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By Jim Shilander
After several public hearing and an additional two hours of debate, the San Clemente Planning Commission ended up back where they started on the subject of zoning for a homeless shelter Wednesday.
The commission sent a proposal to allow for a shelter of up to 50 beds in the Calle de Industrias area behind Denny’s on Avenida Pico, as well as a 35-bed limit for the entire Rancho San Clemente Business Park to the City Council for consideration. The proposal also allows churches throughout the city to house up to six beds at a time.
Residents near the business park and business owners there protested that the values of their property and their investments would fall if potentially a shelter was placed in the park.
The city is obligated by Senate Bill 2 to create an area where a shelter can be approved by right. The city has determined that there are 65 to 70 permanent homeless in the city, though that number swells at points according the city and Orange County Sheriff’s Department personnel. If the city does not provide the zoning, its housing element would be considered incomplete.
Homeless advocates said the city could not afford to do nothing, as the homeless population was currently using hospital beds as a shelter, or staying in the open air, causing the potential fire hazard feared by business owners and RSC residents.
Ed Connor, a board member of the homeless advocacy organization iHOPE said the organization actually preferred the use of a one acre site off of Pico owned by the business park association, which the commission had disregarded at an earlier meeting.
A proposed compromise that would have limited the shelters to five church properties in both the Rancho San Clemente and Talega business parks, however, failed to receive majority support in a straw poll of the board.
Another optional proposal made by Commissioner Wayne Eggleston to allow a 25-bed shelter at Industrias and 10 beds for churches, which he admitted placed more of a burden on the religious institutions, was defeated 5-2. He said the other proposals put too much of a burden on too small of an area of the city.
“I think it’s up to the churches to step up,” Eggleston said. “And who knows, it may pass muster.”
Retiring principal planner Jeff Hook said that proposal was less likely to be approved by the state than the other options.
Commissioner Barton Crandell said the commission was “acting like a political body,” rather than making a strict decision on land use.
“I would prefer sending the less palatable option (the full rezoning of the business park, 50-beds in Calle de Industrias and six-bed church limit) to the City Council and let them pare it down,” Crandell said.
Chair Julia Darden, who had made the compromise proposal, said the final option was “not perfect” but was more likely to get state approval.