TimesOC: Cities look to crime-ridden motels to help solve homelessness
Good morning and welcome to the TimesOC newsletter.
It’s Friday, April 29. I’m Ben Brazil, bringing you the latest roundup of Orange County news and events.
As the homeless crisis continues to spiral in Orange County and the rest of the state, officials have turned to converting motels into affordable housing as a means to solve the problem.
Some of these projects have been a part of a statewide effort called Project Homekey, which entails purchasing and rehabilitating hotels, motels, vacant apartments and other buildings to house people experiencing homelessness. The program was introduced by the state amid the pandemic as a way to transition homeless people to permanent housing.
This week, Costa Mesa received $10.7 million in Homekey funding to transition a Motel 6 on Newport Boulevard into permanent supportive housing. Reporter Sara Cardine wrote that the current plan is for the 88-room motel to be converted into 40 rooms for people experiencing homelessness and 48 units for affordable housing for the elderly.
Costa Mesa applied for the funds along with Stanton and Huntington Beach as part of the second round of the Homekey program. During the first round, Stanton converted two former motels into 132 units of permanent supportive housing. The city also recently received funding for a third project involving the conversion of the former 21-room Riviera Motel.
Costa Mesa Assistant City Manager Susan Price said this week that converting older motels benefits cities because it gives them a chance to convert a site that has become a public nuisance to an asset for the city’s efforts to solve homelessness.
“It’s not a shelter, it’s not interim housing — it’s really just an affordable housing apartment building,” Price said. “We can stabilize our community by providing housing at all income levels, so people don’t have to reside in motels.”
Also this week, Anaheim officials unanimously approved the purchase of the Tampico Motel, a longstanding eyesore in the city.
My colleague Gabriel San Román wrote about the city’s plans to purchase the property for $5.3 million to convert it into affordable housing. The effort is part of the city’s motel conversion program, which was passed in 2019. San Román reported that this will be the city’s third motel conversion project.
Late last month, the city was awarded $26.5 million in Project Homekey funding to convert a Studio 6 motel on Harbor Boulevard into affordable housing. The city also partnered with the Jamboree Housing Corp. to turn a former Econo Lodge motel on West La Palma Avenue in the city into affordable housing for veterans, the mentally ill and the formerly homeless.
“The Tampico Motel presents an opportunity to acquire a site at a reasonable price, and it is larger than the site that we were initially slated to buy,” Grace Ruiz-Stepter, executive director of the Anaheim Housing Authority, told council members during the meeting. “We do know from our colleagues in law enforcement that the property is the subject of some concerns regarding potential nuisance uses.”
Wildlife experts are concerned that birds may die after a red tide appeared in Newport Beach this week. Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center executive director Debbie McGuire said that she hasn’t seen many birds affected by the tide, but the organization remains on high alert. In 2007, a red tide caused by an algal bloom killed a significant number of marine fowl in Monterey Bay. “Different algae have different potentials to cause harm,” OC Coastkeeper marine restoration director Claire Arre said to my colleague Lilly Nguyen. “The biggest concern with this algae is the fouling of birds, which is essentially [the algae bloom] removing the oil from a bird’s feathers, making it so that the birds are no longer waterproof or insulated, which in our cold waters can make them hypothermic and kill them.”
The Office of Independent Review, which provides oversight of Orange County law enforcement, was criticized for years as ineffective. Then two years ago, Sergio Perez was hired as executive director of the office. In a short time, Perez overhauled the agency by making it more transparent and working with community members and justice advocates. He also published a scathing report on the use-of-force policies of the Sheriff’s Department. But Perez has announced that he’s leaving the county, and the future of the agency is unclear.
Huntington Beach has had trouble holding onto city managers. Following the departure of Oliver Chi, who took the same job in Irvine after two years on the job, it looks like Surf City is poised to hire Riverside City Manager Al Zelinka during the next City Council meeting on Tuesday, wrote my colleague Matt Szabo. During his time in Riverside, Zelinka is credited with bringing new investment to the downtown area and facilitating programs aimed at homeless outreach and park safety.
In other Huntington Beach news, a mobile home advisory board took a step toward creating a rental stabilization ordinance for RV parks in the city. The board made the decision this week after vocal members of a mobile home park showed up to the meeting. The City Council will now decide whether to approve the board’s proposal to allow the public to vote on removing mobile home parks from a current law prohibiting rent stability ordinances.
LIFE AND LEISURE
If you want to see a mountain lion named Santiago and jaguar named Ziggy then be sure to check out the new mammal exhibit at the Orange County Zoo in Irvine Regional Park. My colleague Sarah Mosqueda was able to check out the new animals during a media preview event earlier this week. One of the most notable additions includes a walking bridge where a jaguar can cross from one side of an enclosure to another right above people’s heads.
Tanaka Farms in Irvine has partnered with the Orange-based nonprofit MaxLove Project to give residents the opportunity to tour the farm and pick their own produce. The nonprofit was founded by a woman trained in culinary arts who turned to healthy foods as a part of helping her son heal when he was diagnosed with brain cancer at 4 years old. The boy, Max, has had five brain surgeries, two chemotherapy protocols and other radiation treatments. Currently, he has been doing better on a ketogenic diet.
Estancia High School is hosting a theatrical production of the popular board game and movie, “Clue,” through this weekend, though it will be held in a modified auditorium rather than a proper theater venue. Since current director Pauline Maranian came to the school in 1996, she has been promised a new facility. Yet, as reporter Sara Cardine wrote, plans to build a new venue have stalled. “[Other schools] have state-of-the-art facilities on their campuses, with fly lofts and orchestra pits,” Maranian said this week. “We have nowhere for the orchestra to go. We’ve placed them in the aisles, but it was a fire hazard. We’ve placed them on stage, but the sound blows everything out. Everybody works hard — but our resources are different.”
Two Newport Beach teenagers have been working to install “buddy” benches on local school campuses to send a message of kindness and foster empathy among students. The teens are partnering with the nonprofit Patrick’s Purpose, which aims to promote mental wellness in schools and create a culture of kindness. The nonprofit was started in honor of Patrick “Patty” Turner, who died in 2018 by suicide. The benches read: “Be nice to everyone, most importantly, be inclusive.”
Since the city of Anaheim was found to have violated affordable housing laws, the drama surrounding the Angel Stadium deal has been complicated. The city agreed to pay $96 million toward construction of affordable housing projects aside from the stadium deal. But it’s well worth it to read this breakdown from reporter Bill Shaikin on the issue.
The Angels are in the middle of a five-game win streak after roundly defeating the Cleveland Guardians 4-1. Reporter Mike Digiovanna provided a recap of the game, including left-handed pitcher Reid Detmer’s impressive showing on the mound, giving up one run and two hits in five innings and striking out four and walking one.
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