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Costa Mesa council endorses vision of mixed-income housing on Fairview Developmental Center property

 Two state bills are proposing to close the Fairview Developmental Center, a 111-acre facility in Costa Mesa that provides 24-hour care to people with severe developmental disabilities. Though the center once had as many as 2,700 people, today it has around 300.
Though the Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa once had as many as 2,700 residents, today it has only two. The city’s vision for the future of the state-owned campus at 2501 Harbor Blvd. includes development of mixed-income housing.
(File Photo)

Imagine the Fairview Developmental Center as Costa Mesa’s newest village.

Houses would sit among coffee shops and laundromats, with plentiful open space throughout the expansive campus on Harbor Boulevard. Families, veterans, single folks and people on the brink of homelessness — all would be residents of the mixed-income community.

Such was the vision the Costa Mesa City Council’s Fairview Developmental Center ad hoc committee presented Tuesday evening, where it was met with nearly unanimous support.

Fairview, a state-owned facility, has historically housed adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. However, it is set to close this year as part of a state push to move away from institutionalized housing.

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As the center’s population has trickled down to just two residents, and with the state preparing to cut back to bare-bones maintenance, Costa Mesa is vying to have a say in the future of the 114-acre property at 2501 Harbor Blvd.

Connor Lock, Costa Mesa’s chief of staff, presented the council committee’s vision for what would be an ideal overview of the property Tuesday: approximately 1,500 units, including homes for veterans, permanent supportive housing, and multi- and single-family units, spread across 75 acres.

“What we want to do is kind of harmonize what our community can embrace while still achieving the state objectives,” said Mayor Pro Tem John Stephens, who sits on the Fairview ad hoc committee alongside Mayor Katrina Foley and Councilwoman Andrea Marr.

Ultimately, the city will be bound to whatever the state decides to do with the property. Gov. Gavin Newsom included $2.2 million in this year’s budget for an evaluation of the Fairview site, and has set his sights on potentially re-purposing state properties to provide housing and services for people experiencing homelessness.

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In preparing the initial overview of the site that was presented Tuesday, city leaders emphasized that they could get ahead of state conversations and help design a future that would satisfy the community — as well as help Costa Mesa plan for the 11,734 new housing units the Southern California Assn. of Governments has determined the city needs.

“This is sort of the example of, ‘If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu,’” Marr said. “If we don’t have a proposal that makes sense, that strikes a balance between our need for additional housing and some of those state priorities, we’re not going to have a say at all.”

Foley said that initial conversations with the state Department of General Services have seemingly been productive. State agents were “receptive” to working with the city and designing “a good plan that most importantly fits into the fabric and community of Costa Mesa and integrates well with the existing neighborhood,” she said.

Members of the public who spoke Tuesday broadly supported the direction the city proposed for the site. Some made suggestions, such as prioritizing zero emissions, including senior housing and preserving the existing historic structure, but almost all applauded the idea of using at least part of the property to serve the homeless population.

“There are people dying on the street when we have this empty facility,” said Margaret Sharpe, a longtime Costa Mesa resident and volunteer for Housing is a Human Right Orange County. “It makes me sick.”

What appeared to be unanimous support for the item took a turn, though, when Councilwoman Sandy Genis asked to clarify whether certain housing numbers in the presentation — 311 veterans’ units, about 200 permanent supportive housing units, and 749 multi-family and 240 single-family units — were part of the evening’s vote. Genis contended that she had not seen the numbers prior to the presentation and did not have enough time or information to vote on them.

“I would love to vote for the high level — yes, I want high-level housing as a priority,” Genis said. “But ... being asked to evaluate this breakdown without any chance to look at [it] in advance — on the fly — I think is asinine. I think it’s insulting.”

Foley emphasized that the council’s vote would not commit to any numbers — they were illustrative of the committee’s vision, but could be changed.

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Following the heated exchange, Genis collected her things and left before the council voted on the item. It was approved 5-0, as Councilman Allan Mansoor also had left the meeting earlier in the evening.

Intrigue regarding Fairview’s future has been bubbling since the state announced in 2016 that it would begin winding down the facility’s operations.

In 2018, then-county Supervisor Shawn Nelson and state Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) suggested using the campus as an emergency homeless shelter. The idea was met with an uproar of disapproval from community members and the council, which unanimously passed a resolution opposing the idea.

Since then, Costa Mesa has opened its first emergency homeless shelter at Lighthouse Church of the Nazarene, with plans to eventually relocate it to a site near John Wayne Airport.

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