By Miriam Raftery
March 21, 2023 (El Cajon) – El Cajon’s City Council will convene a special session on Tuesday, March 21 at 2:15 p.m. to weigh proposed regulations aimed at reducing crimes associated with individuals placed in local motels under the county’s homeless voucher program. An open session will be followed by a closed door session, for the Council to weigh legal options.
The action follows El Cajon Police Department’s announcement earlier today that two registered sex offenders staying at Motel 6 in El Cajon under the voucher program have been arrested and admitted sexually assaulting, molesting and videotaping their actions with an underaged girl; police have also indicated they believe at least two more young girls may also have been sexually assaulted by the men, who were both wearing ankle monitors as convicted sex offenders.
The city has for months been complaining about the county’s homeless voucher program, especially the fact that the county refuses to vet participants for criminal backgrounds. Prior problems have included open drug use, a teen shot in the head, fires in rooms, and arrest of a sex offender participating in the program, separate from those accused of the sexual assaults this week.
The agenda lays out six potential actions the Council could take to better protect the safety of neighbors and motel guests, including those in the homeless voucher program. Those options include:
- Require motels to notify police within two hours of housing a registered sex offender and prohibit sex offenders from being housed at any motel close to a school;
- Have a 90-day moratorium on use of El Cajon motels for participation in homeless voucher programs or alternatively, a moratorium on accepting new voucher program participants to allow time to meet with other agencies, service providers and motels to create better procedures;
- Require motels to inform the city when they participate in a homeless housing assistance program and related details;
- Require motels or service providers to run a criminal background check on those being housed at El Cajon motels and inform police so that the city can assess risks and help mitigate problems;
- Ask the District Attorney and County Grand Jury to investigate price gouging, since some motels are charging 70% more to house those in the homeless voucher programs than other guests would pay – a cost funded by taxpayers.
Any such action carries a risk of legal consequences, the City Manager has warned.
A prior effort by El Cajon to issue warning notices to motels that exceeded the city’s limit for rooms occupied by those with homeless program vouchers led California’s Attorney General Rob Bonta to accuse the city of violating the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, as ECM reported. The City subsequently set up a subcommittee on the voucher program.
The county has defended its voucher program as needed to house homeless individuals temporarily, citing a lack of shelter beds. About 30% of those in the program later successfully transition into permanent housing, but about 20% wind up kicked out of the program due to violating rules, the County has previously stated.
In a closed door session after the special meeting, Council could consider further options, potentially including a lawsuit against the County and/or State.
The County and State could potentially face liability for damages suffered by young girls assaulted by sex offenders in the County’s motel voucher program, if families of victims should opt to file civil lawsuits.