On Tuesday, the county's Board of Supervisors is set to vote on whether to complete the purchase of a Santa Ana warehouse for use as the county's first-ever public, year-round homeless shelter.
At least, a homeless shelter was the use envisioned for the property in July, when the Board voted to enter a $3.6 million purchase agreement for it. That was before an angry backlash from residents of neighborhoods near the proposed shelter (see "Santa Ana Residents Unite Against Proposed Homeless Shelter," Aug. 27, 2014) prompted the Santa Ana City Council to start waffling like a … well, like a waffle, even though the Council had already zoned the location for a homeless shelter.
Last month, the City Council caved to pressure from the NIMBYers and voted to put a 45-day moratorium on its shelter zoning, a move the City Attorney described as "largely symbolic." That's because the county (which doesn't actually need the city's approval), had followed the city's direction, purchasing a site in one of the industrial zones that the City Council last year designated for shelters.
A staff report prepared for Supervisors in advance of Tuesday's vote says the property on Normandy Place, near McFadden and Grand avenues, has the "potential to be used for storage, equipment repair, trade shop purposes, and other miscellaneous uses by different county agencies or departments, including as a possible year-round emergency shelter."
"Possible" shelter? Um, okay…
County spokeswoman Jean Pasco clarified: "The recommended action on Tuesday is to approve the purchase of a property. While the County hopes the use can be a homeless shelter in the future, decisions regarding any changes to the building for such a use have not been approved by the Board. Such approval will not occur until the County finalizes the purchase. The agenda item merely articulates all of our options regarding uses for the property."
Board of Supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson brushed off the staff's attempt to cover all bases. The county chose the site because Santa Ana zoned it for a shelter, he noted, "That's how we got there and that's certainly the context in which I'm having the discussion," Nelson said.
Nelson speculated the language of the staff report is meant to preserve all avenues of legal defense should the city later sue the county for violating its "largely symbolic" moratorium.
At last month's City Council meeting at which the moratorium was approved, Councilwoman Michele Martinez floated the idea of using a county-owned former bus terminal in the Civic Center as a shelter–something County Supervisor John Moorlach has been advocating for years but which Santa Ana Mayor-for-Life Miguel Pulido has long fought against. Martinez blamed former city staff for blocking consideration of the bus terminal as a shelter, saying they kept Council members in the dark.
The bus terminal on Santa Ana Boulevard is just steps from where scores of homeless people sleep and are are fed by charitable groups in the Civic Center. The Normandy Place location is a couple of miles away.
"It's never too late to do the smart thing," Nelson said of Martinez's suggestion, but he noted that it took a NIMBY revolt against the Council's zoned site before she brought it up. If the city had said the bus terminal was an option, the homeless could have been sheltered years ago, Nelson said.
"It's like, 'I'm sorry, you're starving? I've had these sandwiches in my bag all along,'" Nelson said. "You put everybody through these gymnastics exercises because you didn't take the time to think about it?"
Supervisors will be briefed on any litigation or other issues related to the Normandy Place property during a closed session Tuesday before emerging to take a public vote on whether to proceed with the purchase.