By Councilmember Laura Ferguson
I hope you have been enjoying summer in San Clemente. Though we have been on a council meeting recess, we continue to work on issues important to you, because a city never sleeps.
We have been through some trying times, and I wish to thank the residents for being engaged in the issues and attending meetings to express how you feel. It has made all the difference to move the needle. The power of the people to affect change cannot be underestimated, so my hat’s off to you for caring and helping steer our city in the right direction.
The big issue is changing the state of homelessness in our town. However small, the first step is the hardest. The temporary campsite, created after the city council’s adoption of an urgency ordinance to address public health concerns over public defecation, drug use, altercations and safety issues, represents a critical first step. Though not ideal, especially for Sea Summit homeowners, to do nothing was not an option considering our homeless count doubled from 2017. The campsite has provided people who are experiencing homelessness with a centralized place to pitch their tents and be connected to mental health professionals and social service providers, while the city has been enforcing its anti-camping laws despite legal challenges to shut the campsite down.
The campsite is a 6-to-12-month transition plan. Earlier this year, the city council announced a directive to the city manager to seek a temporary homeless shelter location in the city’s SB2 zone, determined by a prior city council in the Rancho San Clemente Business Park. SB2 added provisions to the housing element that require a local government to identify a zone where emergency shelters are allowed as a permitted-use without a conditional-use or other discretionary permit. The city receives SB2 and CDBG funds and will apply for Homeless Emergency Aid Program and Housing and Urban Development funds and other opportunities. This will help the city reduce the financial impact on the General Fund.
The August 20 council meeting agenda will include a shelter site lease and a Request for Proposal to seek a qualified shelter operator. Once the shelter is operational, the campsite will close. Our city will enforce its anti-camping and loitering laws if people erect tents or encampments on public property, because under Martin v. City of Boise, a city’s anti-camping laws can be enforced if an adequate location is available and offered to unsheltered people. Some people will not want to go to the shelter, but we will offer it and try to get them the assistance they need through a multi-agency effort to get them back on their feet.
There has been conflicting information regarding the “locals rule” for accessing a shelter. A “city-specific” shelter is capable of serving only the homeless within their respective city. The county said an example of this is happening at the Tustin shelter, which does not receive county funding. If San Clemente opened a city-specific shelter (not a regional shelter), it would not be obligated to accept people from other cities. The county confirmed that it would still provide mental health and social services regardless of the financing structure of the shelter.
I appreciate the efforts of our deputies, who have been faced with increasing demands of addressing homeless issues. Positively, this past June, we enhanced the Orange County Sheriff’s Department contract by the addition of a full-time Crime Prevention Officer and two patrol deputies, though more are needed. The Sheriff is conducting an analysis that will determine how many more deputies we need to effectively serve our community. We must ensure these positions are funded with reoccurring revenue, as opposed to one-time or anticipated future revenue. There is no greater priority than public safety, and by show of standing-room-only crowds at our council meetings, our community has made this clear. It is our duty as elected leaders to respond to the community’s needs and make decisions that reflect what the people want.
I enjoy hearing from you and can be reached at FergusonL@san-clemente.org.