By Vonne Barnes, Rancho San Clemente Community Association Board President
On Oct. 18, the City Council will vote on whether to change the zoning to allow for an emergency homeless shelter to be established in the Rancho San Clemente Business Park along a one-mile stretch of hazardous fire zone areas. Zoning this area will exacerbate existing fire hazards and threaten the lives and properties of thousands of residents in Rancho San Clemente.
Homeless people have used convenient routes from the proposed shelter area to campsites in proximal fire zones for decades.
The most prominent route is The Ridge Route Trail, which serves as an expressway to homeless campsites in fire zones surrounding 5,000 residents in Rancho San Clemente. This 16-foot-wide paved road winds through “Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones,” as determined by the California Department of Forestry and city of San Clemente.
There are also dozens of dirt trails from the shelter area to campsites in fire zones along the Ridge Route Trail. In some areas, the Ridge Route Trail and Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zones are less than 200 feet from residential homes.
Trail signs that say, “All hikers and bicyclists are required to stay on the trail. All other areas are closed fire zones,” and are not enforced by the city, which allows the homeless to trespass into RSC fire zones and establish campsites without penalty. When campsites are discovered, instead of citing offenders, the city fines RSC, who unfairly shoulders the costs, liabilities and burdens of removing the homeless, storing their belongings, hauling out combustible items, tents, equipment, trash and restoring damaged areas.
One of the most hazardous sites in the proposed shelter area is the Heritage Church (Cristianitos Community Church), because it has unfettered access to Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone Areas on the north and south side, as well as to fire zones along both sides of the Ridge Route Trail. The site is also in close proximity to two entrances to the Ridge Route Trail, located on both sides of Calle Del Cerro near Avenida La Pata.
In choosing Shelter Zone Areas, the city consulted with homeless advocates, such as the Emergency Shelter Coalition, but failed to invite either the Orange County Fire Authority or Rancho San Clemente, to provide valuable input regarding the homeless, fire hazards, drought conditions, access to fire zones and other negative impacts relevant to this geographical location.
Instead, the city created a “Matrix Analysis,” checking boxes for environmental and hazardous elements that have no relevance to the Business Park site area. For example, instead of analyzing impacts that really matter, like fire hazards, safety or preservation of indigenous flora and fauna, the city reviewed whether the site would have negative impacts on elements, such as wetlands, sea level, farm land, air odor, wells, groundwater, rivers and fish migration. The city then checked the “No Impact” box in the Matrix Analysis and recommended zoning a shelter area in the Business Park.
The threat of fire is very real to the Business Park and 5,000 residents in Rancho San Clemente who are surrounded by fire hazard zones. The proposed emergency homeless shelter zone in the RSC Business Park will have a significant negative impact on the safety and wellbeing of all RSC residents and businesses.
Please send emails opposing the proposed RSC Business Park Shelter Zone to City Council at email@example.com and copy to RSCCA at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s note: The San Clemente Times obtained copies of citations against RSCCA.