Hayward, CA

Tuesday in the East Bay: Hayward uses crisis response team, vacant San Pablo office building to be converted and more

Refugio Garcia

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Hayward's alternative response team shows promising results

Hayward Evaluation and Response Team, or HEART, was launched in Hayward last May following approval from the Hayward City Council to fund the program with the goal of responding to emergency calls involving mental health crises, East Bay Times reports.

The alternative to police responding to such calls was prompted following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Of the 174 calls HEART responded to, only two resulted in an arrest or citation.

“It’s about appropriate resources, not turning a blind eye to the folks that are slipping through the cracks,” according to Hayward Fire Chief Garrett Contreras. “How do we make sure that there’s a safety net there to keep people from spiraling within the system?”

The move to launch HEART also coincides with criticism against the Hayward Police Department for their handling of cases involving individuals suffering from mental health issues.

The City of Hayward paid the family of Agustin Gonsalez, 29, $3.3 million after he was shot to death by police after responding to reports that he was acting strangely on the street while waving what was believed to be a knife. It was later discovered that he was holding a box cutter.

HEART consists of two partnerships between the police and fire departments, with an armed police officer trained in crisis response paired with a behavioral health clinician known as the Mobile Evaluation Team, or MET.

The other part includes a firefighter-paramedic and a mental health clinician who respond to calls as the Mobile Integrated Health Unit, or MIHU.

The Mobile Evaluation Team has responded to over 200 calls since June. Police and emergency responders can request assistance from either team.

HEART has $1,228,600 to fund its pilot year. The funds were generated from freezing five positions within the Hayward Police Department.

Vacant San Pablo office building slated for conversion to house unsheltered residents

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A vacant building in San Pablo that once served as an office space for over 50 years may be transformed into a two-story apartment building that would be home to 54 small apartments, East Bay Times reports.

While the common approach to providing shelter for unhoused area residents has been repurposing hotels and motels, the concept of using vacant office space as housing could possibly help the Bay Area emerge from a massive shortage of affordable housing.

The inventory of vacant office space in the region has nearly doubled from 9.9% in the first quarter of 2020 to 18.4% in the fourth quarter of 2021, according to director of research for commercial real estate firm JLL in Northern California, Alexander Quinn.

Over 17 million square feet of office space became vacant across the state in that same span of time.

The 25,000-square-foot building and potential site of new affordable housing located on El Portal Drive was built in the 70s and was used by the switchboard company Pacific Telephone and Telegraph, which later became PacBell, then AT&T. The site was later used by county parole and probation services but has now been vacant for over two years.

The second round of Project Homekey has made $1.45 billion available with officials seeking other means of providing housing as the inventory of available hotels and motels continues to shrink.

“I would absolutely say it’s a great thing to do,” according to Overaa Development Manager Jared Gragg. “When a building is sitting vacant it totally makes sense. You just have to go through the steps to make it happen.”

The necessary steps to complete the conversion from office space to home includes, adding fire sprinklers, the required utilities for kitchenettes and bathrooms, as well as building renovations to provide common spaces such as courtyards.

The cost of the conversion of the office space has been estimated at $19 million. Project developers hope to begin the conversion soon and be completed by 2023.

Once completed, the new apartments would be used as permanent housing for the disabled and the homeless. The cost of rent would be roughly 30% of a tenant's income.

Parents of Oakland students rally against school closures

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Parents of students enrolled at Parker Elementary and Middle School in East Oakland rallied Monday against the scheduled closures of these campuses at the end of the school year, KTVU reports.

"The decision of the board to do this, and the readiness of the staff to implement it, is pretty firm," according to school board President Gary Yee.

The chances of keeping the school open isn’t likely based on low enrollment, according to district officials.

One of the main concerns of parents is transportation for students to and from schools that are outside of their neighborhoods.

"One of our commitments is to provide transportation when it is necessary for families. We haven't worked it all out yet," said Yee.

In addition to Parker Elementary, Community Day High School is also slated for closure at the end of the school year with the planned consolidation for several other district schools to take place over the next year.

The move to close and consolidate area schools comes amid a $40 million budget deficit and declining enrollment.

Parents rallied outside of district offices last Friday following the school board’s vote to close and consolidate area schools.

"It was upsetting to wake up and have a window broken. I don't attribute it to an intentional mass thing," Yee said.

Two Oakland educators also brought an 18-day hunger strike in protest of the closures to an end last Friday after the vote.

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