When the county started the purchasing process last month for an abandoned bus terminal next to the Santa Ana Civic Center, the thinking was that it would provide shelter and services for hundreds of homeless people when the El Niño rains came.
But last week the first of the rains arrived and the terminal was still locked shut. Across the street, the homeless sought shelter under pieces of tarp. And that was just the first wave - meteorologists are expecting El Niño storms through March.
It turns out that the county supervisors’ purchase approval simply kicked off a 90-day escrow period. That means the county isn’t expected to get control of the property from the Orange County Transportation Authority until sometime in April.
Faced with that delay – and pressure from the public – county officials now seem to be finding a faster solution.
At Tuesday’s county board meeting, Supervisor Andrew Do directed county CEO Frank Kim and real estate chief Scott Mayer to work with OCTA on getting a limited-term lease to use the terminal as an emergency homeless shelter for this year’s El Niño season.
His directive included a quick turnaround for lease approval with the understanding that the agreement also depends on approval from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). And he asked that the county’s federal lobbyist, Jim McConnell, be brought in if his work would be helpful
“The issue is urgent and the need is here. And we have already experienced the onset of the El Niño storms,” Do said.
He asked that the lease be brought to the board no later than their Jan. 26 meeting – if not earlier – and be coupled with an approval for a shelter provider.
Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett also asked that the county look at the earthquake-readiness of the structure and liability issues for the short-term use.
It remains to be seen how long it will take for OCTA and federal officials to grant the approvals and get the temporary shelter up and running.
OCTA spokesman Joel Zlotnik said his agency doesn't have a timeline for the approvals, but its staff are talking with county staff on developing a lease "that would then have to be approved by FTA."
An FTA spokesperson said late Thursday that the agency hasn't received a formal request to use the terminal for homeless shelter services.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.