Homeless shelter plan moves forward for Newport’s public works yard

Tents housing homeless people lined the sidewalks and dirt slope in and around the Newport Beach Transportation Center earlier this month before the city began enforcing trespassing regulations on request from the Orange County Transportation Authority.
(File Photo)

Newport Beach took another step Tuesday toward converting part of the city’s public works yard on Superior Avenue into a homeless shelter.

The City Council’s decision to refine plans and budget $300,000 for facility design to make storage structures at the yard inhabitable came over dozens of objections from area residents.

The 4-1 vote also declared a “shelter crisis,” allowing the city to waive zoning and development standards that would normally apply to a shelter project.

Councilwoman Joy Brenner dissented and Councilman Brad Avery, whose district includes Superior Avenue, abstained, both without comment. Councilman Marshall “Duffy” Duffield was absent.

The agreement with Orange County Catholic Worker “confirms that the city can continue operating its shelter without additional requirements,” the city says. The group says it ensures Laguna will take a “healthcare first” approach before ticketing or arresting a homeless person.

Tuesday’s move doesn’t commit Newport Beach to the site at 592 Superior, near the Newport-Costa Mesa border. The city is still in talks with Costa Mesa to partner on that city’s upcoming shelter near John Wayne Airport. And Newport is still in lease negotiations with representatives of a privately owned rental car lot, also near the airport.

However, staff and council members said the city yard could be more expedient and lower-cost than other options.

A shelter could open in five to six months, although Mayor Diane Dixon said she wants it faster — “three months and double overtime.”

“We just don’t have a moment to waste,” she said. “This type of service that’s quasi-law enforcement, quasi-mental health, quasi-health and human services is a function that never existed in our city and we’re really starting from scratch.”

Councilman Kevin Muldoon said that in order to enforce anti-camping laws to keep people off the streets, the city has to offer shelter, likely within town.

Anti-camping laws were the target of a 2018 federal lawsuit in Orange County, and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year in a case involving Boise, Idaho, that homeless people in Western states cannot be prosecuted for sleeping outside if shelter access is lacking.

Newport Beach joined more than 30 cities and counties, including Laguna Beach and Orange County, in signing a brief Tuesday supporting Boise in its bid for U.S. Supreme Court review.

Muldoon said he understands “the frustration and the fear that any location we pick is in someone’s backyard.”

“What’s in the most forefront of our mind is that we do parallel paths — we move forward as quickly as possible [with] as many options as possible so we can quickly enforce our laws,” he said.

Residents of Newport and Costa Mesa’s west sides adjoining the public works yard said a shelter on Superior Avenue would unfairly concentrate homeless people in the neighborhood. Share Our Selves, a homeless and social services center, is a block from the yard, and Costa Mesa’s temporary homeless shelter at Lighthouse Church of the Nazarene is a mile away.

Neighbors worried about safety, property values and quality of life, and many urged Newport to go with airport-area options, independently or in partnership with Costa Mesa.

About 30 residents of the Level 1 condominiums, which opened in 2016 east of the yard, across Industrial Way, signed a letter in opposition.

Several residents of the recently opened Ebb Tide subdivision west of the yard, across Superior, also appealed to the council.

Maritza Rosol said she moved to Ebb Tide with her young family from Costa Mesa’s Eastside to get away from transients there. She said they never would have bought their home if they knew a shelter would be going in nearby.

Ryan Janis described human waste, blood and hypodermic needles near the Triangle commercial center about a mile to the north.

“I’m not going to be able to go out and walk my dog and put on a pair of flip-flops [because] of the fear that I’m going to step on a needle in my own community,” Janis said.

Bruce Dickson, who also lives in Ebb Tide, said homeless people would hang around the shelter even though the city has said entry would be escorted and by registration only.

“I feel like we’re going to become prisoners within our own houses,” he said.

A landlord who owns income property about a mile to the south said he might have to drop his rent price by up to $200 a month.

Another landlord, however, was supportive. Dan Byers said a shelter on Superior would serve people who already gather in the area and would be convenient to Share Our Selves and medical facilities.

“When I first looked at it, I looked at it from the selfish standpoint of ‘I don’t want my property value impacted.’ I started looking at it a little bit closer and I said, ‘You know what? There is a tremendous amount of resources there.’”

The potential shelter could accommodate about 40 beds in prefab trailers in and possibly outside a high-ceiling, 10,500-square-foot garage that is open on one side and currently used for offices and vehicle and equipment storage. The facility also could include a nearby warehouse.

In addition to the design work, City Manager Grace Leung estimated the city could spend $1.5 million improving the buildings. Operation costs are to be determined.

Avery said homeless people who aren’t committing crimes have the same rights as anyone to walk in parks and sit on benches and that the city has to solve the homelessness problem compassionately.

“It is so important to me [that] we remember ... that these are human beings, these are people. These are our brothers and our sisters. These can be any one of our family members,” he said. “It’s so important to keep their humanity intact.”

Representatives of Costa Mesa nonprofits and faith groups involved in homelessness relief, such as Trellis, Life on the Streets and Lighthouse, urged Newport Beach to collaborate with Costa Mesa to share resources.

In a letter to the Newport City Council, Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley said an additional shelter near Costa Mesa’s operation but under a different jurisdiction could compromise her city’s gains. Costa Mesa opened its shelter at Lighthouse Church nearly six months ago.

“While we respect your efforts to explore various solutions to address homelessness in your community, we strongly urge you to continue to engage with the city of Costa Mesa in a productive, cooperative dialogue focused on a collaborative approach to addressing the homeless situation,” Foley wrote. “The potential greater benefit of our collaboration stands in stark contrast to the potential negative impacts to Costa Mesa ... that could result from your taking unilateral, uncooperative action.”

Newport and Costa Mesa officials held a closed-door session about a potential joint operation at Costa Mesa’s airport-area shelter at 3175 Airway Ave. but had little detail to share afterward.

“The city of Newport Beach is interested in this opportunity,” said City Attorney Aaron Harp. “However, the parties are significantly apart.”

Mayor Pro Tem Will O’Neill suggested Costa Mesa residents contact their council representatives to persuade them to bridge the gap.

“We’re trying. We’d love to,” he said. “I think it’d be great.”

Teresa Hernandez, who has pressed Newport to promptly build a shelter, said the city yard is a good site because it’s fenced, has ample room and wouldn’t require rent payments.

“I think it’s so important we have our own homeless shelter in Newport Beach and are not controlled by any other city,” Hernandez said. “I also think it’s very important to keep it as low-cost as possible.”

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3:00 p.m. Sept. 25, 2019: This article was originally published at 11:30 a.m. and has been updated with additional information and comments.