San Clemente City Yard Will Operate as a Homeless Encampment Until June 2020

JESSICA RUIZ, Voice of OC

The city-owned homeless encampment at the San Clemente maintenance yard will operate until June 30, 2020, despite several residents urging San Clemente City Council members to move the location sooner because of its proximity to Pico Park.

Residents expressed frustration with what they said was an increased number of homeless people loitering in the park during Tuesday’s City Council meeting, where the dais unanimously agreed to put an expiration date on the encampment. Jinhy Yoon, a San Clemente resident, said she no longer feels safe bringing her five-year-old daughter to the park.

“[My daughter and I] don’t feel safe when on most weekend mornings we find a tent pitched behind the public bathroom, or transients lingering by the picnic tables engaging in drug-fueled rants full of obscenities,” Yoon said during public comments.

“When we call to report incidences, we are told that this is just what these people do. Perhaps men may feel differently, but as a woman and a mother, I feel threatened when I am on the receiving end of these obscenities.”​

Pico Park is less than half a mile away from the camp, which is located at 380 Avenida Pico.

The discussion came after council members voted 4-0 May 21 on an urgency ordinance banning sleeping on public property. On May 24, people camping in the city were asked to move to the maintenance yard. 

Jordan Balton, a man who has been staying at the lot, said the city needs to require homeless people staying at the encampment to meet with case workers. 

“The last thing you want is to have a place that’s fomenting crime. Where people can just do drugs, and then do whatever they want all day. Right now, when you go in there, it’s a bit like a prison,” Barton said. “You have these ultra hardcore prisoner types, then you have people like me, who are ultra disabled…So you’re not only fomenting crime, but you’re fomenting this really ugly scenario where the most dangerous pick on the weakest.”

Until June 2020, homeless people staying at the city yard have to abide by an ordinance that lays out camp rules, including the prohibition of drugs, weapons and vandalism.

Council members voted 4-1 to include the ordinance in the city’s municipal code, with Mayor Pro Tem Dan Bane and Council Members Kathy Ward and Chris Hamm in favor. Council member Laura Ferguson opposed the motion and expressed concern that including these rules in city code may make the city vulnerable to a lawsuit. 

“I just think this is a lawsuit waiting to happen, when we’re improperly targeting people staying at the campsite,” Ferguson said. “I was surprised to see this, I didn’t expect this on the agenda. Standard operating procedures exist at other shelters I’ve been at, but there’s no need to make them law.”

Council members also voted unanimously to approve a budget increase of $193,536 to fund unarmed security guard services for the camping lot.