MOORLACH UPDATE — Santa Ana City Council — October 28, 2014

At today’s Board meeting, under Agenda Item #26, I provided my colleagues with a brief update on my attendance at the beginning of last Tuesday evening’s Santa Ana City Council meeting. Supervisor Nguyen was unable to attend because she was greeting a dignitary from Vietnam at Los Angeles International Airport, someone she had been trying to assist out of that country for some four years. I informed Chair Nelson that I would be attending and he asked if he could join me for a brief time. So we are seen in the first Voice of OC photo below going through the security screening process. The second photo was taken before the start of the Council meeting, by Julia Bidwell of OC Community Resources, just before Chair Nelson left for his next commitment. Pictured from left to right: Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido, Chair Nelson, Karen Roper, OC Community Services Director and CEO of the Commission to End Homelessness, and myself.

My first home was in Santa Ana, near Carl Thornton Park. I had been to the City Council Chambers while a resident, attending on behalf of Lewis Whitehead and the Orange County Rescue Mission, which the city was evicting from the downtown area for a redevelopment project. Now, 35 years later, I have come full circle, returning to the chambers to speak on the topic of the homeless. This time it was for the item on the potential acquisition by the County of a year-round homeless shelter on Normandy Place in Santa Ana (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Happy to Discuss — September 22, 2014, MOORLACH UPDATE — Santa Ana Homeless Shelter — August 21, 2014, MOORLACH UPDATE — Homeless Shelter, et al — July 16, 2014, and MOORLACH UPDATE — Homeless Shelter — October 18, 2013.) I felt that the City Council handled the matter in a professional manner. I informed the Council that the County found a location within its approved SB 2 zone, allowing a homeless shelter, and that due to the nature of real estate transactions, it was reviewed first in closed session, according to state law. The County was not trying to surprise anyone (it was the state’s legal requirement for a closed session on real estate negotiations that made this process look awkward). I stated that I and key County executives were there to listen to the residents and reminded them of our previous efforts and our mutual desire to address this concern.

Today I requested the establishment of an Ad Hoc Committee of two Supervisors to work with representatives of the Santa Ana City Council. Chairman Nelson was apprehensive about doing so, stating that the city of Santa Ana should be coming to the County with a specific recommendation. He did allow for the opportunity to put the matter on the Board’s agenda at a future meeting.

As to the Voice of OC piece below, the Santa Ana Unified School District did not comment when the City Council approved the SB 2 zone last year. It also has James Monroe Elementary School next door to the Santa Ana Armory (the topic of item #26), which is a temporary homeless shelter during the winter months. To correspond to the Board of Supervisors that it has a problem with the Normandy Place location, due to its being near schools, strikes many as being a tad disingenuous.

Battle Over Homeless Shelter Continues in Santa Ana

By ADAM ELMAHREK And NICK GERDA

Although temporary and largely symbolic, the Santa Ana City Council’s vote last week to put a 45-day moratorium on a zoning ordinance that would allow a permanent county-funded homeless shelter to be located on the city’s southeast side has opened a new front for those battling to stop it.

The proposed site, near the Madison Park, Wilshire Squire, and Cornerstone Village neighborhoods, has drawn fierce opposition from residents who, along with school district officials, argue the shelter would be too close to an Elementary School and put neighborhood children at risk.

Meanwhile, some county officials, as well as homeless advocates, say the proposed site is in a light industrial area and that the residents’ concerns are unrealistic and rooted in bigoted stereotypes of homeless people.

Dora Lopez, a Madison Park neighborhood resident and one of the shelter’s most vocal opponents, told the council during public comments that the shelter is “unacceptable.”

“We deserve proper representation,” Lopez said. “We want our due process and for our rights to be respected.”

Lopez and other residents have complained that the county tried to quickly push through the shelter without doing adequate community outreach.

Councilman Vincent Sarmiento, who proposed the moratorium said it is intended to slow the process down and provide the community more opportunity to be heard.

The first opportunity for that will be a community forum for Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Century High School auditorium at 1401 S. Grand Avenue.

Also contributing to the council’s decision to issue the moratorium was a letter sent by the Santa Ana Unified School District board president to the Orange County Board of Supervisors saying that the county has yet to respond to an August letter outlining the district’s concerns.

“We believe that it is critical that the voices of our parents be heard,” board President Audrey Yamagata-Noji wrote.

“We want to be part of the solution. We understand the need for these types of facilities, and support providing needed transitional housing within Orange County," she continued.

The message was addressed to county supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson and was sent to all county supervisors and Santa Ana City Council members.

Supervisor John Moorlach said “there was no intent to be surprising anyone,” but cited the fact that real estate negotiations to buy the building for the shelter by law were done in secret.

“The homeless have been here, right here, they’re on your lawn, for my entire adult life,” Moorlach said. “So we need to do something.”

Many supporters of the homeless community, meanwhile, say the opponents’ fears are unfounded and that a workable solution can be found.

Massimo Marini, an activist who helped organize a lobby group made of homeless people called Civic Center Roundtable, spoke via a camera feed from outside the council chambers and called for making the shelter a reality soon.

He said the scores of homeless people with no place to sleep and who have for years resided on the public grounds of the county government seat in Santa Ana are being “eaten alive” by mosquitoes and face daily threats of physical and sexual violence.

Marini also decried the shelter’s opposition from working-class neighborhood residents as a tragic fight between the two lowest classes of society, an ominous sign about society at large.

“Now the lowest levels of society are fighting between each other for their own right to exist,” Marini said.

City staff, meanwhile, are warning that imposing a moratorium on the shelter zoning would likely break state law, given a recent requirement that cities have zoning for homeless shelters.

Additionally, Planning Director Karen Haluza writes in her staff report that there is “little evidence” that emergency shelters cause an increase in crime or other public safety impacts.

That would make it difficult to argue there’s an “imminent threat to the public health, safety and welfare,” she said, as would be required to pass the emergency moratorium.

Meanwhile, Councilwoman Michele Martinez brought up the idea of housing homeless people in the downtown Orange County Transportation Authority’s shuttered bus depot, a solution that has long been championed by Moorlach.

That idea was killed after former City Manager Paul Walters penned a letter to county leaders saying that housing homeless people downtown would pose negative impacts to the growing restaurant and business district.

But Martinez said that Walters wrote that letter without getting the approval of council members, and that the option should be on the table.

“When we talk about fairness, equity, shame on the city of Santa Ana for excluding that site,” Martinez said.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek

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