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No homeless shelter for O.C. fairgrounds — but Fairview center and Newport site are possibilities, state says

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A client sits in the multipurpose room at Costa Mesa’s homeless shelter at Lighthouse Church of the Nazarene on Anaheim Avenue. The state is looking at other sites in the area that could be used as emergency homeless shelters.
(File Photo)

There won’t be an emergency homeless shelter placed at the Orange County fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, the state has decided. But the Fairview Developmental Center in the city is still on the table, despite what local officials believed, and a sliver of land in Newport Beach is now under consideration, the state says.

On the heels of his State of the State address last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a list of 286 state-owned properties across California that could be used to address homelessness. He asked local leaders to review the sites — which include vacant lots, fairgrounds, armories and other state buildings — “to develop housing and shelter proposals that help move people off the streets.”

The list, according to Monica Hassan, deputy director of the California Department of General Services, includes the Fairview Developmental Center at 2501 Harbor Blvd., which formerly housed adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and in the past week has become the subject of a legal battle over whether it should be used as a coronavirus quarantine site.

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One of the city’s main arguments against using Fairview to house people with the COVID-19 virus was outlined in City Attorney Kimberly Hall Barlow’s statement in court documents that Department of General Services officials told city leaders this month that “the buildings on the property were not suitable for use as an emergency shelter ... it would be prohibitively expensive and take two years and up to $25 million for renovations.”

But in an email Tuesday, Hassan called that assertion “simply false.”

“Our agency never communicated anything to that effect to the city of Costa Mesa,” Hassan wrote.

Review of the site is continuing, and Fairview remains “available for homeless solutions,” she added.

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Barlow was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.

A news release from the governor’s office Friday said the state would offer properties to local governments for $1 leases. The governor’s office also released $650 million in State Emergency Homeless Aid “to build out sites,” the release said.

“As a former mayor, I get that localism is determinative and that all levels of government must work together to get Californians off the street and into housing and supportive services,” Newsom said in a statement. “The state is stepping up by making land available to cities and counties willing to meet this moment head-on.”

The Newport Beach site is a small piece of property controlled by the California Department of Transportation between the 55 Freeway and Old Newport Boulevard. The parcel is noted on the state’s map as the “Arches Lot” because it is near the former Arches restaurant that is now A Restaurant.

Caltrans spokesman Matt Rocco said the department has made the site available but that the likelihood of it being converted for homeless services is in the city’s hands.

Carol Jacobs, Newport’s assistant city manager, said Tuesday that city public works staff is in negotiations with Caltrans for the property for a road widening project.

Notably missing from the list is the Orange County fairgrounds, which in January appeared to be a possibility.

Newsom had ordered the California Department of Food and Agriculture to assess “fairgrounds in or near jurisdictions where a shelter crisis is currently in effect,” as well as other state-owned properties, to determine whether they could be viable venues for short-term shelters.

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