Two City Council members traded email shots last week over the future of Schroeder Hall, an Army National Guard facility at Willow Street and Grand Avenue the city is trying to obtain from the federal government for a new police division station.
More specifically, Fourth District Councilman Patrick O’Donnell and Fifth District Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske are at odds over a new facility for Mental Health of America to provide service to homeless people – a condition for the Army to turn the Schroeder Hall property over to the city. The City Council met in closed session Tuesday night and voted to move forward with the exchange by starting the Environmental Impact Review process.
Wednesday, O’Donnell issued a press release saying that MHA had halted discussion about locating somewhere other than the city’s Health and Human Services headquarters complex, across Grand Avenue from Schroeder Hall (which was the preferred location more than two years ago, when the trade was first proposed). O’Donnell has opposed that location from the beginning, arguing that it was too close to neighborhoods.
“The proposed location is not fair to the nearby residents and not fair to the homeless,” O’Donnell wrote in the release. “We all have a duty to help our fellow man, but this proposal was not thought out from the start. I am very disappointed that efforts to move this facility away from people's homes has not been successful. The service provider has changed their minds about protecting our community.”
Schipske, whose district includes the Schroeder Hall site, fired back in a lengthy email Thursday, pointed out that the proposed facility’s preferred location is more than a mile from the nearest homes near Stearns Park, and noting that the council voted to have City Manager Pat West continue negotiations with MHA about both alternative locations and a cash payment.
Schipske noted that she spoke with City Attorney Robert Shannon and received permission to talk about the discussion in closed session after O’Donnell’s press release.
Government Affairs Director Tom Modica said that staff had been directed to start the EIR process with a preferred alternative of locating the MHA facility behind the Health Department building, as far away from homes as possible. The second alternative would be on the Schroeder Hall property, in a corner near some homes in the Fifth District. The staff also was directed to evaluate any new sites presented, but would not be actively searching for new sites, Modica said. He added that the city already had evaluated more than 100 other potential sites and pursued the cash payment alternative.
“As the first Councilmember to speak on this issue in the closed session, I strongly expressed my disagreement with any location that is directly behind residences,” Schipske wrote in her email, “and then stated that I was concerned it had not been made clear with the U.S. Army, U.S. HUD or MHA that a list of restrictions would be placed on any location MHA would occupy and that fact needed to be discussed prior to any EIR or lease.”
Modica said that the direction from council also included creation of an initial list of restrictions for MHA. He noted that federal government officials had made it clear it was time to move forward with the land transfer if it was going to happen.
A contract could be signed for a consultant to do the EIR by the end of the year, with the actual study taking another nine months. The cost will be $120,000 to $150,000. The city already has been approved to retain $3.5 million from the former Redevelopment Agency to renovate Schroeder Hall into a police station for the East Division of the Long Beach Police Department.
“After the vote, the City Manager again contacted MHA about seeking an alternative site,” Schipske wrote. “I am hopeful that O'Donnell's inaccurate and inflammatory comments will not derail the progress that has been made in working with MHA to find a more suitable location and our efforts to protect the neighborhood."
Schipske’s complete statement, along with a copy of O’Donnell’s press release, is available at www.gerrieschipske.com.