By Shawn Raymundo
With very few individuals left camping at San Clemente’s outdoor homeless shelter on Avenida Pico, the city no longer believes it to be financially feasible and intends to shut it down next week, Mayor Dan Bane announced on Tuesday, Dec. 3.
During the city council’s meeting on Tuesday, Bane explained that the number of homeless individuals residing at the Pico encampment has slowly dwindled to about four or five individuals. Those persons, he said, are likely to be placed into housing by the end of next week.
“We think by the end of the week, and possibly next week, we’ll be able to place all of those individuals with housing so it no longer makes any financial sense to keep that camp open,” Bane said, eliciting cheering from the council audience.
According to the city, it spent $77,000 to establish the Pico encampment. Since then, the city spent an average of about $30,000 a month to operate the camp, with the costs going toward monthly cleanups, security guards and portable toilet services.
Pending a public hearing and vote of the council on Tuesday, Dec. 10, the camp could be closed by Thursday, Dec. 12. The closure would conclude the shelter service the city started providing this past May as a temporary solution to relocate the homeless who had begun to form a tent city at the North Beach parking lot.
“That was a decision as a matter of time,” Bane said. “As we’ve said before, it was temporary. I want to make it very clear, it had nothing to do with lawsuits, it had nothing to do with (California) Coastal Commission. It had everything to do with a promise we made to our community.”
The Pico encampment, which has drawn staunch rebuke from residents of the nearby Sea Summit luxury housing development who have argued that they weren’t given formal notice of the camp opening, housed more than 70 homeless individuals at one point during its operation.
Since September, when the city imposed its rule limiting access to the encampment to only those who had ties to San Clemente, the number of campers dropped precipitously. By October, the population declined to roughly a dozen. Late last month, the city reported having six campers there.
However, Bane, on Tuesday, largely credited the decrease in campers to the efforts of the county, city and local homeless advocacy organizations.
“Through the county’s efforts, through our efforts, through the efforts of Mercy House and now City Net, the numbers of the encampment have been slowly dwindling,” he said. “I realize that some of those folks have gone elsewhere, but a very large portion of them have either been sent back to their homes with help from the city, or have moved on of their own volition.”
At the council’s meeting, some questions were raised from the public about whether the potential closure will allow another tent city to form elsewhere in San Clemente.
Speaking with San Clemente Times on Wednesday, Dec. 4, Bane explained that the city has taken steps to prevent such a situation, pointing to a pair of ordinances the council officially passed Tuesday night.
One ordinance will designate the platforms at the North Beach and Pier Bowl train stations as ticket-required areas, and the other prohibits the use of any tents, lodges, shelters or structures at the city’s parks unless they have two sides open and provide unobstructed views of the interior.
“So that’s going to address the sort of encampment like living in one area,” Bane said, before also noting that city has been able to provide transportation services for the homeless to armories in North Orange County.
“The benefit we have right now for the winter season is the armories up in the North County, which we do have access to,” Bane said. “So we’re hoping to utilize those to have people not camping on the streets, but in shelters, instead, which would be better for everyone.”
Late last month, the city had announced it was working on a coastal development permit application for the encampment to submit to the California Coastal Commission later this month. The application was meant to comply with the agency’s position that the city needed to file one in order to operate the camp.
That matter is “totally mooted,” Bane said. “And we had been telling (the CCC) all along that this was a temporary camp . . . they were aware that the camp would likely close down at some point.”
The encampment was initially scheduled to expire next June. City officials had previously explained that the city has been looking to find an alternative location to house the city’s homeless, and it had been eyeing space near Avenida Fabricante and Calle Extemo.
Bane said staff is continuing to look at other areas for a similar shelter.
In conjunction with the city’s plans to shut down the camp, the council will conduct a special meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 10, to repeal the ordinances enacted this past summer that created the Pico camp.
The council also intends to amend another existing ordinance in the municipal code related to camping on public property. The amendment, Bane explained at the council meeting, would prohibit the erection of tents for camping on public property except between the hours of 5 p.m. and 10 a.m.
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.