Advocates for mental health services look at Fairview Center site for future use

The long-term fate of the Fairview Developmental Center site is still years from being decided, but already some are urging that at least a portion be set aside for mental health services.

Among them is state Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa), who recently introduced a bill pertaining to the future of the 114-acre, state-owned property in Costa Mesa.

Moorlach’s Senate Bill 59 doesn’t outline specific plans — only the “intent of the Legislature to enact legislation focusing on the disposition” of the property — but he said his goal is to ensure that local leaders have a say in determining the future of the site at 2501 Harbor Blvd.

“I just want to make sure that property doesn’t slip away,” Moorlach said this week. “I’d rather it be available for dealing with a growing epidemic in this state, and that’s mental illness.”

Moorlach said he plans to continue meeting with area officials and residents to get their thoughts on the future of the property.

“I think this could be such a win-win for everybody, because you can’t just complain about some of these subjects that are becoming more predominant … we’ve got to provide a solution,” he said.

Fairview Developmental Center, first opened in 1959, is a state-run facility that provides services and housing to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

A handful of people turned out to Tuesday’s Costa Mesa City Council meeting to encourage development of resources on the site for those who are homeless or mentally ill.

“SB 59 is a placeholder right now and there’s no language for it, but if we don’t say anything, then we lose the opportunity to say anything,” said Matt Holzmann, government relations chairman for the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Orange County.

“If we do nothing, then the state is free to do as they please,” he added.

Facilities like Fairview are slated to close in coming years as part of an effort to transition people out of institutional-style centers and into smaller accommodations that are more integrated into communities.

“Fairview is scheduled to transition the remaining residents to community living options by 2019, and all centers planned for closure are scheduled to close in 2021,” Nancy Lungren, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Developmental Services, said in an email this week.

The department “has held extensive meetings with parents, stakeholders, including the city of Costa Mesa and Orange County, and local regional centers while it is developing housing and programs in the community for individuals transitioning from Fairview,” Lungren said.

As of this week, 194 people are living at Fairview, according to Lungren. Its population peaked in 1967 with 2,700 residents.

Once Fairview is officially closed, another state agency, the Department of General Services, will step in to determine whether the state can use the land in some other way.

The property will first be made available to other state departments and then to local jurisdictions to see if they have any interest, according to Department of General Services spokesman Brian Ferguson.

If no one bites, the land could be put up for auction.

Ferguson said it’s too soon to tell what might happen with the Fairview site, since the disposition process could take years.

“Our role is to find a good use of that property that’s going to benefit the taxpayers and residents of California,” he said.

To Moorlach, the closure of Fairview could create something of a rarity in Orange County — a significant amount of available open land.

The site could be used to provide services and housing for the homeless, developmentally disabled and mentally ill, he said.

“It’s just a matter of how you allocate space — how many acres for which program,” he said. “But I don’t think you’re going to find another piece of property like this anywhere in the county.”

Should the state sell the site to a private buyer, the property would come under zoning laws established as part of the recent update to Costa Mesa’s general plan.

The plan specifies that at least 25% of the property be set aside for parks and open space. It caps the number of possible residential units at 582. Institutional and recreational uses also are permitted.

Those rules wouldn’t come into play if the state holds onto the land for its use.

Twitter: @LukeMMoney