As Newport Beach officials continue exploring their homeless shelter options, residents are warning that litigation could follow.
Emails and letters have been sent by the dozens to the City Council and top staff members in the past several weeks of shelter discussions. Some broadly float the possibility of liability resulting from feared losses in neighboring homeowners’ property values. Others raise the specter of assaults and other dangers that could victimize the shelter’s neighbors or the homeless people staying in it.
Two letters from lawyers representing nearby property owners are direct resolutions to sue.
Much of the mobilization against the shelter planning has centered on keeping one out of the city public works yard at 592 Superior Ave.
The site is at the border of Costa Mesa and Newport’s west sides, and the surrounding area was recently redeveloped with condominiums in both cities. Residents in the area have picketed Newport City Hall and are now crowdfunding to help pay legal costs after serving the city with a formal notice of intent to sue.
Newport officials have repeatedly said the city has not committed to or abandoned any of the three shelter options it has most actively pursued in the past two months, including the city yard.
Part of that is contracting with a designer to draw up plans to convert a partially enclosed equipment garage at the yard and an adjacent warehouse into inhabitable structures. The city also wrapped up a bidding period for potential shelter operators Friday.
A real estate broker said buyers who are still in escrow for condos at the just-completed Ebb Tide development across from the city yard could bring a class-action suit alleging nondisclosure.
Newport resident Jeffrey Dawson called a “shelter crisis” the city declared in September — which allows it to fast-track a shelter — an end-run around due process.
“NB will be mired in litigation for violating the rights of so many taxpayers,” Dawson wrote in an email to the city.
“Consider this notice of the dangerous conditions that exist and will exist if this site is approved,” wrote Miko Sargizian, who lives in Ebb Tide. “If something bad happens to any of us, the city and City Council are on the hook for it legally.”
“Can the city afford to pay for lawsuits from the owners of several new developments banding together and suing the city?” wrote Bruce Dickson, another Ebb Tide resident.
An Oct. 7 letter from Julia Liu, a lawyer writing on behalf of Ebb Tide residents, said: “The city has completely ignored the voices of taxpaying residents and their concerns for the detrimental effects of placing the shelter in a community comprised of four schools, homes, businesses and parks. The city has made it clear that the areas neighboring the proposed shelter are a dumping ground for the city’s poor decisions.”
Liu called the crisis declaration a “sham” because the most recent official census of homeless people counted 64 in a city of 85,000 residents.
She also said the longtime presence of a trash transfer facility at the city yard — where waste hauler CR&R consolidates its trucks’ loads before taking them to a landfill — “demonstrates the city’s lack of compassion [for homeless people] and understanding for basic human rights.”
One of Liu’s clients is Jack Rose, who said the city has not been transparent about its shelter planning.
His GoFundMe campaign had gathered more than $10,000 of its $49,000 goal as of Friday, following a week of fundraising toward potential legal costs. He said some donors are from outside the Ebb Tide development.
A lawsuit wouldn’t be a good use of anybody’s money, Rose said Friday. But he said he and his neighbors care about homeless people and that they and the residents have a right to safety.
Rose said he considers the Superior site inferior as potential living quarters. It has a compressed natural gas truck-fueling station in addition to the trash facility.
Newport Beach City Attorney Aaron Harp defended the city’s process at the city yard.
“The city’s corporate yard meets all the legal requirements for utilization of the site as a temporary emergency shelter, and any lawsuit challenging the decision of the City Council to address the homeless crisis in Orange County and Newport Beach is wholly without merit,” Harp said Friday.
No shelter-related suits had been filed so far, he added.
The City Council and staff continue to hold closed sessions discussing other options, including a potential lease of a privately owned Avis rental car lot near John Wayne Airport and a possible partnership with Costa Mesa, including joining that city’s temporary shelter at Lighthouse Church of the Nazarene at 1885 Anaheim Ave. and its upcoming long-term shelter at 3175 Airway Ave., near the airport. The council will hold its next closed session on those sites before its next meeting Tuesday.
The Avis site, which several residents have backed because it is in a commercial area, also has detractors.
In a Sept. 4 letter to the city, Edward Allebest, an attorney representing the owner of three parcels across the street, cited concerns about safety, public health, economic impact, zoning and “CC&R restrictions on nuisance activities.”
“This is to notify you that if the city decides to utilize the proposed airport site for a homeless shelter, my client, in conjunction with the majority of all other property owners in the area, will take every legal action available to stop this project from proceeding,” Allebest wrote.