans who served our country and who now need our support.”
Like Amanda, Redlands native Jason Riley, a small business owner and veteran who served in Afghanistan, sees Liberty Lane as an opportunity to eradicate homelessness for the veteran population. He too is having a difficult time understanding the arguments against the project. “The site is currently an empty lot in an underdeveloped area, the project would increase property values not decrease them. I’m just not sure how housing would make air quality worse. We don’t seem to have a problem with traffic when we’re putting in another Starbuck’s drive-thru. That just makes no sense to me,” he said. Jason and Doug Kidd, his business partner at J. Riley Distillery, are both veterans who make sure other veterans know they are appreciated. They offer special discounts to veterans and offer their business as a safe space for veterans to gather. “Redlands produces them,’ he said, “but we don’t take care of them when they get back.”
Joining Amanda and Jason, Carla Thornton, a 20-year member of the Air Force and Veterans Coordinator at a community college located near the City of Redlands, is also perplexed by the opposition. “This project is specifically important to me because many student veterans at our local colleges are currently homeless or are at-risk for homelessness,” she shared with the city council in a letter of support. “Providing housing allows veterans to stabilize their lives and become successful and contributing members of our community.”
The project was initially scheduled to be discussed in open session during the February 21st city council meeting, but was pulled by staff who wanted to review more of the public comments. The city council had also received a letter earlier that day from Johnson, Smith & Foy on behalf of residents calling themselves Citizens for Equitable Redlands. Johnson, Smith and Foy have developed a lucrative niche by challenging development projects. They “often force cities into settlements, extracting changes for clients,” according to a news article published in 2013. I called Johnson, Smith & Foy after I couldn’t find any information on the “Citizens” group online and left a message. I’ve seen these tactics used before, it’s just reprehensible that it would be used to stop a project that would help so many of our homeless veterans.
The Redlands City Council will be discussing the project in closed session on Tuesday, April 18th. Hopefully they can collectively muster up the courage to approve the project soon because every day they delay is another day our veterans must suffer on the streets of a city that has an opportunity to give them a home. Several times a week, Amanda drives by the park near the proposed site, which has become a place where homeless veterans congregate. She finds it hard to understand why other members of her community would rather see blight than provide a place for those who risked their lives to protect ours.