The Costa Mesa City Council voted Wednesday to “strongly oppose” any proposal to house some of the area’s homeless in a state-operated center for the developmentally disabled.
“The Board of Supervisors is trying to shirk their own responsibility by putting the burden on the cities that are already doing more than their fair share on homelessness in Orange County,” Costa Mesa Councilwoman Katrina Foley said.
“It was irresponsible of Supervisor (Shawn) Nelson to just throw out this idea of putting a tent city at Fairview Developmental Center. He clearly doesn’t understand the clientele that currently lives there.”
Nelson shot back, “That is an ignorant statement,” saying he never proposed erecting large tents to house transients at the site.
The Costa Mesa City Council held a special meeting to address the issue.
Costa Mesa Mayor Sandra Genis credited the hastily called meeting with getting Nelson to begin “backtracking” on the proposal.
“I believe it caused them to step back,” Genis said. “If we hadn’t done anything we would have woken up with tire tracks on our back.”
Costa Mesa Councilman Allan Mansoor said the council wouldn’t have even called the meeting if they had been called last week and given a heads up about the suggestion instead of learning about it through a news release.
“The only reason we are having this meeting tonight is because of an ill-advised press release when there should have been a phone call to us,” Mansoor said.
The dispute arose a day after Orange County supervisors withdrew plans to consider “sprung structures,” which are large tent-like facilities that posh hotels often use to handle overflow from ballrooms at weddings and other special events, to house the homeless.
County officials earlier this month asked staff to look into the feasibility of using tents in Irvine, Huntington Beach and Laguna Niguel for emergency shelter for transients moved off the Santa Ana riverbed and the Plaza of the Flags next to the Central Justice Center courthouse in Santa Ana.
If the sites were viable, then county officials were going to negotiate terms with the cities.
Leaders in the three cities, however, immediately erupted with outrage and vowed to sue, prompting the county to back down.
Nelson said Costa Mesa officials’ worries about the Fairview site were premature, though he acknowledged that he asked Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, to ask state officials if it was possible to house transients there. State officials have plans to close the facility by 2020.
“We don’t have a plan, tent, balloon, nothing,” he said. “They have dorms there and we thought, hey, is there any scenario, is there any way we can use it.”
The idea originated at a March 17 court hearing presided over by U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, who is overseeing a lawsuit that led to a settlement in which transients were recently moved out of encampments along the riverbed into motels. Those motel stays were expected to be completed Wednesday with all of the transients wishing further services housed elsewhere.
Carter has since turned his attention to clearing out the encampments in Santa Ana’s civic center area next to the courthouse.
Nelson complained that any suggestion of operating emergency shelters anywhere in the county is met immediately with opposition from “NIMBYs.”
“Everyone thinks we should do something about the homeless, but no one wants the beds,” Nelson said. “Meanwhile, Santa Ana and Anaheim have been shouldering this for years. It’s unfortunate, but you get this visceral reaction which makes it really difficult to have a conversation because the entire conversation is spent defusing false narratives.”
The Fairview center has dormitory housing and not all of the beds are being used, Nelson said.
Foley accused county officials of hoarding grant money that could have been spent on the homeless for years.
“Maybe they need to use the millions of dollars at their disposal” to address the issue, she said before the meeting.
Last year, Foley said city officials asked for funding from the county for homeless housing “and they came up with a whole bunch of excuses how we can’t get the funding.”
Carter, Foley noted, showed county officials recently that the county has $70.5 million available to provide housing for mentally ill transients. Supervisor Todd Spitzer recently criticized county staff for assuring the board the money wasn’t available for homeless housing.
“In three years, we’ve placed 53 residents into permanent supportive housing,” Foley said. “We’re now serving more than 150 (transients) so we’re doing our fair share and then some.”
Councilman Jim Righeimer agreed.
“The citizens of Costa Mesa are doing more than their fair share to handle the homeless issue for the county, and for the county to think now they can dump the homeless problem on us is not right,” Righeimer said before the meeting.
Righeimer and Foley criticized Nelson for issuing the news release on the Fairview proposal before contacting Costa Mesa officials.
“They didn’t come to us,” Righeimer said. “I found out about it in a PR release on a Friday night. (Supervisor) Michelle Steel didn’t even know about it, and it’s in her district.”
Nelson said the county is not hoarding its funding for the homeless. He said the county has devoted $193 million to projects supporting the homeless.
“There was no chipmunking,” Nelson said.
It’s true that county officials did not immediately make use of the funding as it came in.
“Too conservative? Maybe, fair enough,” Nelson said. “But we’re certainly spending that built-up reserve and spending more than we’re taking in now.”
In related news, Spitzer and Irvine Mayor Don Wagner announced Wednesday afternoon that they are pursuing “fast-track opportunities for veterans and women’s permanent housing at the county-owned West Alton parcel” at Irvine Boulevard and Alton Parkway.
County officials have plans to develop the property for residences for seniors and multiple-family housing. Wagner and Spitzer want to tweak the plan to include permanent housing for veterans and abused women.
Wagner and Spitzer intend to tell Carter about the plan at the next court hearing Tuesday, where he will discuss his plans to move transients out of the Santa Ana civic center.