Less than a week after a proposal from an Orange County supervisor and a state senator sent shock waves through the community, Costa Mesa City Council members voiced unanimous disapproval of using the local Fairview Developmental Center as an emergency homeless shelter.
In front of a fuming crowd of more than 300 on Wednesday evening at the Costa Mesa Senior Center, council members said they think the city is already doing more than its fair share to provide services and resources to the homeless and that other cities — as well as the county — need to step up to the plate.
“It’s time for our supervisors, our county, our federal and state officials to demand that the rest of the county cities start participating in taking care of the homeless that live in their communities and not taking them to Santa Ana or to Costa Mesa or to Tustin,” Councilwoman Katrina Foley said. “It is important that we all participate and, if we all participate and we do our fair share, it’s a lot less of a burden and impact on every community.”
Costa Mesa’s efforts include the Network for Homeless Solutions — a collaboration among city staff, local churches, nonprofits, private organizations and volunteers to identify and provide resources to the homeless — and allocating more than $1 million annually to tackle homelessness issues, according to officials.
Of the dozens of residents who spoke at the special council meeting, most opposed the Fairview idea, saying they were concerned that developing a shelter there would jeopardize public safety, reduce property values and unduly burden the city.
Others supported the concept, saying the 114-acre property at 2501 Harbor Blvd. could be an important cog in a regional strategy to tackle homelessness.
“Not everyone that is homeless is an alcoholic or a drug addict — some just have fallen on very hard times,” said Westside Costa Mesa resident Shirley McDaniels.
But Councilman Jim Righeimer said the city has already “helped enough.”
“Thirty-plus years ago, somebody thought that homeless needed to eat and we got a soup kitchen,” he said. “You know what we got? More homeless. You bring services in, you get more. … I’m compassionate. I’m trying to do everything I can, but my No. 1 responsibility on this council is safety for the community.”
On Friday, county Supervisor Shawn Nelson issued a news release announcing that he and state Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) were looking into the potential for using the state-owned Fairview site as an emergency homeless shelter.
The release also raised the possibility of “centralizing temporary housing and basic services for the homeless” at the developmental center, which opened in 1959. It currently provides services and housing to 133 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, according to the California Department of Developmental Services.
But in its resolution of opposition, the City Council called that a “regrettably rushed” idea proposed “without any public input or concern for local impacts.”
“This is land in the middle of the city; it’s governed by our general plan,” Mayor Sandy Genis said. “It’s our police that are going to be responding … it’s our paramedics that are going to be responding. It’s our residents, it’s our businesses that are going to be affected, and we can’t have the county just throwing that out there.”
In an interview Thursday, Moorlach said he thought “the City Council overreacted to a press release” and that the idea wasn’t “to put all of the homeless at Fairview.”
“I think there’s a stretch here,” he said. “There’s a hysteria and it’s sad to watch because leadership dictates that you have conversations and you start working on solutions and that’s all that occurred.”
There is no imminent or concrete plan, he added, and any legislative action regarding Fairview would likely take months to move forward.
In the background of all this is U.S. District Judge David Carter, who is presiding over a federal lawsuit that homeless advocates filed in response to the county’s move to clear encampments along the Santa Ana River. Moorlach said the judge has mentioned Fairview during those proceedings.
“I would think the residents of Costa Mesa would rather have the homeless in a facility that’s closed up at night ... a place that’s safe and has security, than to have them in their backyard or at their businesses or on their porches,” Moorlach said.
Neither Nelson nor anyone from his office appeared to be at Wednesday’s meeting — a fact that didn’t go unnoticed among those in attendance.
“I hope that all of you will collectively address this spineless supervisor that essentially threw this grenade into a crowded room and couldn’t even bothered to show up to defend what he’s proposing,” resident Sue Lester said.
However, county Executive Officer Frank Kim told the council that he spoke with Nelson’s office Wednesday and was told “they do not support the use of the site without the cooperation of the council and input from the community.”
Nelson’s office could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday.
Kim also conveyed a message to the council from Supervisor Michelle Steel — whose district includes Costa Mesa — that “her office absolutely does not support the use of Fairview for [a] homeless shelter” and “the long-term use of that site should be discussed and worked out in collaboration with the city.”
Supervisor Todd Spitzer said during Wednesday’s meeting that he was “dismayed that somebody would put this into the public arena in such an irresponsible fashion” and is “terribly, terribly sorry that any respectable elected official would put something this derelict and dangerous into the community ... without any input whatsoever.”
“To combine that in light of what happened last week in Orange County was beyond the pale to me,” he said, referring to the Board of Supervisors’ vote to develop temporary homeless shelters on county land in Huntington Beach, Irvine and Laguna Niguel. Supervisors scuttled that plan Tuesday in the face of opposition from residents and threats of litigation from the cities.
Like similar facilities around California, Fairview is scheduled to close as part of an effort to transition people out of institutional-style centers and into smaller accommodations that are more integrated into communities.
The goal is to move the center’s remaining residents to other living options by 2019, according to the state.