Proposed 200 Homes for Mentally Ill Homeless at Fairview Prompts Local Debate

NICK GERDA, Voice of OC

A vacant residential building at Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa, during a media tour on Thursday, June 6, 2019.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to “immediately” explore providing 200 homes with support services for mentally ill homeless people at Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa has sparked local debate, as a variety of different groups vie for part of the 118-acre property after it closes.

Fairview, which was opened in 1959, once housed about 2,700 people with intellectual and development disabilities on its sprawling campus of about 60 buildings, including residential living areas, a main kitchen, auditorium, and park.

But after a decades-long phasing out of state mental hospitals, the property is now home to 46 people, all of whom are scheduled to move out by the end of this year.

Fairview still maintains its vacant residential units and its federal license allows up to 1,218 people with development disabilities to live there, according to officials.

Most of the residential buildings can house between 37 and 42 residents, and the vacant buildings on campus are still maintained so they don’t fall into disrepair, said Cheryl Bright, Fairview’s executive director.

NICK GERDA, Voice of OC

The courtyard outside a vacant residential building at Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa, during a media tour on Thursday, June 6, 2019.

U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, who is overseeing civil rights lawsuits about a homeless shelter shortage in Orange County, repeatedly has called on officials to consider placing shelter or housing at Fairview for homeless people with mental illnesses.

Hundreds of people with severe mental illnesses are homeless in Orange County, according to county officials.

But such suggestions have been controversial, with other organizations like colleges and hospitals seeking uses at Fairview and residents expressing concern about safety impacts.

Fairview’s fate ultimately will be decided by the state Legislature and governor, who has vowed to work with local officials on the decision.

NICK GERDA, Voice of OC

The cafeteria of a vacant residential building at Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa, during a media tour on Thursday, June 6, 2019.

Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley and state Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris said they’re working on a larger “comprehensive plan” for the full property that could include a mental health campus, a university extension site, student housing, affordable housing, market-rate housing, and housing for people with disabilities.

Any plans for housing for mentally ill homeless people should be part of that larger plan, which could include a mental health treatment center run by the Be Well OC collaborative of hospitals and county officials, they said.

“Nothing can happen there for at least another year, if not longer. In that same amount of time, we could be working on and getting approved a [comprehensive] plan and begin construction immediately,” Foley said in a phone interview.

“We are looking at this model of the Be Well center, as an example, where you would have the Be Well center and the wraparound services and permanent supportive housing all connected to that.”

“What I’m working on, along with local elected leaders and other community leaders, is developing a conceptual plan for what Fairview could include,” said Petrie-Norris, who represents Costa Mesa and surrounding cities in the Assembly.

“And I think that’s everything from a potential university extension campus that serves the needs of training mental health professionals in our area, a Mind OC/Be Well health and wellness hub that could potentially be inclusive of some permanent supportive housing capacity,” as well as a training site for a college or university.

Be Well OC’s operations are handled through Mind OC, a nonprofit whose executive director is Rick Afable, a former president and CEO of St. Joseph Hoag Health who served last year as chairman of hospitals’ statewide lobbying group, the California Hospital Association.

Mind OC doesn’t disclose its board members on its website, and has not yet registered as a nonprofit with the state Attorney General’s office, which regulates nonprofits in California, according to the AG’s website.

The governor’s move adopts the goal of a bill by Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton), according to Quirk-Silva’s office.

In a news release on May 9, the day the governor’s plan was revealed, Quirk-Silva’s office said she was “humbled and quick to praise the Governor’s support for the consideration of the Fairview state property for Orange County’s neediest and despairing residents.”

“These men and women are our hidden neighbors; they come from all over Orange County, and need shelter and medical care, in order to find stability and hope,” Quirk-Silva was quoted as saying in the news release.

Quirk-Silva’s 52 year-old brother, Raymond William Jaso, known as “Billy,” was homeless and had chronic alcoholism before he died in October after being hit by a truck while riding his bicycle in Buena Park.

Foley and Petrie-Norris disputed criticism from fellow Democrats that their focus on a comprehensive plan would delay the homeless housing from being built.

“I believe a Be Well [mental health] center with permanent supportive housing is an appropriate use there,” said Foley, who said she and other local officials are in talks with the governor’s office about Fairview.

“I think that it will become clear during this initial site assessment [by the state] what if any short term use is possible on that site,” Norris said, adding she wants to see an “integrated and comprehensive plan for the 118-acre site.”

The governor, in a section about Fairview in his May 9 update to the proposed state budget, said the state “will explore options to immediately enter into a long-term lease with a local jurisdiction to provide housing and supportive services for up to 200 individuals with cognitive disabilities who are currently homeless.”

The lease would happen at the same time a consultant does an “assessment” to study options for the full property’s future use, the governor’s update states, on the heels of his January executive order directing state agencies to work with local governments on building housing on unused state lands.

There is no timeline for when a lease for housing might be approved or when permanent supportive housing might open at Fairview, according to state officials. It’s unlikely any use of the center will change until the last residents leave at the end of this year, they said.

 

Fairview has repeatedly drawn interest from Carter, the federal judge overseeing OC homelessness lawsuits.

At a court hearing last August, Carter spoke extensively about his belief that Fairview could easily accommodate most of the county’s homeless – permanently or temporarily – until other facilities are built. Carter said he considered holding the court hearing at Fairview.

“Can you call the governor for me?” Carter asked Costa Mesa City Manager Thomas Hatch at the hearing. “Would you tell him you met with the city council and we just want four [dormitories]?”

“It’s a beautiful facility,” retired OC Superior Court Chief Judge James L. Smith, who has been assisting Carter as his surrogate, said of Fairview at a follow-up court hearing in April. “It’s a gift from heaven, or someplace.”

Pointing to the existing facilities at the state-owned Fairview property – including kitchens, medical facilities, and housing – Carter expressed frustration “at being misled” with reasons why Fairview supposedly wouldn’t work.

“Somebody’s lying to me [about Fairview]. Now that’s outrageous,” Carter said, asking officials to immediately call Newsom, who oversees the state agencies that own and operate Fairview.

About a month later, Newsom publicly put his support behind the idea through the updated budget plan.

Carter has also called for Fairview to be used as a temporary shelter for mentally ill homeless people, unless officials can find a better site elsewhere in Orange County.

“Why in the world can’t we get this for a temporary facility for a limited number of people?” Carter asked at the April 2 hearing.

Foley said in the interview she disagrees with using Fairview for temporary shelter.

“I have great respect for Judge Carter. Judge Carter is transforming Orange County, and he is forcing a lot to happen in a short period of time, so that we don’t have the same crisis as other counties in California,” Foley said.

“I respect his opinion, but as he knows, I disagree that this is the solution. And my basis for my position comes from spending many many hours working with experts in this area who believe that we need to have satellite, sort of hub and spoke model, where we have a lot of satellite crisis stabilization and shelters.”

“I don’t think a model that is like a regional homeless shelter model is the most effective way to help the most people.”

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.