To bastardize M. Night Shyamalan, I see homeless people. Everywhere in Orange County. Civic Center plaza in downtown Santa Ana. Along the Santa Ana River trail, especially near the Honda Center in Anaheim. Tustin Civic Center. Just about every beach along the coast. Years ago, a shoreline homeowner who remarked with astonishment that unwashed masses flock to some of the most expensive coastal real estate in the country received the sober reply, “Why wouldn’t the homeless want to live in a nice place, too?”
That’s the rub. Wherever you stand on the homeless issue, if you are not homeless yourself, you look at our tent cities and wonder how it came to this. It’s just that some view the sad phenomenon from a humanitarian perspective and wonder what can be done to help. Others are fearful of the economic toll the spectacle takes on tourism, psyches and especially real-estate values and just want the homeless out. Don’t judge them; when our neediest neighbors are “out of sight, out of mind,” we all sleep better.
On Sept. 24, 1998, OC Weekly published “Knock ‘Em Down,” which identified 15 places, from Mission San Juan Capistrano to the Richard Nixon birthplace in Yorba Linda, that should be demolished despite historic or ecological significance so that Orange County’s ace developers could replace them with uses that were fresh, shiny and as crowd-pleasing as a new Jamba Juice. Nineteen years later, in that same spirit, we present 10 places—in reverse order of brilliance—where we can safely stick the homeless so the rest of us can get on with catching the final seven episodes of Game of Thrones, which is fitting because relocating OC’s homeless would be the ultimate game of thrones.
10. THE SOURCE
Gabriel San Román’s Feb. 16 OC Weekly cover story asked the long-winded question, “Will Buena Park’s New Retail Center the Source Put It on the Map—Or Be Its Biggest Boondoggle?” The 12-acre, $400 million mega retail center has tall building façades facing Beach Boulevard and a retail-zoned stretch of Orangethorpe Street, but the other two sides of the square block have adjacent homeowners peering out their front doors at a large, imposing, white parking structure and/or fencing to cover up the never-ending construction. That has folks fearful about what the hell is and will be going on in there. So far, not much, based on a recent midafternoon visit, when the supposedly busiest part of the center was occupied by a lone security guard. (The perimeter was unofficially guarded by a fellow in a red football jersey yelling something incoherent at the clouds.) The site therefore has three attributes for a successful homeless depository: tall barriers on all sides blocking views inside, neighbors already used to living with the fear of the unknown and empty space to burn. And by burn, we mean in trash cans as heat sources.
To Make This Work: To allay fears about shopping carts winding up in adjacent residential neighborhoods, developers of a Target-anchored retail center in Costa Mesa promised to install devices that would lock wheels if someone tried to push a cart beyond the center’s parking lot. The project won City Council approval . . . and the cart locks never materialized. The point is, the Source’s neighbors must be promised that to prevent transients from leaving the premises, locking devices will be installed on their feet—but it’s not like you have to keep that promise.
9. CHRIST OUR SAVIOR CATHOLIC CHURCH
Then-Orange County Bishop Tod Brown announced in 2000 that land had been acquired in southern Santa Ana for the county’s
first second Roman Catholic cathedral. It was a perfect location because the property was at the crossroads of three freeways and Diocese of Orange priests lived in a nearby residential tract. Parishioners of the new Christ Our Savior Cathedral Parish raised funds to realize Brown’s dream—but then Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove landed on the bankruptcy-sale block, and the diocese pivoted to acquire it for what is now Christ Cathedral. Christ Our Savior? Parishioners still fill the manufactured building at 2000 W. Alton Ave., but after a permanent (albeit more modest) church is erected, there will still be a lot of property surrounding it, perfect for homeless believers and nonbelievers. (Mitre tip to Louie Gallardo for pointing to another welcoming diocese location: Cathedral of the Holy Family in Orange.)
To Make This Work: Adherence to this section of the Catholic Church Catechism: “Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God. Jesus makes charity the new commandment, the fullness of the law. It is the bond of perfection [Colossians 3:14] and the foundation of the other virtues to which it gives life, inspiration and order. Without charity, ‘I am nothing’ and ‘I gain nothing’ [1 Corinthians 13:1-3].”
8. ANY ORANGE COUNTY MEGACHURCH
Pick an OC megachurch, any OC megachurch, even a Korean one. You feel like a million bucks leaving these joints. A hallelujah here, a praise be to God there, lift hands toward the ceiling during prayers, shoot a few winks on the way back to your Benz and rush over to join the foursome at Big Canyon. Yeah, life is good. Hell, God is good. It’s just as Niles was saying at Bible study the other night . . . ahhhh . . . FUCK ME! Okay, truth be told, it’s really goddamn boring. Let’s fill any spare OC megachurch nook and cranny with the homeless. Sure, they’re dirty and smelly, and even all cleaned up, a 6 is the best any of their chicks will ever be. (One word: dentistry.) But if I have to hear one more time how God told Niles to roll over his 401k into a Roth IRA, I’m going to flip a burger.
To Make This Work: Sell a Register feature writer on how welcoming we are to the needy. After the story hits, we’ll put the lollygaggers to work shining our Benzes.
7. MONARCH BEACH
Why stick the homeless mere steps from the tony Ritz-Carlton resort in Dana Point? For the second time in two years, Monarch Beach made Heal the Bay’s Beach Bummer list of the top 10 most polluted beaches in California. You may recall that Monarch Beach started cleaning up its act after the city used falcons to scare away seabirds that were crapping in water on the beach and in a creek that feeds it. That project was scrapped due to potential harm to the federally threatened snowy plover. Another homeless overflow can be jettisoned to San Clemente Pier, which this year took the No. 2 position on the Beach Bummer list, right behind Humboldt County’s Clam Beach County Park. We’ll have ’em rocking those lobster traps off the pier in no time.
To Make This Work: Heavy policing will be required to ensure the bacterial threat posed by the homeless at least does not surpass the snowy plover’s.
6. ANGELS STADIUM
In his June 16 column "Angels Find Winning Hand in Far From Full House,” the Orange County Register‘s Jeff Miller writes that the number of empty seats appears to be growing amid another disappointing season by the Halos. The team brass in the Los Angeles offices of Anaheim would likely reply, "Don’t believe your lying eyes,” pointing to a respectable announced crowd that Sunday afternoon of 36,178. But as the scribe points out, that number represents tickets sold, not how many people showed up to honor them. Hey, we’ll leave it to you pros to argue over semantics. We’re here to fill any empty seats, which has to at least look better on the Fox Sports telecasts.
To Make This Work: Starting with the nearby riverbed encampments, turn the Big A parking lot into the county’s largest tent city when there is not a baseball game, dirt-bike race or other event going on inside the stadium. When the field is in use, hide the tents, perhaps in the vast unused space at the ARTIC transportation hub on one side of the parking lot or the City National Grove entertainment venue on the other. As payment for the homeless serving as professional seat fillers, buy them some peanuts and Gentleman Jack.
5. SEAL BEACH NAVAL WEAPONS STATION
One of the most peaceful places around is the submarine memorial near an entrance to this military complex. A tall tree in the middle shades the grass below, and there was plenty of unused adjacent parking during a recent visit. It would make a great spot for our homeless community’s "generals,” with those under them filling any unused barracks and open fields on the huge base. Silos with nuclear weapons inside are said to be about the grounds, so the homeless can serve as the ultimate human shields against adversarial foreign powers thinking about a first strike. It’s actually a small threat—Kim Jong-un would rather take Manhattan—so the homeless can also be repurposed as human props during military training exercises. If the Navy still wants them to earn their keep, have them replace the migrant pickers on the adjacent farms. They work cheaper!
To Make This Work: It’ll probably take an act of Congress, and we all know how hard it is to get Congress to act on anything these days. Just attach authorization to the draconian Trump immigration bill because Republicans are going to have to pass something like that before the next election.
4. JOINT FORCES TRAINING BASE
From the Lexington Drive entrance off Katella Avenue in Los Alamitos, hang a right at Farquhar Avenue, and you’ll notice there is a fenced-in strip of land between the base and the Rossmoor Storm Channel that runs for about 10 blocks before ending at Little Cottonwood Park. Does the thin strip of land not remind you of the ground above river channels that Orange County’s homeless currently occupy? What makes the area on and around the base perfect is armed military personnel already draw government paychecks to keep order. It’s quiet there most of the time, with nice single-family homes lining the other side of Farquhar. Who wouldn’t want to live in a tent next to a clean little park where you can take a noontime snooze and a military base where they make peace through strength?
To Make This Work: See No. 5.
3. TUSTIN BLIMP HANGARS
"Beware of Motor Blades,” reads the sign on the south blimp hangar owned by the city of Tustin. That can be repainted to read "Beware of Panhandlers” once it and its county-controlled sister blimpatorium become the world’s largest homeless shelters. The hangars were built in 1942 for blimps that patrolled the West Coast in search of Japanese subs during World War II. The hangars and property surrounding them remained parts of a military base through the late 1990s, so as with Nos. 4 and 5 on this list, they have a heritage that resonates with the many homeless individuals who once served our country. The city and county both want to preserve the National Civil Engineering Landmarks, which are billed as the largest wooden-frame structures in the world. That’s prime homeless-encampment land surrounding them. "To preserve and protect” a bit of history and our most needy citizens has a nice ring to it, no?
To Make This Work: The county wants to ring the north hangar with a regional park, while the city sees it as the centerpiece of the mixed office/retail/residential Tustin Legacy project taking seed at Red Hill Avenue and Barranca Parkway. There is also the little matter of the Navy still owning some adjacent land. Rather than getting three government agencies on the same page, let’s integrate the homeless into each of those plans. A military museum? A new Angels Stadium? A Ferry Building South? Hire the homeless to work them. Any worries about the new employees talking to invisible people can be remedied by outfitting each with a Bluetooth earpiece.
2. EX-ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER BUILDING
The large building and adjacent parking structure visible from the 5 freeway at Grand Avenue in Santa Ana had been the headquarters for the Orange County Register since the 1980s. The 112-year-old newspaper’s offices moved last year to Anaheim, although printing continued at the Grand Avenue facility through the spring. (Printing is now split between plants in Riverside and a second Anaheim location.) Downtown Santa Ana developer and ZZ Top doppelgänger Mike Harrah, who bought the 20-acre Grand Avenue property, recently unveiled plans to plop a 2.3 million-square-foot project there with a high-rise office and residential towers. However, we’ve been to this rodeo before (see No. 1). Because it will likely be many, many years or decades until anyone sees anything more than plans, the homeless can be moved onto the property pronto.
To Make This Work: We must soothe the psyches of dirty, bitter, mumbling wretches who are cantankerous about major changes to their daily routines, and by them, I mean newspaper journalists.
1. ONE BROADWAY PLAZA
Of course, Harrah has been trying for 18 years to build an equally ambitious project, the 37-story office tower that would become Orange County’s tallest building, at North Broadway and West 10th Street in downtown Santa Ana. He unveiled the $450 million One Broadway Plaza plans in 1999 and went on to predict at different times over the years that construction would be completed by 2008, then 2016 and at last word 2017. (The clock’s ticking, Mike. . . .) Despite voter approval, planning permits and Harrah supposedly having nearly all the project financing he needs, all he has to show for his phallic dream is the covered fence encircling the property and a big pile of dirt poking out of the top of it. Let’s cut a deal with him to move the homeless there in the meantime. As Harrah knows, location is key, and this is the best spot in the county for a tent city because it is close to needed services. Bonus: The fence surrounding it prevents the non-homeless from having to look at—heck, to even think about—the homeless inside, so we can save our ire or pity or pity ire. That big pile of dirt? Well, have you ever slid down a tall sand dune? It is so fun, and trust me, there is no better exercise to silence the demons screaming in your head.
To Make This Work: Use cranes to lift the entire homeless encampment at the county’s Plaza of the Flags, swing it over that downtown swath to the One Broadway Plaza site and let it drop. Then move other tent cities there and, once filled, use the old Register site for any overflow. Santa Ana’s upcoming downtown trolley keeps both plots connected. Ding, ding, ding!