Faced with the need to find additional space to house Orange County's homeless population, there is a new push for Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa to be used as an emergency shelter.
The proposal comes at a critical moment. Faced with a federal lawsuit, the county Board of Supervisors voted this week to consider putting emergency shelters in Huntington Beach, Irvine and Laguna Niguel.
But those cities vowed to sue to block the move. Hundreds of Irvine residents protested this week, and the Board of Supervisors is now considering withdrawing the plan.
Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson and state Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) said the 114-acre, state-owned property at 2501 Harbor Blvd. is an attractive option given its central location and the fact that existing infrastructure could be used to accommodate and provide services to the homeless.
“If we can find a campus to address a significant need in this county that we can rally around, then this is one of those opportunities that we just don’t want to let pass by,” Moorlach said.
In a statement Friday afternoon, Nelson said the plan “provides an additional boost and momentum to establish another temporary transitional homeless shelter for the county’s homeless population.”
“Fairview will provide additional relief from the lack of emergency beds throughout the county,” he added.
Denis Bilodeau, Nelson’s chief of staff, said Friday that Fairview is “just one of many sites we’re considering.”
The emergence of Fairview as a potential emergency shelter is the latest wrinkle in the county’s strategy to house hundreds of people who recently were evicted from encampments along the Santa Ana River.
The move to clear the camps prompted a federal lawsuit by homeless advocates.
Earlier this week, county supervisors approved a plan to eventually move those formerly living along the riverbed — many of whom are currently housed in motels — to temporary shelters in Huntington Beach, Irvine and Laguna Niguel.
However, the plan was met with immediate backlash from city residents and officials. Leaders in Irvine and Laguna Niguel voted to sue the county to block the shelter plan, and Huntington Beach officials pushed to drop the location there, as well.
The Board of Supervisors plans to take up the shelter issue again Tuesday.
Hanging over everything is what U.S. District Judge David Carter might do if the county can’t find sufficient shelter space.
For weeks, Carter has been trying to broker a plan and has warned officials that he doesn’t want the homeless people displaced by the riverbed sweeps to end up at the Santa Ana Civic Center, which already is overwhelmed with homeless camps.
It’s unclear exactly what would need to be done to use a portion of the Fairview Development Center property as a shelter. The center opened in 1959 and currently provides services and housing to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. As of Feb. 28, it had 133 residents, according to the California Department of Developmental Services. At its peak population in 1967, it housed 2,700.
Fairview — like other such facilities around the state — is slated to close in coming years as part of an effort to transition people out of institutional-style centers and into smaller accommodations that are more integrated into communities.
The state said last year that Fairview is scheduled to transition its remaining residents to other living options by 2019.
In Moorlach’s mind, that presents a rare opportunity. He has long been looking for ways to ensure that the property “doesn’t slip away” and that local leaders have a say in determining its future after it closes.
A benefit of the site, he said Friday, “is that it could be easily secured and controlled with appropriate security personnel and with appropriate gates or other fencing options so that it would not be a burden on the neighbors.”