By Shawn Raymundo
Less than a week after the city’s outdoor homeless shelter on Avenida Pico officially closed, the council took additional steps toward locating an alternative shelter location, eyeing a portion of a local dog park as a potential interim camping site for the homeless.
The council voted during its Dec. 17 meeting to approve the city staff’s recommendation to initiate a general plan amendment, which would change the land-use designation of the San Clemente Dog Park on Avenida La Pata to allow for a temporary camp location.
“The goal of such an amendment would be to provide the City with more discretion and regulatory flexibility to address issues that adversely affect the public health, safety and welfare,” the city stated in an agenda report that was included in the council’s consent calendar.
The city considers items listed in the council’s consent calendar as routine and can “be enacted by one motion without discussion” unless there’s a request by councilors, staff or the public to remove the item for deliberation.
According to the city, the 0.6-acre site located at 301 Avenida La Pata was identified as a feasible location for potential interim camping site. It’s currently zoned as “open space—public” within the Rancho San Clemente Specific Plan.
“Under the current zoning, the use of the property is limited to parks and recreational uses, public utilities, schools, and civic uses,” the city stated in its report.
Initially, the city also noted, the council had begun to evaluate the site feasibility of another vacant city-owned lot on Avenida Fabricante, located in the industrial park zone, but later told staff to explore additional sites for establishing a camp.
Assistant City Manager Erik Sund told San Clemente Times last week that the Rancho San Clemente Business Park Association has been vocal in raising concerns about the use of the dog park site, noting that it’s a severe fire hazard zone and would have an impact on the environment.
Though the proposed amendment occurs on open-space lands, the city states that it’s not subject to the city’s Measure V ordinance—the voter-approved initiative mandating that any open space project more than one acre has to go to a vote of the people.
In the city’s report, it notes that the space being reclassified is less than one acre in size.
The initiation came days after the city locked the gates to the Pico homeless encampment, which had opened this past May as a solution to relocate the influx of homeless persons camping out at the North Beach area.
The latest move to potentially designate the dog park as a camp site also comes amid the U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of hearing an appeal to the controversial ruling in the homelessness case Martin v. City of Boise.
Under that Boise ruling, municipalities are barred from enforcing any anti-camping ordinance unless adequate outdoor shelter space for the homeless is offered.
That denial to take up the case means the city will have to sit down with the county, law enforcement and other stakeholders to discuss a new strategy in combating the homeless crisis, Sund said.
Sund also said that the council’s action just begins the process of making the amendment, as there other steps that will first need to be completed, such as going to the Planning Commission before circling back to the city council.
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.