Politics

Anaheim neighbors blast plan for OC year-round homeless shelter

Volunteer Philip Armstrong, right, works with Kenneth Reynolds during a weekly homeless outreach assessment put on by the Coast to Coast Foundation in partnership with the Fullerton Police Department on Thursday, March 5, 2015 at Pacific Drive Park.
Volunteer Philip Armstrong, right, works with Kenneth Reynolds during a weekly homeless outreach assessment put on by the Coast to Coast Foundation in partnership with the Fullerton Police Department on Thursday, March 5, 2015 at Pacific Drive Park.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

In their third try to build a year-round homeless shelter, Orange County supervisors are again facing opposition from local residents, this time in Anaheim.

On Tuesday, supervisors gave county staff the go-ahead to start a 90-day inspection period to buy a $4.2 million warehouse - but stopped short of finalizing the purchase or deciding if it’ll serve as a shelter. The 1.87 acre lot on a cul-de-sac industrial area on North Kramer Place has been the focus of plans to build a 200-bed year-round homeless shelter.

“I support multiple town hall discussions with the community about what, if any use, there might be,” said county board Chairman Todd Spitzer.

Spitzer prefaced that before hearing from upset local businesses and neighbors.

“My financial well-being and future will lay in the balance,” said Chris Vance, owner of Piano Empire Megastore. “I will lose millions of dollars.”

The cities of Anaheim and Fullerton last month committed to spend a combined $1 million to help pay for the site, which sits up against the Riverside 91 Freeway.

This location was considered an easier sell to residents than earlier efforts because the freeway and the Santa Ana River separate it from neighborhoods and schools.

But homeowners in Olive - the neighborhood on the other side of the freeway - said the proposed shelter would devalue their houses. They fear crime would go up and they would have to pick up litter left behind by homeless people.

An online petition opposing the shelter site has gathered about 300 signatures.

"There are already enough transients roaming our streets and our community has had plenty of our share of crime," wrote Melinda De La Ossa of Orange. "We are trying to protect our children!"

Attorney Keith McCullough, who declined to name his clients, wrote a letter to the board warning a state environmental study needed to be done before buying the land. Environmental Impact Reports are a familiar avenue for opponents of all kinds of construction to delay or try to kill projects.

“A homeless shelter is necessary but the board must follow the law,” McCullough said.

Orange County lacks a year round shelter. The proposed shelter would replace at least one of the winter-only emergency shelters run at Armories in Santa Ana and Fullerton.

Twice in as many years, the county's efforts to build a permanent shelter have failed after residents in Santa Ana and Fullerton protested having it go up in their neighborhoods.

More than 50 people signed up to speak at Tuesday’s board meeting. Most of them were social workers and advocates for the homeless in support of the shelter.

Executive Director Dawn Price of the Friendship Shelter in Laguna Beach said taking no action on building a permanent county homeless shelter would cost the community in the long run.  

“It's going to take leadership,” she said. "At some point, we all hold hands and put our heads down and just … go through it and make the right choice."

Spitzer promised the county would hold two community meetings in the evenings to talk about how the land and warehouse would be used.

“There is a great balance that needs to be discussed here and potentially achieved,” he said.