Azusa Vote Stalls Plan for Shelter in Armory

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles County officials have backed off from a plan to open a cold-weather temporary shelter for the homeless in Azusa after the City Council moved last week to thwart the plan, saying the facility would be too close to homes, a park and an elementary school.

The Azusa council voted unanimously to impose a 45-day ban on permits for temporary shelters.

The ban, however, was a symbolic one: State-owned National Guard armories, which Gov. Deukmejian made available last year for the county-run cold-weather program, do not require permits to operate as shelters. The County Board of Supervisors recently identified Azusa, Pomona and six other cities that have armories as probable sites for the program, which is funded through a $575,000 federal grant.

Alternative Facilities

Nevertheless, officials in the county's Department of Community and Senior Citizens Services, which runs the cold-weather program, are turning to alternative facilities such as hotels and motels, said Larry Johnson, assistant director of the department.

"We don't want to just be obstinate and difficult," he said. "Even though we feel their concerns are unfounded, we'll respect that and implement the program without the city of Azusa. We have enough time to look at other resources since Azusa feels strongly against it."

Judy Hammond, spokeswoman for Supervisor Pete Schabarum, said the plan's negative reception in Azusa forced the county to reconsider.

"From the county's viewpoint, we're providing service, but if the community does not want that service, (program coordinators) have been told by (Schabarum) to back off," she said.

Other Cities Opposed

Last month, the county abandoned similar plans to use armories in Arcadia and Monrovia after city officials there vehemently opposed the idea.

The National Guard armory in Azusa is on Orange Avenue, next to Memorial Park and across the street from Slauson School, said City Administrator Julio Fuentes. It was chosen last month for the cold-weather program, which goes into effect whenever the temperature falls below 40 degrees, or below 50 degrees when it is raining.

Buses transport up to 100 people to the closest armory, screening them to ensure they are not under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Although the homeless are typically taken back to their original location the next morning, a person can stay up to three consecutive nights in the shelter if a cold front persists. In those conditions, an individual is transported back and forth every day.

"The bottom line is, the proposed use is not compatible with the given area," Fuentes said.

Mayor Eugene Moses said that although Azusa does all it can to help its own homeless population, it wouldn't be fair if homeless people started coming in from other areas for treatment.

"The point is, why should we have the whole burden on us?" he said. "We're already overburdened with a lot of things. With transients coming in, a lot probably will end up staying there."

But Alan Wilkins, the county's homeless coordinator, said the program has encountered few complaints from host cities over the past two years. And Pomona Mayor Donna Smith said she and other city officials aren't fighting the county's plans to use the Pomona armory for a second year.

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