By Shawn Raymundo
City councilors convened for a special meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 10, when they passed an urgency ordinance that will allow the city to shut down its outdoor homeless encampment on Avenida Pico.
In a 4-0 vote, with Councilmember Chris Hamm absent, the council adopted the ordinance, repealing the series of previous measures that had been enacted this spring to create the city-sanctioned shelter on a one-year provisional basis.
“We had an immediate, urgent situation to address that was harming the public safety of the homeless who were at North Beach and also the public as well,” said Mayor Pro Tem Laura Ferguson. “So it was a good remedy, and we’ve learned a lot from it, and it’s time to close it. With all good actions, they run their course, and it’s time for Plan B.”
Tuesday night’s vote also amended the city’s anti-camping ordinance to allow tents used for public camping to be erected only between the hours of 5 p.m. and 10 a.m.—a provision that had been imposed on the homeless individuals who had stayed at the Pico encampment.
Additionally, the council also approved a supplemental budget appropriation of $70,000 that will go to the city’s account earmarked for low- to moderate-income housing.
The move to rescind the prior ordinances came a week after Mayor Dan Bane had announced the city’s intention to close the camp. The decision to do so, he explained, was in large part because it had seen a precipitous drop in campers and, therefore, no longer financially feasible to operate.
At the time of Bane’s declaration during the council’s Dec. 3 meeting, there were about five people camping at the lot. The mayor had largely credited the decrease in campers to the efforts of the county, city and local homeless advocacy organizations, and stated that the city was working to get the remaining individuals relocated into housing by the end of this week.
The reversal of the camp is expected to save the city $30,000 in monthly fees that had been regularly spent to maintain the lot and provide security and portable toilet services. That monthly bill, the city notes, will be offset by its costs to offer hotel vouchers, as well as transportation, placement and relocation to armories in the North County for the homeless.
“I just want to say it’s very positive to see so many people get the assistance they need with the help of many, including city staff here, the city, the county, sheriff’s deputies, Mercy House, (Family Assistance Ministries), all those social service network providers and churches,” Ferguson said Tuesday. “It’s been positive. We’ve had some very positive success stories from this. If we had to do it over again, I would do it over again.”
The city has placed a $10,000 cap on the expenses for transportation and relocation services, it noted in a report to the council. Plans are still in the works, the city added, to locate an alternative site for a transitional camp for the homeless.
The city opened its outdoor shelter service this past May as a temporary solution to relocate the homeless who had begun to form a tent city at the North Beach area. The Pico encampment 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 had sharply decreased. By October, the population declined to roughly a dozen. Late last month, the city reported having six campers there.
Bane previously stated that the city plans to officially close the camp on Thursday, Dec. 12.
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.