A haven for the homeless is planned to open by November in Laguna Canyon, offering shelter from winter’s chilly temperatures and rain — away from the city’s parks and beaches.
The City Council unanimously approved Tuesday a temporary nighttime shelter accommodating about 50 people at the ACT V parking lot, to be operated by the city in collaboration with three organizations experienced in working with the homeless. Enforcement of state laws banning camping or lodging on public property is expected to begin as soon as the shelter is open, with preparation of a city ordinance prohibiting camping in areas not designated for such use to follow.
“This is not a long-term solution, but it will end camping in the park,” said the Rev. Colin Henderson, founder and chairman of Friendship Shelter, which will collaborate in the operation of ACT V with the Laguna Relief and Resource Center and Mercy House, which operates seasonal shelters in several Southern California armories.
“We know there will be opposition,” Henderson said. “We know it will be expensive. But something needs to be done.”
The cost of the operation for the first eight months is estimated at $165,000, including $500 a month to the Relief and Resource Center to be open eight hours on weekdays where the homeless can shower, an amenity not proposed for ACT V. Set-up cost is estimated at $70,000.
Mayor Kelly Boyd and Councilwoman Toni Iseman sponsored the proposals presented to the council by Assistant City Manager John Pietig — all three non-voting members of the Advisory Committee on Homelessness.
“The most important piece is to have the help of the homeless advocates to get feeding at ACT V and out of the park,” Iseman said. “We can’t tell people they can’t feed the homeless, but the biggest thing the public can do is stop feeding the homeless in the park.
“Please help us.”
Pietig said the basic premise of the proposals was to address the welfare and safety of the populace, the use of parks and beaches as intended and reasonable programs to assist the homeless.
The recommendation to establish the shelter at ACT V was in response to substantial opposition to a previously recommended location in the city employees parking lot across Laguna Canyon Road from the Festival of Arts and Laguna Playhouse.
Choices of a location were limited because of the shortage of suitable sites and the impacts on surrounding areas and activities.
ACT V was the least objectionable, although only usable through mid-June, when the California Coastal Commission requires that all the parking spaces must be available throughout festival season.
Pietig said the goal was to open the site on or before Nov. 1. The original concept was to buy an event-size tent, to be furnished with cots, three portable toilets, picnic tables, heating and bus service from the depot to ACT V at 6:15 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. There is no city bus service Sundays, but Orange County Transportation Authority buses service the area for a fee. Duffel bags, which hold more than lockers, will be provided for regulars to stow their stuff.
After research, the staff recommended, and council approved, swapping out the tent for leased modular units, covering about the same area and costing $50,000 less than the original estimates. Two restrooms would be installed in the modulars in lieu of the three portables, and no heater would be required.
“This is a difficult issue — it has been challenging to come up with a solution, and it may be unsolvable, but we do the best we can,” said Ed Sauls, who chaired the Homeless Task Force and the Advisory Committee on Homelessness.
The notion that the city should not take so much on its shoulders was a common thread among the opponents.
“I encourage the city not to take ownership of the homeless,” Wendy Crimp said. “It is a regional problem.”
The Chamber of Commerce takes the position that no shelter should be established in the city limits, period. Chamber Executive Director Rose Hancock, who sat on the advisory committee, cast the lone vote against it.
However, the Laguna Beach Visitors & Conference Bureau gave its support to the proposals in a letter signed by the board of directors and voiced at the meeting by Vice President David Shepherd.
“We are offering this letter in support of the City Council’s efforts to provide a practical solution to the challenges facing all of us with regard to the plight of the homeless and the need for a balanced, humane effort that will allow businesses to continue to operate in a profitable manner,” Shepherd said.
According to the letter, visitors are checking out of hotels early due to interaction with the homeless; diners have said they will not return to restaurants because they can’t walk in daytime or nighttime without being approached for money and harassed; and residents have moved family weddings out of town.
“We are not debating the issue of homelessness,” Shepherd said.
“Our concern is how this issue has affected the hospitality business and how it will shape the long-term health of Laguna Beach.”
Festival of the Arts President Wayne Baglin, who had vehemently opposed siting the shelter across from the festival grounds, offered his sympathy to the council.
“I do not envy you,” said Baglin, who is a former mayor. “I don’t remember an issue more critical than what you are dealing with. You are the leaders of the community. You have to have stronger backbones than you have ever had to have before.”
But if Baglin were pleased that the shelter was moved from the city parking lot to ACT V, Randy Bader and other Laguna Canyon residents were not.
Bader said the city dumps every problem into the canyon — from housing for landslide victims to unwanted labor solicitation on North Laguna streets to beat-up houses.
One issue that kept cropping up was the fear of fire, stoked by smokers.
“It only takes one little spark to ignite the whole canyon,” Erin Bonsey said.
The council passed a no-smoking ordinance for ACT V, but many felt that it could not be enforced and it would be better to provide a safe area for smokers.
“Smoking will have to be dealt with,” said Iseman, who espouses no smoking in or out of doors on public property in Laguna.
The approved proposals are not seen as a panacea.
Sauls said the advisory committee had run its course, more specific expertise was needed for future steps and announced his resignation. The committee was later officially disbanded.
“Don’t expect the daytime homeless population to be reduced, but the overall impact will be reduced,” Henderson said.
The proposals, photographs of camp sites in the park on the beaches and a summary of the issues are posted at www.lagunabeachcity.net.
Homeless Shelter Rules
The City Council has approved the establishment of a temporary nighttime shelter for 50 of the city’s homeless population at the ACT V parking lot, 1900 Laguna Canyon Road. Proposed rules for the shelter:
Site opens at 6:30 p.m., when meals will be served, and lunch bags will be distributed in the morning, provided food is no longer served in the park.
All food and services must be approved by the city.
Anyone under the influence of alcohol and drugs will not be admitted.
Disruptive behavior will not be tolerated.
No pets, weapons, radios, television, excessive lights or noise will be permitted.
Site to be cleaned daily by users and belongings removed.