BENICIA – The Benicia City Council will consider at its meeting Tuesday whether to sell or lease two city-owned buildings to be used as shelters by SafeQuest Solano, a nonprofit that provides domestic violence support services.
A proposed resolution on Tuesday’s Benicia City Council agenda does not say how much the city would charge SafeQuest to purchase or lease the property, which totals about 3,100 square feet across both buildings. Another nonprofit, House of Hope, which focuses mainly on rehabilitation facilities, would help operate the shelter, according to the resolution.
SafeQuest has faced eroding support and calls for an investigation into its practices after a Vallejo Sun investigation published in June reported that former employees said that its existing shelters were sparsely used and SafeQuest allowed an attorney for the organization to live at a shelter rented from the city of Fairfield for $1 per year.
Benicia City Manager Mario Giuliani and community development director Suzanne Thorsen did not respond to a request for comment. SafeQuest Executive Director Mary Anne Branch did not respond to written questions.
The contract with Benicia would come as the city of Fairfield considers cutting ties with SafeQuest. Following the publication of the Sun article, Fairfield issued a request for proposals to find a new operator for its shelter.
However, only SafeQuest submitted a proposal, according to Fairfield Mayor Catherine Moy. SafeQuest has sought a long-term extension of their lease since last year, but amid questions about how the property was being used, has remained on a month-to-month lease.
Moy said that she has no plans to bring a new lease for a vote by the City Council and that Fairfield City Manager David Gassaway “continues to be uncomfortable with extending the contract.”
According to Moy, Branch met with Fairfield city officials to dispute the Sun’s reporting on its shelters. SafeQuest has declined to answer any questions from the Sun and has not sought any corrections to the articles.
Much has been made of the Flannery Associates’ five-year-long, $1 billion purchase of a combined 50,000 acres in Solano County. The audacity of the investors’ stunt seems to have captured the imagination of many paying attention to the intersection of California’s housing problem, the tech barons who dominate California politics, and the convoluted state of America’s local democracy.
There is a belief, propagated by Silicon Valley elites, that ingenuity and purposeful design are all that stand between us and a brighter future. The Flannery Associates represent this class of tech utopians whose infamous desire to “move fast and break things” continues to impact the lives of Bay Area residents while denying locals the opportunity to contribute to decision-making. In a state whereconservatism has struggled to become a relevant political force in recent decades, this strain of tech-libertarianism has emerged as one of the strongest challenges to local democracy and California’s liberal consensus.
These tech elite seem to believe that Californians cannot choose for themselves how to develop their communities; instead, they will design and build the future for us. Their utopian ambition is increasingly common amongst the tech-baron class and seems to have only intensified as growing wealth inequality transforms the state. Tech and its most prominent advocates promise to bypass political processes, enacting significant change at the expense of voters’ input. This approach of asking forgiveness rather than permission is a tech favorite (used most memorably by ride-sharing companies and AirBnb).
A common complaint registered at this point is that our government, with its overly complicated processes and regulations, is simply too inefficient and cumbersome to enact the wishes of any group of citizens. Bold action is needed to fix the housing crisis, and Flannery Associates is certainly a group with the power to do so.
California faces a number of existential problems, including wealth inequality, the effects of climate change (especially wildfires), and a housing crisis that leavesat least 20% of our Bay Area neighbors in poverty and30,000 unhoused. The answer, however, is not to be found in the designs of any one group or individual. It is the process of democracy itself which allows the community to make its own decisions, and to build the future we decide together.
While old institutions undoubtedly suffer from bloat and stagnation, new ones, especially those championed by tech elites, are at risk of capture by moneyed interests. The hubris of a few rich men cannot be allowed to outweigh the needs of the Bay Area’s communities. Flannery Associates is just another in a long line of companies that have avoided the input of everyday people, a failure that indicates that they don’t believe they can convince a majority. If the tech barons truly believe they have the best ideas, they should face the judgment of the democratic process.
Tech continues to look for the easy way out, and they should face ridicule for doing so. These CEOs, venture capitalists, and Wall Street investors are not brave disruptors of broken institutions, but dreamers who don’t have the backbone to converse with the people they claim to champion. The democratic process is not an obstacle to progress but how we decide the best path forward, and those who aim to circumnavigate it are only concerned that their vision of the future won’t be realized exactly as they see fit.
[Note from BenIndy Contributor Nathalie Christian: Scroll down past this public notice to see a short list of previous posts – including several opinion pieces you should really read – regarding the Draft Housing Element. You have until 5pm on Wednesday, August 9 to submit your public comment. Please note that I bolded, enlarged and altered a paragraph from the public notice to include links that will take you directly to the named documents, so you don’t have to hunt for them on the very dense main page for Benicia’s Housing Element.]
Benicia’s Subsequent Draft Housing Element available for public review
The City of Benicia has released a Subsequent Draft Housing Element for 2023-2031 for review by interested members of the public. The Subsequent Draft Housing Element incorporates revisions requested by the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) in their response letter dated April 4, 2023. The Subsequent Draft Housing Element is available on the City website at www.ci.benicia.ca.us/housingelement.
Two versions of the Subsequent draft are posted: a clean copy and a mark-up copy dated June 2023. The mark-up copy shows revisions to the Adopted Housing Element in blue highlight; other tracked changes are earlier revisions in the prior submittal to HCD.
Written comments are being accepted for a seven-day period concluding at 5pm on Wednesday, August 9 and may be submitted via email to email@example.com or by mail to Planning Division, City of Benicia, 250 East L Street.
Benicia can provide future generations with what they need to thrive – without losing its identity
By Ashton Lyle, June 28, 2023
My cousin just graduated in her small town, complete with a ceremony reminiscent of my own experience at Benicia High School. Her school, with only 63 graduates, exists firmly outside the suburban identity of Benicia – but all the same, as I watched these newly minted young adults striding confidently across the gymnasium floor, I was left considering the shared nature of our small-town identity.
A small town’s character is bound up in its most community-minded individuals, the folks who organize around important collective desires. Whether in California or not, these leaders tend to be parents, motivated by the intense desire to provide opportunities for their children. Such is the case in Benicia, a town whose identity is deeply tied to the high quality of education provided to its children.
Education is why my parents moved to Benicia, bringing me to my new home in the golden hills for the first time as a five-year-old. This is a common experience amongst young families in Benicia, who are making sacrifices of all types to find homes and enroll their children into the regionally acclaimed schools. This intense drive to provide for children’s success is admirable.
Quality primary education naturally leads to higher education, and in America, university-level instruction often takes one away from one’s hometown. Meaning that for me and many other young people raised here, the reason why I arrived in Benicia became the reason I left. Like many others across the region, this city is designed to send its children away.
This is the story of my upbringing and of many others in the community. Even after I finished my education and returned to the Bay Area, I did not come home. Why was that, and what does it say about the continuity of Benicia’s community?
First, leaving one’s hometown is a privilege not guaranteed by growing up with access to good schools. Many of my classmates have not left their own hometowns, largely for economic reasons, a common experience as between30% and50% of young people live with their parents. There is a vicious cycle of stagnation everywhere in America, epitomized by the inability to afford the move to better opportunities, which is difficult to leave behind without generational wealth.
Of course, choosing to continue living in one’s hometown as a young person is a perfectly acceptable choice, especially because Benicia and its surrounding communities have many positive aspects. In addition to the incredible weather, culture, and people, the Bay Area is also notable for its jobs, a consideration that is especially important for young people looking to build financial independence. Even better, these jobs are the type of employment that allows for a future unburdened by concerns about making rent and servicing debt.
Benicia can evolve to keep its young people while still providing them with the economic possibilities they need to thrive. The town will never be for everyone; some will always be drawn to the big city, and others to rural tranquility. However, I know many of Benicia’s parents want to keep their children close, and it’s worth considering what policy choices could help keep families and the broader community together over the long term.
Where Benicia falls short in comparison to its neighbors is its ability to offer the same opportunities – in business, leisure, and otherwise – which allow for easy connection to other early-career workers. The problem facing current residents is how to provide essential social and economic possibilities for young people while maintaining Benicia’s identity.
This intersects in complex ways with the rise of remote work. As office work has become less frequent for many in the professional class since COVID, the value of housing has risen in the areas surrounding major cities, including Benicia.While I believe we need to increase the town’s housing stock, it is also true that in order to compete for the attention of young people looking to make a home within neighboring towns, Benicia must work to maximize what makes it so special.
I see two main areas that would provide increased opportunities for young adults while improving the city’s livability. One is Benicia’s connection and ease of transit to neighboring cities that provide services and experiences incompatible with the nature of small-town life. For example, Vallejo contains many shops and amenities from a movie theatre to big-box retailers that are currently infeasible or out of step with the size of Benicia. This means transit connections should continue to be built out, for example, by further exploring the potential for a 9th St. ferry, building increased bus connections, and allocating funds to better maintain our roads.
The other avenue would be to double down on what makes Benicia great to begin with – our downtown. The walkable, mixed-used character of downtown, with its intoxicating mix of neighborliness, town events, art galleries, and small businesses, draws visitors and residents alike to the area. The city is looking into expanding mixed-used zoning to areas like theEastern Gateway, an amendment that I am happy to see passed, as it not only invites the business and social spaces which attract young people but will also expand our tax base. These sustainable developments, which could expand eventually to include the Raley’s and Safeway shopping centers, build on Benicia’s historic character while providing more opportunities for business and community growth.
These new additions can continue the tradition of Benicia’s small-business-focused downtown, while also being free to experiment with new types of buildings and businesses which are better suited to the contemporary remote work city. Co-working spaces, formal and otherwise, would bring people to the Eastern Gateway, incentivizing more services within the new “midtown,” providing an alternative focal point to 1st Street. This would help alleviate some of the parking issues facing Benicia’s downtown, however, the development is also only a short drive away, meaning workers drawn to the area would still be likely to patronize existing businesses and keep the community thriving. By providing additional locations for remote work and social gatherings in town, these new areas incentivize young workers to spend their time in and amongst the community, making our town more engaging for both current and future residents.
The last few years have signaled the start of a new status quo in the nature of small-town life, both built by and increasingly unbound from the concept of a traditional California suburb. Planning a Benicia better suited for the age of remote work and open to increased social and business opportunities is the key to providing a lifetime of opportunities for its children and residents of all ages, allowing the community to stay and grow together.
Author’s Note: In the spirit of full transparency, I am related to the recently appointed Planning Commissioner for the City of Benicia. That said, the opinions expressed in this piece are fully my own, they were not unduly influenced by our relationship, and should not be taken to represent his or anyone else’s opinion.