Buena Park City Council members found a new homeless shelter site in a more industrial, east-end part of town, after taking heat from the public for considering a location that was closer to neighborhoods and a number of schools.

But while council members Tuesday unanimously approved the new site at 6490 Caballero Boulevard, seeing it as a better option than the previous one at 7101 Lincoln Ave, residents from around the city still showed up at the council meeting with concerns over neighborhood security and proper fencing around the new site, as well as its 1-mile proximity to the Buena Park Junior High School.

The shelter “is so close” to the Junior High School, said one resident from across the room during the meeting. “And I’m no athlete, but I could jump this fence” surrounding the Caballero site, “so I’m not happy at all about this.”

Members of the public share thoughts and ask questions during a meeting to discuss a homeless shelter planned for Buena Park. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

But city staff say that because the site is in the heart of an industrial area and the nearest home is several hundred feet away across a county-operated flood control channel, impacts to residents would be “minimal.”

Council members have only approved the shelter site’s location and have yet to identify a design plan or operator. But council members Beth Swift and Connor Traut floated possible measures to block access to the flood control channel to prevent people from crossing it to access nearby neighborhoods — measures that City Manager Jim Vanderpool said he would have to propose to the county.

“There is no perfect site,” Vanderpool said before proceeding to paint the picture of a city unable to enforce its anti-camping ordinances, under a federal homelessness lawsuit against Orange County and its cities, without enough shelter beds to meet its homeless population.

“The Ninth Circuit has opined that unless you have a bed for the homeless to go into, they may occupy public spaces,” Vanderpool said. “What is a public space? A public space is the parkway in front of your home. The one that you mow, that you think is part of your property? That’s actually an easement, a city-owned property that you maintain.”

A public space “could be a city park. It could be the alleyway behind your home. It could be City Hall. It could be a number of spaces,” he added.

The city’s move to bring a shelter online is part of a larger effort by 13 cities in north Orange County, also known as the county’s North Service Planning Area (SPA), to combat homelessness and address the federal lawsuit that was filed in January 2018 by homeless attorneys Brooke Weitzman and Carol Sobel and is currently presided over by U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter.

The Fullerton City Council on March 19 was the latest of the 13 cities to commit nearly 26 percent of the construction costs for Buena Park’s shelter, as well as the incoming shelter in Placentia. Fullerton’s share of the expected annual costs will be $34,558, according to the March 19 staff report.

A screen shows potential reasons to build a homeless shelter in Buena Park. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

City staff is looking at modeling the 2-acre Caballero Boulevard site, which the city currently uses as a storage facility and staging area, after the Bridges at Kraemer Place homeless shelter in Anaheim, which is operated by the nonprofit Mercy House.

The shelter would house around 150 homeless people, with admissions by referral only, and people would only be able to leave through a shuttle service or ride share services like Uber or Lyft, according to city staff. Pets will also most likely be admitted.

The Caballero Boulevard site did have supporters among those who in February were staunchly opposed to the Lincoln Avenue site. At the time, city staff came under scrutiny during a heated town hall for their apparent rush to close escrow on the site for $3.6 million in October last year, which Vanderpool said in February qualified the North SPA for $12 million in state homeless aid funding.

“The Caballero site is a 19-minute walk from the Junior High School. It’s a four-minute walk from Centralia to the Lincoln site,” said Amber Cervantes, who identified herself as a city resident and on behalf of the parents at Centralia Elementary School thanked council members for considering another location.

The Lincoln Avenue site will in the meantime be reserved for an affordable housing project sometime in the future, according to city staff.

“Lincoln is going to make a very nice place to build apartments or low to mod-income housing there because it is … close to a school,” said Councilman Fred Smith, whose district spans the Lincoln Avenue site, before the vote. “It’ll probably fit pretty good.”

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC intern. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @photherecord.

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