By Eric Heinz 

San Clemente is poised to enact a zoning amendment that would allow for a homeless shelter to be built in the Rancho San Clemente Business Park area, but there are still pieces of the changes that are in motion.

City Council passed a zoning amendment 3-1-1 with Lori Donchak opposing and Chris Hamm having to recuse himself because he said his wife has business clients in the area of the overlay. Council also voted to ask for an extension of its ordinance—the courts currently mandate that San Clemente adopt the ordinance by the end of the month after the city lost a lawsuit regarding its compliance with state law, Senate Bill 2 (SB 2).

SB 2 requires municipalities to allocate space for a possible emergency (or homeless) shelter. In 2014, the city adopted a zoning amendment that officials thought would satisfy the requirements. A court found earlier this summer that the city’s zoning only selected surplus property owned by the city, which gave them too much discretion on how the properties would be used.

Thomas Vasquez was angry with the city staff and Council on Tuesday, Oct. 18, regarding the proposed overlay to zone for an emergency (homeless) shelter in his neighborhood around Calle De Industrias. The City Council voted to take the Industrias proposal out, but they will continue to look at their options. Photo: Eric Heinz
Thomas Vasquez was angry with the city staff and Council on Tuesday, Oct. 18, regarding the proposed overlay to zone for an emergency (homeless) shelter in his neighborhood around Calle De Industrias. The City Council voted to take the Industrias proposal out, but they will continue to look at their options. Photo: Eric Heinz

In asking for the extension, should the court and the plaintiff accept it, City Attorney Scott Smith said it’s possible a judge would order the city of San Clemente suspend all permitting until it comes into compliance with the judgment.

The city, based on population estimates from Orange County Sheriff’s Department and homeless advocacy groups, reported the city needs to provide enough space to facilitate 70 beds for people who are chronically homeless, or people who have been without a home for six months or more.

Currently, there are businesses that provide transitional housing in San Clemente as well as services for people who are homeless, but these don’t cover the intent of SB 2, according to city officials. The law defines the zoning must allow for something that addresses people who have been “unsheltered” for a period of time.

Councilwoman Lori Donchak proposed asking the court and the plaintiff to wait 90 days while the city continues to study the overlay, as another planned census count of the homeless population is expected to take place in early 2017. Also, the city is still implementing and tweaking its new rideshare program following the dissolution of the 191 and 193 public bus routes that went through town and helped transport homeless people to certain locations in town.

Some of the recommendations (though, not requirements) of the ordinance ask cities to adopt emergency shelter zoning that is close to social and health services.

The original proposals recommended a section behind the Denny’s at Calle De Industrias to be zoned, but people argued during public comment that it is too close to the high school and is not in a place that would adequately facilitate the amount of people in the area. One man said it would place the shelter right in his backyard. Donchak was in favor of keeping the Industrias location and therefore voted against the proposal brought forth later in the meeting.

Rancho San Clemente Business Park stakeholders said putting a shelter in that area is too close to where current homeless encampments have been established, which are close to fire zones that have acres of dry brush and could be susceptible to brush fires should someone let a cooking fire go awry.

At one point, Councilman Tim Brown said he wanted to designate land in an empty lot the city owns on the west side of Avenida Pico, but he rescinded that proposal after realizing it wouldn’t come into compliance with the court order.

The ordinance, as it is currently written, also exempts churches from the overlay and asks for specific setback distances from schools.

The City Council is tasked to pass the ordinance by the end of the month. The next City Council meeting is Nov. 1.

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