By Eric Heinz
On Wednesday, Sept. 21, the Planning Commission took the first steps in rectifying the city’s lack of zoning for an emergency shelter, which is also subject to shelters for homeless people, as part of its requirements to Senate Bill 2.
The city recently lost a lawsuit regarding the law that stipulates municipalities must make areas accessible to developers who want to establish a shelter. What happened was the city did designate areas for a shelter but only on city surplus land. No private entities were able to broker a deal for a shelter unless they went through the city, but a judge ruled that to be out of compliance with the law’s intention.
The city currently has some transitional housing like Gilcrest House, Henderson House and Laura’s House, but these do not satisfy SB 2, said Amber Gregg, an associate planner with the city.
In 2014, the city zoned an SB 2 overlay for city surplus properties, but because it would be up to the city as to how the land was managed, organizations that submitted proposals for shelters had to go through the discretion of the city and not private owners. This, the recent judgment read, was how the city was out of compliance with the law.
The locations for where the proposed zoning would be are parts of the Rancho San Clemente Business Park and the Calle De Industrias area.
The homeless population is always changing so it’s hard to know how much capacity an emergency shelter would need to have, officials said. The most recent numbers from Orange County show there are about 4,500 homeless people in the entire county. The city uses a matrix that divides that number for San Clemente, indicating the city has about 60 people who are chronically homeless.
Commissioners considered what the best area to establish zoning for a shelter would be, given the new rideshare program the city is establishing in lieu of the two bus routes that are to be discontinued in San Clemente on Oct. 9.
“We have to make a land use decision to comply with state law,” Planning Commission Chairman Don Brown said during the meeting. He said the writ of mandate from the court restricted the city’s options, and that there are “no good areas, there’s only viable areas. It’s not easy for us who volunteered for this job (Planning Commission).”
The Planning Commission approved most of the original recommendations with the addition of changing the number of beds to a number lower than 70 in certain areas. They also approved the recommendation of at least 200-foot buffers from schools and the Rancho San Clemente business park.
The City Council will have to approve the new zoning by the end of October. On Oct. 18, the last meeting of the month, City Council must adopt a new ordinance and the second reading on Nov. 1 must establish the new zoning overlay.