The Laguna Beach City Council has approved spending $555,000 to help develop the county's first low-income housing project where people infected with the AIDS virus can live independently.
Project backers say the apartment complex they plan to open in Laguna Beach in late 1995 will provide much-needed housing in Orange County, where studies show eight to 10 people will be waiting for each of the 24 available units.
The bulk of the money needed to buy and remodel the two-story concrete building at Mermaid and 3rd streets will come from a $1.8-million federal Department of Housing and Urban Development grant.
On Tuesday, the director of the AIDS Services Foundation, the county's largest AIDS support group and a co-sponsor of the project, praised Laguna Beach, which helped launch the project in 1991 with a $50,000 donation.
"No other city in the county of Orange came forward to support this kind of project," Priscilla Munro said. "We're hoping after they see such a project up and running in Laguna, other cities might be willing to entertain the possibility of having another site, perhaps in the north end of the county."
The only two housing facilities now available for people with AIDS are individual homes in Costa Mesa and Tustin with six beds each, Munro said. Backers say the Laguna Beach apartment complex is intended for people who are HIV-positive but still able to care for themselves.
On Monday, the council voted 3 to 0 to appropriate $325,000 for the project from the city's housing fund, which is set aside to help provide low-income housing here.
"I think this project meets all the criteria for the use of that money and the money cannot be used for any other purposes," City Manager Kenneth C. Frank said.
The council also earmarked $230,000 from the city's parking fund to buy 23 parking spaces at the housing site to help generate money for the project by renting the spaces.
Some who attended the council meeting spoke against the project because it gives preferential help to people who are HIV-positive, a stipulation of the federal grant.
"It's a given that taxpayers' money should not be used to subsidize discrimination of any kind in our society," said Grant McCombs, speaking on behalf of disabled veterans.
But Councilman Wayne L. Peterson said other groups wanting the city's help should put together a plan and try to obtain federal funding.
"I would encourage the rest of you to pick up the challenge and do the same thing," Peterson said. "If we still have some money left, we'll help you, too."
If the apartments are not all rented, which appears unlikely, units would then become available to low-income residents with other disabilities.
Laguna Beach has a large gay population and by far the highest per capita incidence of AIDS in the county.
The project is being directed by a group called Affordable Housing Project of Orange County Inc. Its board is composed of staff and board members from the AIDS Services Foundation, Housing for Independent People and the Mary Erickson Foundation.