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City Council Hears Debate on Moving Center for Needy

Times Staff Writer

The future of a nonprofit group that works to feed the hungry in Costa Mesa remained in question Monday night as the City Council listened to hours of testimony from an emotional, standing-room-only crowd.

Scores of other people waited impatiently outside the council chambers. Some wore yellow ribbons on their lapels to indicate their support for relocating SOS (Share Our Selves), while others wore red paper hearts, showing that they favored letting the organization remain at the Rea Community Center.

At issue is whether the council should renew the group’s lease at the center or relocate it. Some residents have complained about problems in the neighborhood, but SOS boosters argue that the location is ideal.

The debate didn’t begin until two hours after the council meeting began, and then the hall was so crowded that dozens of people had to stand outside and watch the session on a cable television monitor.

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SOS founder Jean Forbath told the council that relocating the group from its home at Rea Community Center would be detrimental.

“We are in the right place,” Forbath said. “Not renewing the lease would do more harm than good.”

But residents such as Campbell Davidson complain that SOS attracts vagrants and transients who rummage through the trash.

“We’re losing our neighborhood,” he said before the meeting as he passed out yellow ribbons. “I’m not against SOS. But something needs to be done.”

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Mayor Peter F. Buffa told the council that the issue was not whether the center was worthwhile but whether it could be moved.

If SOS is forced to leave its 19-year home at the community center, Forbath has contended, it probably would mark the end of its programs.

“We could not afford the rent or meet other restrictions we would encounter if we tried to move to another location,” Forbath said before the meeting.

The organization has been serving the county’s poor since 1971 by offering food, clothes, free medical care and other aid. Last year, it spent about $600,000, most of it from private donations.

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She said SOS serves about 6,000 to 7,500 people a month, most of whom are Costa Mesa residents. The community center at 661 Hamilton St. is a prime location, she said, adding that two-thirds of the people served by SOS live within walking distance of the Rea center. Scott Mather, chairman of the SOS board of directors, said at one point that “the important issue is that SOS is in the neighborhood where the greatest number of clients are.”

The number of people served by SOS is in dispute.

Pat Dolan, of the Mesa West Homeowners Assn., said the clients pose a threat to families.

“This is not what you want in a residential neighborhood,” Dolan said.

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