Jovan Grogan

Jovan Grogan

Responding to public health concerns from the community, San Bruno officials are crafting a strategy for humanely clearing a homeless encampment formed on the city’s eastside amid a pandemic.

The San Bruno City Council will discuss the plans to determine the fate of the small camp comprised of only a few residents during a meeting Tuesday, July 28. Officials will also decide on proposals to float a cannabis business tax and hotel tax increase at the same meeting.

City Manager Jovan Grogan balanced the challenges forming around public pressure to address the camp adjacent to Forest Lane Park while also recognizing guidance discouraging displacing the homeless during a health crisis.

“We are concerned about the health of the general public as well as members of the encampment and both our employees and those of the partners that support our homeless services,” said Grogan.

Grogan said the encampment is primarily occupied by someone who has a long history with the city’s outreach team. To that end, he said the camp near the intersection of interstates 280 and 380 has been contacted almost 65 times in the past few months.

The issue continues a discussion from earlier this year, when officials examined appropriately addressing a camp which formed along Angus Avenue, near the library.

For the new location, Grogan said officials are planning to evacuate the site.

“After lengthy outreach and offering services and documenting public health concerns, we have started the eviction process,” he said.

But he noted the action runs counter to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which advises against displacing those without a stable housing arrangement during a pandemic.

Looking ahead, Grogan said he is hopeful the occupants of the site will accept the assistance offered by the service agencies partnering with the city.

“Our goal, even though we have started the eviction process, is to have the occupants of the encampment avail themselves to the myriad services that have been provided,” he said.

In other business at the meeting, officials are set to approve floating two tax measures to the fall ballot intended to help stabilize the city’s limited budget, which faces a deficit worth more than $8 million.

One proposal is to increase the transient occupancy tax, or hotel tax, rate by 2 percentage points from 12% to 14%.

While officials have expressed interest in cutting spending and seeking more budget efficiencies to further reduce the deficit, Finance Director Keith DeMartini has projected the hotel tax increase could generate an additional $375,000 annually.

That estimation is down by about $125,000 from initial projections, before the pandemic constrained travel patterns. DeMartini said overnight stays in San Bruno hotel rooms are down 40% from the year prior.

The hotel tax hike is proposed with hopes of generating revenue needed to help close a sizable budget gap. Officials have said the city’s budget was limited before the pandemic hit, with spending outpacing income to the tune of about $4.2 million and the economic devastation brought with COVID-19 cost the city an additional $4 million.

The measure would need a simple majority of voter support to pass. Previous polling suggested that about 60% of voters are comfortable with the tax proposal.

Officials are also advancing toward floating a cannabis business tax on the fall ballot, but details of the initiative are still up in the air. Councilmembers support establishing fees for cannabis companies, but have not made any decision on what sorts of businesses may be allowed to operate in San Bruno should the tax pass.

Under the proposed ballot language, the fee would tax businesses up to 10% of the gross receipts of any cannabis company eventually allowed in San Bruno.

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