Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include comments from the city and Emergency Shelter Coalition
By Shawn Raymundo
A pair of parcels of land along Avenida Pico currently owned by the Rancho San Clemente Business Park Community Association could be sold to a nonprofit organization looking to develop an emergency homeless shelter on the land.
San Clemente Times has obtained a copy of a secret ballot the Association’s board sent to all members of the Business Park, recommending that they vote in favor of selling the properties totaling 10 acres to the Emergency Shelter Coalition for $19,500.
The two parcels, located on the north side of Pico opposite Calle del Cerro, collectively have an appraised value of $12,000—a low appraisal because of open space restrictions—according to the Board’s letter and secret ballot, which requires the members to cast their votes anonymously.
The board and the Coalition recently entered into a Purchase and Sale Agreement, which comes with a guarantee that the nonprofit wouldn’t develop a homeless shelter within the main part of the Business Park.
An SC Times request for comment to the Association was not answered as of press time.
Ed Connor, an attorney representing the homeless advocacy group, acknowledged that the Emergency Shelter Coalition has been shopping around for space within the Business Park to set up a homeless shelter.
“ESC has recently focused its efforts on touring and physically inspecting properties to rent or buy in the Business Park in order to establish a shelter in that location, because the Business Park is already zoned for (Senate Bill) 2 purposes,” Connor wrote in an email.
To comply with the state’s mandate under Senate Bill 2, which requires local municipalities to come up with a plan for providing homeless shelter access, the city, back in 2016, identified the Business Park as a section in its Emergency Shelter Overlay zone—the area of the city where emergency shelters can operate. The Overlay zone, or SB2 zone, allows as many as 70 shelter beds for the homeless.
Despite the stipulation that the Coalition wouldn’t construct a shelter within the main part of the Business Park, the city or any other nonprofit group is not precluded from doing so, explained City Manager James Makshanoff.
“It wouldn’t stop the city or any other nonprofit that wanted to build a shelter in the Business Park or SB2 zone,” he said.
As far as what the Coalition’s plans for a shelter entail, Connor said the group doesn’t have any specifics at this time, because the sale hasn’t gone through yet.
“ESC has not spent any time formulating any plans for the property because, of course, no sale has occurred and ESC does not own the property,” he said in his email.
While the sale of the parcels is currently in escrow, Connor also said the Coalition continues to seek out property within the Overlay and Business Park.
“ESC is avidly looking for a building in the Business Park in case the sale does not go through,” he wrote.
In its letter to the members, the board states that the Business Park Association has spent an average of about $20,000 annually related to maintenance costs such as insurance, landscaping, security and watering.
“Conversely, there is no economic benefit from the Parcels,” the letter states. “Because they are located in an ‘open space’ zone, development on the Parcels may occur only in rare circumstances, which in the Board’s opinion are very unlikely.”
The board notes in the letter that it’s unclear how Emergency Shelter Coalition intends to “circumvent the open space restrictions . . . but they are willing to assume that risk.”
Such open space restrictions include the city’s Measure V ordinance, a voter-approved initiative that mandates any open space project more than an acre has to go to a vote of the people.
“Admittedly, if the sale were to go through, ESC would face tremendous challenges in trying to change the land use designations for the property so that a shelter could be built there,” Connor said in his email. “ESC has no ‘silver bullet’ or other guaranteed solution in hand that would ensure that ESC could ever overcome those challenges.”
Connor said that the nonprofit is leaving the future of the potential project to divine intervention.
“As it has done from the beginning, ESC places its hope in God and continues to believe that it will soon achieve its long-held objective of developing a permanent indoor shelter for the homeless in San Clemente,” Connor wrote.
Asked whether such a group like the Coalition could work with the County of Orange to possibly go around and bypass the city’s Measure V ordinance, Makshanoff said the city’s legal team is looking into that.
“We’re looking at that with the legal team; it’s nothing I’ve ever seen done in my career where a county has (overridden) a city’s zoning,” he said, also noting, “We’re talking about that internally right now.”
According to the Association’s letter, the board has been trying to offload the land for several years. At one point, it offered the land to the city of San Clemente to develop a homeless shelter zone, but was unsuccessful.
“If this sale is not consummated, it may be unlikely that we could locate another purchase in the future, given the open space restrictions,” the letter also states.
The secret ballots were sent out on Sept. 30 and are to be returned by Oct. 30. A two-thirds vote from the members is required to terminate the parcels from the Association.
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.