About 80 people picketed outside Newport Beach City Hall on Tuesday evening, split on where to put a homeless shelter in the city.
A leading option is the city’s public works yard at 592 Superior Ave., adjacent to the Newport Beach and Costa Mesa west sides. Residents of the recently built Ebb Tide and Level 1 condominiums and townhomes across the street led the protest urging Newport not to convert part of the yard to a 40-bed shelter.
Most of the demonstrators waved poster-size signs with messages such as “Newport Beach — the new Skid Row” and “Children come first, city budget second.”
A few people staged a counterdemonstration, saying the city needs to open a shelter as soon as possible to get homeless people off the streets, even if it is on Superior.
Some protesters quietly held their signs while others argued spiritedly about disease, human waste and public safety.
Greg Wakeham held a sheet of paper on a clipboard with “pro shelter” written on it in marker.
He said people fear a bogeyman, the kind of homeless people with mental health and addiction issues who are “fritzed out knocking on their front door.”
“A lot of homeless people aren’t like that,” he said.
He said some are families or have recently lost their ability to afford their apartments. He wants people to be educated on the complexities and diversity of homeless people, he said, adding that they are part of the community too and need care.
Inside City Hall and with the City Council as audience, Teresa Hernandez supported a shelter at the city yard as the best option for Newport’s budget and local control, given the city owns the land.
“I don’t think anybody really wants a homeless shelter,” she said, but Newport didn’t create the legal landscape formed by a 2018 ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals restricting cities from prosecuting people for sleeping on public property if no shelter beds are available.
Brent Rosol, an Ebb Tide resident, said it isn’t that westsiders don’t want a homeless shelter at all, it’s that their area is “completely overloaded” with homeless people drawn to Costa Mesa services near their homes, like the Share Our Selves food pantry and healthcare center a block away and a temporary homeless shelter a mile away at 19th Street and Anaheim Avenue.
He rejected the argument of fiscal guardrails, citing the $140-million price tag for the City Hall he was standing in as evidence that Newport has money to spend.
“What is the safety of our neighborhood worth?” he said.
Grassroots protests against possible homeless shelters have popped up before in Orange County. In March 2018, hundreds of Irvine residents on two dozen chartered buses packed a county Board of Supervisors meeting to register their opposition to a proposed county-run emergency shelter in their community — Orange County’s third-largest city. The county abandoned its plan, which also would have placed shelters in Huntington Beach and Laguna Niguel.
Newport Beach is simultaneously exploring the option to partner with Costa Mesa on that city’s upcoming long-term shelter near John Wayne Airport. Newport also is still in lease negotiations with representatives of a privately owned rental car lot on Campus Drive, also near the airport, to build a shelter there.
The council did not discuss the possible Superior Avenue shelter Tuesday night. It did hold more closed-door discussions regarding negotiations about the rental car lot and Costa Mesa’s airport-area site and current shelter at Lighthouse Church of the Nazarene.
Newport has made no commitment beyond $300,000 budgeted to design plans to make a large equipment garage and an adjacent warehouse inhabitable at the city yard.