Costa Mesa brought its months-long search for a suitable long-term site for a 50-bed homeless shelter in for a landing early Wednesday as the City Council approved buying property next to John Wayne Airport to potentially use for that purpose.
The unanimous vote was greeted with a smattering of applause from a meager but patient audience that waited until almost 1 a.m. for the decision.
“We did the right thing, ultimately,” said Councilman Manuel Chavez. “We’re moving forward; we’re helping people in need; we’re providing the community a place they can go if they need it. It took us a lot of time ... to get this property. We’re here.”
While the 1.34-acre site at 3175 Airway Ave. carries a hefty price tag — $6.925 million in all — city staff said it presents several advantages.
The property — currently home to a 29,816-square-foot industrial warehouse — is large enough to accommodate all anticipated shelter operations and is at least 2,000 feet from any homes, schools or parks, according to the city.
Because the building technically has two addresses and separate entrances, the city could explore leasing out part of the space to offset some of its costs.
“We have done really good work here — work that is meaningful and is going to be long-lasting to create more safety in our community, to save people’s lives and to address something that literally since I have been serving in this community has been a complaint by the community,” said Mayor Katrina Foley.
To purchase the property, the council approved shifting the funding source for some previously budgeted projects to park development fees — a move that will free up $3.5 million. The remaining $3.425 million for the Airway site is planned to come out of the city’s general fund reserves.
Finance Director Kelly Telford said staff is exploring outside funding to help cover costs of acquiring the property or operating the shelter.
The lawsuit alleged that Costa Mesa, Orange County and the cities of Anaheim and Orange had taken actions that effectively forced homeless people to move to the riverbed and that when the county moved to clear encampments in the area early last year, that population would be pushed back into the surrounding cities without a plan to provide adequate shelter and housing.
Developing a local homeless shelter is a main component of the settlement.
Currently, Costa Mesa is working to develop a temporary shelter at Lighthouse Church of the Nazarene. The plan is to operate on a portion of the church’s property at 1885 Anaheim Ave. for about a year starting in April.
After that, the shelter would move to a longer-term home.
Admittance to the shelter would be reservation-based, with no walk-ups allowed. Clients would be transported to and from the facility.
The shelter would have 24-hour security, and the city — working with operator Mercy House Living Centers — would conduct regular patrols in the surrounding area.
The model is similar to the Bridges at Kraemer Place shelter in Anaheim, which Mercy House also operates.
A few residents questioned whether the Airway site is the best option for a shelter.
“This seems like a misappropriation of city funds that will negatively impact local businesses and be of minimal benefit to the homeless,” Kevin Morgenstern wrote in a letter to the council. “There are plenty of alternative locations in Costa Mesa that provide walkability, green space, more conducive property types, applicable services and come at a much lower cost.”
Councilwoman Arlis Reynolds pointed to a letter from Curtis Schendel, president of UDC Corp., a construction company across the street from Bridges at Kraemer Place.
Schendel wrote that he and his firm were initially “not happy with anything to do with a homeless shelter right outside our front door,” believing it would bring increased loitering and criminal activity.
“It has been almost two years now and we could not have been more wrong. … There has been no increase in crime, no break-ins or damage to my employees’ vehicles,” he wrote. “And best of all, there has been no impact to our day-to-day business or to our property values. If you didn’t know it was a homeless shelter, you couldn’t tell it from the outside.”
Reynolds said that “one of our measures of success in this project is how effectively we are moving people, our neighbors in the city, from homelessness to permanent housing. But I think it’s also an important measure of success that the neighbors of the property here become advocates.”