Costa Mesa balked at using vacant facility for coronavirus patients. Now it may relent

Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa
The empty Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa could be used to house coronavirus patients or surplus hospital patients, City Manager Lori Ann Farrell Harrison said.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Federal and state officials are again eyeing the Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa as a possible place to house coronavirus patients or surplus hospital patients in an effort to provide adequate care space, City Manager Lori Ann Farrell Harrison said Tuesday.

The announcement came one month after the city fought tooth and nail to keep federal and state agencies from sending people who had tested positive for COVID-19 to Fairview, which until recently housed adults with developmental and behavioral disabilities.

Now, Farrell Harrison said, the various government agencies are closer to being on the same page.

“We are in a very good place with the collaboration, the sharing of information, the planning, all of the preparation at every single level of government,” Farrell Harrison said at a special City Council meeting Tuesday night. “We are all very much in this together.”


Last month, Costa Mesa won a temporary restraining order against federal and state agencies that floated the possibility of sending coronavirus patients being housed at Travis Air Force Base in Northern California to Costa Mesa. At the time, the possibility was met with an uproar from local residents and officials. In a rapid series of court actions, news conferences and public statements, city leaders argued that Fairview was ill-suited for coronavirus patients and that city and county officials had been blindsided by the plan.

Federal and state officials blasted the city for obstructing their efforts during what was then the early signs of a burgeoning health crisis. After a tumultuous week, during which Orange County declared a local emergency, federal officials announced they were withdrawing their proposal.

Now, renewing the possibility of using Fairview as a coronavirus facility underlines the difference one month can make.

The number of coronavirus cases in Orange County has risen to 152. The county confirmed its first death related to the virus Tuesday.

Farrell Harrison said that if the rate of the coronavirus’ spread continues to increase, projections indicate that California could be short 50,000 hospital beds in a few weeks. To prepare, officials at all levels are examining several possible sites either to house people with COVID-19 or other patients who are crowded out of hospitals.

Fairview is one of about 10 sites in Southern California being considered, Farrell Harrison said. The U.S> Army Corps of Engineers, which is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to find possible sites, could be in Costa Mesa as early as Wednesday to assess Fairview, she said.

Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel said this week that the state also is looking at reopening San Clemente Hospital, which closed in 2016.

“I’m happy about the progression that has taken place in the last several weeks,” Farrell Harrison said. “It’s a much more comprehensive, robust and collaborative approach to dealing with a pandemic, which is the right thing. We are standing ready and prepared to do whatever it takes to help reduce the transmission of the disease.”

Pinho writes for Times Community News.

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5:42 p.m. March 25, 2020: This article was originally published at 6:56 a.m. and has been updated with new information.