The San Clemente City Council unanimously approved city staff’s proposal to hire an independent security company to ensure people don’t camp on city beaches during its meeting on Tuesday night, March 7.
After previously directing staff to urgently come back with emergency actions that could assist homeless people during inclement weather, either when the temperature is expected to fall below 40 degrees or when rain and a temperature below 50 degrees is expected, the council voted against a motion approving such plans.
Such actions would have included providing transportation to an emergency weather shelter, umbrellas and rain gear, foodstuffs, and potential temporary lodging vouchers.
The agenda item appeared after Mayor Chris Duncan, with support from Mayor Pro Tem Steve Knoblock and Councilmember Mark Enmeier, asked staff to return with potential actions during the Feb. 28 meeting.
Most of the public speakers regarding the discussion came because they believed the council was debating whether to build a new shelter in town, as was previously mentioned by Duncan, which was not a part of Tuesday’s meeting.
Susan Hennebry said it would be wasteful to spend $50,000—the maximum amount that City Manager Andy Hall can spend without council approval—on emergency actions when the city already has a functioning outreach team.
“This is opening a can of worms that can only be fixed by pushing the county to build a shelter on county-owned land,” Hennebry said. “The city cannot take on the liability of opening their own shelter and the possibility of more lawsuits.”
She also said homeless people should choose to receive services and assistance when offered, and that the San Clemente Homeless Collaborative, a community-led organization, should focus on supporting its own shelter independent of the city.
Cord Bauer cautioned that even by providing basic services such as weather protection and food, the situation involving homeless people in town could devolve dramatically without medication and an intense application of mental health services.
Kathy Esfahani, the chair of the San Clemente Affordable Housing Coalition, marveled at, what she referred to as, “ignorant statements” she had heard, and she implored her fellow citizens to be compassionate and decent toward unhoused people.
She argued that shelter from the cold is a viable solution, and that San Clemente, Dana Point and San Juan Capistrano should collaborate to build a nearby shelter.
Councilmember Victor Cabral stated that he didn’t want San Clemente to step into a subject that it isn’t required to handle on its own and claimed that Los Angeles and San Francisco are worse off even after spending aggressively to reduce homelessness.
“(Cities) have never had the responsibility for the homeless, and that’s because we don’t have the resources,” he said. “That money is collected by the state and the federal government.”
He added that the higher forms of government have the departments for addressing mental health and other related subjects, saying that he didn’t want to spend taxpayers’ money on a dedicated effort to deal with homelessness.
Cabral initiated the motion to focus on the city’s public safety ordinances against camping on beaches from midnight to 4 a.m. and against the use of alcohol on the beaches. Knoblock seconded the motion, and Councilmember Gene James amended it to direct all the funding away from emergency actions and toward the security company.
Enmeier argued against Cabral’s point by claiming that cities have historically been responsible for taking care of those within their borders and expressed that it was important for San Clemente to act in situations where a person’s health and/or life is at stake because of weather.
Knoblock also spoke, stating that he didn’t feel the city was facing an emergency situation and claimed that a majority of unsheltered persons choose to be on the streets.
“I think it’s been well said this evening that family members can intervene and help people, churches can intervene and help people,” he said. “But I think people need to be responsible to the maximum amount.”
He supported Duncan’s previous request to discuss the matter because he wanted staff input, according to Knoblock, and suggested the city’s community outreach workers communicate with Orange County’s Be Well mental health facilities to provide services in the southern end of the county.
James referred to public speaker Esfahani’s earlier words that called others “ignorant” if they held an opposite viewpoint and didn’t want a shelter in town. He said those kinds of remarks only come from “sad, pathetic people,” and that San Clemente is a city of great people who want their city and beaches back from unhoused people acting in an “uncivilized” manner.
He initiated a motion to direct City Manager Andy Hall to work with Orange County officials on housing solutions strictly outside of city limits.
“We will not build a homeless shelter, we will not build a temporary shelter, we will not build a weather-related shelter,” James said to applause. “No shelters.”
The motion was later approved, 4-1, with Enmeier as the lone no vote.
Duncan’s own motion to both follow the staff recommendation for involving outside security and implementing emergency actions failed, as Cabral, James and Knoblock voted against it.