By Shawn Raymundo
A majority of likely voters in San Clemente are more inclined to support spending taxpayer funds on a regional homeless shelter outside of the city rather than paying for the construction of a local shelter to house San Clemente’s homeless, a city survey found.
The findings of the survey reinforce a general consensus among San Clemente residents, who have largely opposed the idea of placing a shelter within city limits, as well as a consensus of council candidates, who prefer a regional approach to resolve homelessness in South Orange County.
According to the city’s survey conducted in early March, more than half of the 300 likely voters polled said they would support the city contributing tax dollars toward a regional shelter, while roughly one-quarter of them said they wouldn’t support such an endeavor.
Unsure voters or those who didn’t want to respond made up about 21%.
As to the question of whether the city should construct its own shelter for the homeless residing in San Clemente, 38% of the voters said they would support the idea, and 39.3% said they would oppose it. The rest of the voters were unsure.
The findings related to the community’s thoughts on a homeless shelter were part of a city-initiated survey that polled likely voters this past spring. The survey was intended to gauge residents’ thoughts on a range of topics, including the city’s Clean Ocean Program and Fee, marijuana cultivation, transient occupancy taxes and policing.
The survey had found that the voters overwhelmingly believed addressing San Clemente’s homelessness issue should be the city council’s top priority. None of the other 13 potential categories to select from got nearly as much support from voters, the survey showed.
In an open-ended question to the voters on how they believe the problem in San Clemente should be solved, 19.3% of them said shelters and temporary housing should be provided.
Another 16.3% said enforcing stricter laws was the solution, 14% said affordable housing and affordable living were needed, and 10% said the solution is providing facilities for rehab, addiction and mental health. Nearly 4% said there was no solution, and 7.3% said to relocate the homeless.
“I think we’re encouraged by the survey, because with all the numbers, both in favor and against, it appears that many see there is a problem and that something needs to be done.” said Laura Lee Blake, general counsel to Emergency Shelter Coalition (ESC), a nonprofit organization that has tried to get a local shelter built in San Clemente over the years.
“But, of course, there’s a different opinion for every person who expresses one, and I think it’s discouraging, because many want the shelter to be located in a different city,” she continued. “And it’s also concerning that this continues to be a racial, ethnic and political issue.”
According to the survey, 65% of Republican voters said they opposed a local shelter, while 56.4% of Democratic voters and 58.3% of no-party preference voters said they would support a shelter in San Clemente.
Among the 18-29 age group—one of the smallest demographics—80% supported a local shelter, but the 65-and-older age group, which made up a large section of the voters polled, was just about split three ways, with 34% supporting it, 35.7% opposing it and 30.4% saying they were unsure.
One hundred percent of Black and African American voters polled supported a shelter, but only 37.4% of White/Caucasian voters and 35.7% of Latino/Hispanic voters expressed support for a San Clemente shelter. Asian voters were evenly split between opposed and unsure—not one said they supported a local shelter.
This past April, the city council voted to condemn land that ESC had recently purchased on which to develop a homeless shelter. The 10-acre property sits on open space off Avenida Pico, opposite Calle del Cerro.
Surrounding the land is a 287-acre conservation easement the city and the Marblehead Community Association entered into in 2018. According to the city, the acquisition of the land would provide the “last piece of the puzzle” for the city’s protected area, further preventing a toll road from coming through San Clemente.
For those at ESC, however, they believe the acquisition of the land through eminent domain simply marked another example of the city working to block a homeless shelter—and a potentially costly attempt at that.
“ESC is very disappointed that, for the umpteenth time over the past six years, the City Council has rejected ESC’s sincere offer to work together with the Council to address the City’s homeless problems,” ESC President Ed Connor told San Clemente Times in an email this past April.
City Attorney Scott Smith has estimated that the city is looking at paying $100,000 to acquire title for the property—$80,000 for litigation and about $20,000 for the value of the parcels.
The eminent domain proceedings were expected to get underway in Superior Court around this time, the city had previously noted.
Connor said in an October 18 email that not much has been happening with the proceedings, “but things will shortly start to ramp up.”
Asked what ESC’s position was on working with multiple cities on a regional shelter, Blake acknowledged the topic hasn’t been discussed at the board level, primarily because they haven’t been approached with such an idea.
“I can say that we’re always open to new ideas and how best to implement them without committing one way or the other to whether that would work or not,” she said. “We have available land right now . . . that was always kind of the hope, to serve San Clemente . . . of course, we’re never opposed to ideas and solutions, but that hasn’t really been something proposed to us.”
According to a breakdown of the survey by demographics, the majority of most groups agreed on a regional shelter. For example, more than half of Republicans, Democrats and no-party preference voters favored the city contributing money toward a regional facility.
Among the 65-and-older voters, 59.6% said they supported a regional shelter. And 55.6% of White/Caucasian voters and 85.7% of Asian voters also supported the city going for a regional approach.
Black voters polled, however, swung the opposite way, as 100% of them said they wouldn’t support a regional shelter, and only 42.9% of Latino/Hispanic voters expressed support for it.
In the summer of 2019, the Orange County Board of Supervisors settled a pair of lawsuits with advocacy groups that had challenged the county’s 2018 removal of an encampment in the Santa Ana Riverbed.
The settlement included requirements for the county to set up “Standards of Care,” advertise the availability of clinical assessments for treatment programs and resources, and provide Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodations at county-contracted shelters in the north and central Service Planning Areas (SPA)—but not the southern section or South SPA.
It also stipulated that the Orange County Sheriff’s Department must develop policies and procedures relating to the enforcement of the anti-camping and anti-loitering ordinances that meet the requirements of Martin v. City of Boise on county-owned property.
Board Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, the county’s Fifth District representative, had told the court the county would work with the South OC cities to get shelters “up and running when the cities step up to the plate and create some shelter capacity.”
“The county stands ready to also work with the South County SPA,” Bartlett said, adding: “We’re very amenable to stepping up, from the county perspective, with additional services, with financial resources to make sure that we get something up and running when the cities step up to the plate and create some shelter capacity or something else in South County so we can have a complete system throughout the whole county.”
Recently, Councilmember Gene James has floated a proposal for a quasi-regional homeless shelter that he believes will send a message that the three South County cities are stepping up to the plate.
He also said such a proposal will satisfy requirements under the Boise precedent—the landmark ruling that bars cities and authorities from enforcing anti-camping ordinances unless “adequate indoor shelter” for the homeless is offered.
“I think we can set up a tri-city, regional homeless shelter and that would allow (OCSD) to enforce our no-camping ordinances,” said James, who’s seeking reelection on Nov. 3. “We have got—we’ve got to get these people off the streets; we absolutely have to get them off the streets, we need to get them the assistance they need.”
The proposal is to establish a Joint Powers Authority (JPA) between the cities of Dana Point, San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano. Together, the cities would identify county-owned property off Ortega Highway, past Rancho Mission Viejo, to build a facility for the homeless.
The facility, James said, could be run through public-private partnership and would offer shelter space, as well as programs to treat mental health and drug addiction, and help reunite homeless individuals with their families.
“I don’t think we’ve done a good job of that. If we can get people back home and back to their families, that would be very successful as well,” James said, noting that success to him means having a low recidivism rate of homeless individuals reentering the street after receiving shelter and treatment services.
According to James, the proposal is in the early stages, as it needs to first be workshopped by the Joint Homeless Subcommittee, which comprises two members from the city’s Human Affairs Committee and two members from the Public Safety Committee.
“The first thing I did was take my plan to the Homeless Subcommittee, and they’re working through that plan to bring it back to council, to get the blessings of council,” James said. “The other thing we need to do is—before electives (meet) electives—the city managers need to start talking with each other to ensure that each one of the cities could execute something like this.”
James said he’s also recently spoken about the plan with Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes, who “had some concerns” on whether the cities would be “able to source the properties.”
“And I think he would want it to be, to see all three cities come to him, rather than just one city,” James said, later adding: “I very much saw that discussion with Sheriff Barnes as the first step in working out a solution that the sheriff’s department can be comfortable with.”
Tyler Boden, who sits on the Homeless Subcommittee as one of the Human Affairs members, explained to SC Times that the subcommittee recently completed its work plan, which needs to be approved by the council.
The work plan, he said, doesn’t necessarily reflect anything specific to James’ JPA proposal but, rather, outlines the group’s intention to investigate homeless outreach strategies and emergency shelter solutions that neighboring South County cities have implemented.
Boden, who’s also running for city council as part of the Special Election for a two-year term, said the plan proposes to also gather feedback from residents in order “to draft an overall strategy to the council at the end of next year.”
“So those are our plans related to an emergency shelter. It’s pretty broad-based at this point,” Boden said, adding that “in the interim, we’ll also be looking to put together a stakeholders group with public safety, code enforcement, park rangers, and our homeless outreach services like (Family Assistance Ministries) and City Net to coordinate their efforts.”
“We’re just looking at all options,” he said, when pressed about the JPA proposal. “So, I guess the response is, we’re not specially looking at that option; we’re looking at all options.”
As of press time, officials with OCSD had not responded to a request seeking comment.
Bartlett’s office did not wish to comment on the proposal, as it’s still in the early stages.
Regarding the city’s survey, James declined to comment specifically on the findings for this story.
WHO WAS POLLED
Three hundred of San Clemente’s likely voters were polled:
- 51% of them were female and 49% were male.
- Registered Republicans made up 50% of the participants. Democrats made up 28%, while 22% were listed as having “no party preference.”
- More than 30% were 65 years and older. One-quarter of the participants were between the ages of 55 and 64, and another 25 percent represented those aged 40-54. The 18-29 and 30-39 age groups each represented 8%.
- White/Caucasian voters represented 74.3% of those polled. Just over 9% said they were Latino/Hispanic, 3% were Asian and less than 1% were Black/African American. Nearly 7% preferred not to disclose their ethnicity.
- Roughly three-quarters of everyone polled said they own property in San Clemente. Only 3.3% declined to answer, and 22% said they didn’t own property in the city.
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.