Costa Mesa Opposes Homeless Shelter at Fairview Mental Facility

SPENCER CUSTODIO, Voice of OC

Costa Mesa Councilman John Stephens questions Supervisor Todd Spitzer over county plans for shelters and housing for homeless people at an emergency council meeting March 28, 2018.

The Costa Mesa City Council Wednesday unanimously adopted a resolution against turning the Fairview Developmental Center into a homeless shelter.

The emergency council meeting was spurred by a news release sent by county Supervisor Shawn Nelson in which he said he and state Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) had joined forces to ask Gov. Jerry Brown to allow the former state mental hospital be used as an emergency homeless shelter. Brown’s office had no comment on Fairview.

The Costa Mesa meeting saw division among the over 300 residents who attended and within the five-member council on questions about how many homeless the city can house while dealing with its own homeless problem. Most residents didn’t want the Fairview site, some wanted more information about how many would be housed there and a few supported the proposal.

“We’ll all say we want to make sure we take care of everybody, but the reality of it is that government cannot fix all these issues. Period,” Councilman Jim Righeimer said during council deliberations. “There’s not enough money, anywhere — anywhere — to take care of people who do not want to take care of themselves.”

But Councilman John Stephens said while he agreed with “some” of  Righeimer’s thoughts, the city needs to address the issue.

“Where I do depart with Mr. Righeimer is this: I think the state of homelessness in our city and county is actually a threat to our public safety so we should do something to reduce it,” Stephens said. “Most of the people who are homeless have suffered some type of trauma … 50 percent of them suffered sexual abuse before the age of five,” he said of what he learned when he visited a homeless shelter in San Antonio, Texas, that activists consider a model for local homeless shelters.

Stephens, along with city council members across the county, visited the site to get a better perspective on how other jurisdictions deal with their respective homeless problems.

Except for Righeimer, council members expressed a desire to help the homeless, but were worried about the lack of information surrounding the Fairview proposal and said they didn’t know how many homeless people the county would send there.

SPENCER CUSTODIO, Voice of OC

Dozens of Costa Mesa residents line up to speak at an emergency council meeting to voice their opinions over a potential homeless shelter at the Fairview Developmental Center March 28, 2018.

Nelson’s March 23 news release said he’s partnered with Moorlach in a call to open up the Fairview Developmental Center on Harbor Boulevard. His statement comes after Irvine, Huntington Beach and Laguna Niguel announced lawsuits against the county for proposed emergency shelters in the three cities. The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to cancel its plans for those shelters.  

Nelson was not at the meeting. Supervisor Michelle Steel, who represents Costa Mesa, was not at the meeting either. Although a representative from her office said she’s opposed to the Fairview idea.

The shelter plan is part of an ongoing federal court case filed against the county, Costa Mesa, Anaheim and Orange in January by attorneys on behalf of homeless people. The county agreed to move at least 400 people from the Santa Ana Riverbed into motels for a month — that number grew past 700. Now the county is scrambling to find shelters for the people leaving the motels plus more homeless living at the Santa Ana Civic Center.

U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, who is overseeing the federal lawsuit, ordered a status conference for 10 a.m. Friday at the Ronald Regan Courthouse in Santa Ana. County CEO Frank Kim and county healthcare agency officials are ordered to appear, along with the Santa Ana city manger, city attorney and the police deputy commander. The county is slated to clear out the Civic Center homeless camp starting Monday, which is in Santa Ana’s jurisdiction.

Nelson, in an text message Wednesday, said the future of the Fairview site is up to the state.

“It would require someone in the state with authority to do so to engage the county and indicate if the site or some portion of it could be made available and, if so, under what circumstances. At that point we would at least know if there was anything to talk about,” Nelson wrote.

Kim told the Costa Mesa City Council the county won’t be paying for motel rooms after March 28 and while the county initially thought it had enough shelter space for people, it didn’t anticipate the special needs some homeless people have such as service animals, people with caretakers and abuse victims.

County Supervisor Todd Spitzer was at the Costa Mesa meeting to voice his opposition to Nelson’s proposal and said the homeless population the proposed shelter aims to help are people who refused services.

“These are people who have terrible, terrible problems. Sex offenders and drug addicts … so these are a very, very difficult population,” Spitzer told the council. “I was just dismayed that somebody could put this into the public arena in such an irresponsible fashion.”

Some council members called Spitzer out and asked if there’s a countywide plan.

“You are a full-time supervisor. Full time: $150,000 a year. Plus benefits and pension. We all work (on the council) part time. I’m a full time lawyer and do this part time,” Councilwoman Katrina Foley said. She also asked about funding.

“So we can’t be expected to put together that kind of plan. When are you going to do it?” Foley asked Spitzer.

“Alright, so, Katrina, there’s a lot of questions there,” Spitzer began to answer before Foley cut him off.  

“Councilmember Foley,” she reminded Spitzer of her formal title.

Spitzer went on to talk about how he and Irvine Mayor Don Wagner are working on a proposal for county land in Irvine that would house veterans and women. He also spoke about how cities, like Costa Mesa, should be recognized for stepping up and dealing with the homeless issue. He’s a former prosecutor and Assemblyman and now is running for District Attorney.

“I think her question was basically when (will a plan be made),” Stephens chimed in. “But, on the short term, what is your proposal for dealing with, as you put it, the sex offenders and the felons moved off the river trail?”

Spitzer said the county has places for everyone. “We came up with and have a place for every single person who came off the riverbed.”

Replied Stephens, “What you’re saying, I don’t think tracks with what I think happened … Why was there this proposal… and why the press release?”

“Don’t ask me, with all due respect … why a colleague sent out a press release,” Spitzer said.

Stephens asked again if there are enough beds and Spitzer began to talk about the 4-1 supervisors vote that proposed the homeless shelters in Irvine, Huntington Beach and Laguna Niguel and why he was the dissenting vote.

“Can you just answer my question? … are you telling us that there were 700 people … that were moved from the riverbed to the motels. Is it your testimony that there are 700 shelter beds to place them in? If you can’t answer the question, I’d like to hear an answer to my factual question from Mr. Kim. Thank you,” Stephens said, cutting Spitzer off.

After citing numbers of available beds, the struggles with outreach to the homeless people and noting that some people need to be approached over a dozen times before they accept help, Kim gave the answer Stephens and Foley were looking for.

“Do we have enough beds? Yes. Do we have the right kind of beds? No. Do we have the right … geography and location of those beds? No,” Kim said in summation.

Moorlach, in a Thursday podcast, criticized Spitzer’s actions over the past few weeks.

“We’re dying in Orange County and Sacramento for good leaders. We don’t need reactors. We need cooler heads. We need people that can control the situation and take the bigger picture and start providing solutions,” Moorlach said.

“It was real interesting to watch, say,  Supervisor Spitzer, who is not leading. But he’s certainly reacting, he’s polarizing and he’s creating wedges between communities and leaders. It’s not a pretty picture.”

Voice of OC reporter Nick Gerda contributed to this story.

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC reporter who covers south Orange County and Fullerton. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org.