A homeless person walks near the Walk of Honor at the Santa Ana Civic Center.  (Photo by: Violeta Vaqueiro)

The Santa Ana City Council Monday night approved zoning to allow homeless shelters around industrial areas of the city, a move that puts the city into compliance with state legislation.

Under the new zoning, shelters are allowed in industrial areas but not within 500 feet of “residences, parks, child care centers or schools” or 300 feet of another shelter, according to a city staff report. The report states that shelters must be located within a half mile of a transit stop.

The staff report states that emergency shelters with more than 30 beds or people nightly would require conditional use permits. The city’s new ordinance also allows one large shelter offering multiple services and accommodating between 150 and 200 people be open 24 hours — “by right” to replace the city’s National Guard Armory, which operates only from December to April, the report says.

Senate Bill 2, passed by the state Senate in 2008, requires that cities and counties allow shelters and transitional housing for homeless people, including at least one large facility.

But even with that law in place, Orange County is among the few large metropolitan areas in the nation that do not have a permanent, year-round shelter.

Local officials have been particularly hostile toward efforts to establish permanent shelters. In June, the Fullerton City Council rejected a proposal pushed by county Supervisor Shawn Nelson to build a permanent shelter on South State College Boulevard in the city.

And Santa Ana leaders last winter rejected a suggestion by Supervisor John Moorlach to open the city’s vacant bus terminal to homeless people rather than force them to sleep on the sidewalks in front of it.

As things stand now, homeless people from all over the county converge at the Civic Center — the county government hub in the heart of Santa Ana — primarily because there are services and daily free meals. They frequently receive citations for sleeping in the Civic Center and violating the city’s camping ban.

A “point-in-time” homeless count in 2011, the annual one-day effort to identify the number of people living on the streets in Orange County, found that 20 percent of the county’s homeless population — 1,388 people — reside in Santa Ana. Based on this count, 1,060 homeless people in the city are in need, according to the staff report.

However, as Voice of OC previously reported, this count’s accuracy is dubious at best.

Paul Lou, an associate with the Bendetti Co., which owns and manages more than 250,000 square feet of property in an industrial zone at West MacArthur and South Harbor boulevards, said that the company is concerned about trash and violence surrounding homeless shelters. He noted that the stated purpose of a homeless shelter at a previous meeting on the issue was to prevent rape and other harm.

“Are owners and tenants of industrial property to expect rapists in and around emergency shelters? I would think not, however, I think this is something we need to address,” Lou said.

Councilman David Benavides said that unlike other cities in the county, Santa Ana faces its social problems — which are daunting in a city with a large and poor Latino immigrant community — head on.

“One of the things I am proud of: I think we are also a compassionate city,” Benavides said. “I’m proud of the fact that we don’t stick our head in the sand as other cities have decided to do.”

Councilwoman Michele Martinez, the only council member to vote against the zoning, said she couldn’t support it because of negative impacts to the Lacy Neighborhood, citing her commitment to improve the quality of life of residents there.

The neighborhood is in the ward Martinez represents.

“We also have to think about the surrounding neighborhood,” Martinez said.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek

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