Trump administration withdraws approval for California homeless shelters
SACRAMENTO — The Trump administration has yanked approval for major homeless shelter projects it previously approved in Sacramento and San Francisco.
The move undermines a critical component of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to shelter the homeless on state land and throws nearly two dozen potential shelter projects across the state into question, according to letters the Federal Highway Administration sent the California Department of Transportation earlier this month.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said the city must find a way to still open a 100-bed shelter near X Street and Alhambra Boulevard it planned to open in early fall.
“We need this project,” Steinberg said. “The (Trump) administration often accuses California of standing in the way of building more housing, especially for vulnerable people. Why is the federal government standing in the way of such an important project?”
Steinberg has raised the issue with White House officials and is hopeful federal approval will be restored, said Mary Lynne Vellinga, Steinberg’s spokeswoman.
City Councilman Jay Schenirer, who represents the area and proposed the project more than a year ago, agreed.
“This is just ridiculous,” Schenirer said. “We are trying to meet a challenge with our unsheltered population, we have a community that is supportive, we have the funding to do it and we can put 100 unsheltered folks under a roof with services.”
Vincent Mammano, California division director for the Federal Highway Administration, sent a letter to Caltrans officials May 7 informing them the federal government was withdrawing approval for the Sacramento shelter as well as a 200-bed shelter planned to open this spring in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood. The letter also says the agency is reviewing approvals for two other shelters in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood as well as one in Los Angeles’ San Pedro neighborhood. Caltrans “improperly issued” the National Environmental Policy Act determination for those sites, the letter says.
After questions surfaced about the San Francisco and Los Angeles locations, the agency reexamined its approval of the Sacramento site, a May 14 letter from FHA to Caltrans said.
Although the site is actually a vacant lot located underneath portions of Highway 50 and Highway 99, it’s considered in the “highway right of way,” according to the letter. FHA has a policy to use the “right of way” exclusively for transportation uses “in order to ensure traffic can flow as safely and efficiently as possibly,” with rare exceptions, the letter said.
In addition, when the agency sells or leases “right of way” land, it wants to get fair market value for it in order to use that money for other highway projects, the letter said.
That policy directly contradicts a new California state law that allows cities to lease properties from Caltrans for $1 per month for emergency shelters or feeding programs, which is what Sacramento was planning to do.
The move could also nix other homeless projects planned on Caltrans-controlled property across the state.
“Caltrans is using or planning to use its highway (right of way) for temporary homeless facilities in nearly two dozen locations throughout the State,” the May 14 highway administration letter reads. “In looking at these locations together, it appears that Caltrans is looking to dispose of its highway (right of way) for less than (fair market value) on a programmatic basis.”
Caltrans Director Toks Omishakin refuted that claim in a letter he sent FHA Monday. He pointed to several state and federal laws that he said allow the projects to move forward, and urged the federal officials to restore approval.