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Huntington Beach is continuing its search for a place to house its first homeless shelter after not being able to open one at a site the city bought earlier this year for nearly $2.8 million. 

The city’s unsheltered homeless population has more than doubled in just two years, with 289 unsheltered people this year compared with 119 in 2017, according to Orange County’s Point In Time Count. The current total homeless population for the city is 349. 

Two years ago, Huntington Beach began to feel the pressure of building a homeless shelter, after U.S. District Court Judge David Carter ordered cities to help clear the Santa Ana River bed, said Councilwoman Barbara Delgleize. The riverbed had encampments of hundreds of homeless people. 

“The biggest challenge we have is finding a location that will work, which means not next to a residential area, not next to school, church, or park,” Delgleize said. 

Industrial areas in Huntington Beach are very small, making it harder to find a location for a shelter, she said.

In April, the City Council authorized the purchase of a property at Pipeline Lane in an industrial area, but the city learned after paying $2.8 million that the site cannot be used for a shelter. 

At its Oct. 21 meeting, the council voted unanimously to authorize the sale of the property for nearly the same amount to Steve Chalabian and Jackie Jernigan, from the K-Jack Engineering Co. Inc. 

“Being able to sell it allows us now to really reinvest dollars into an option that could work,” City Manager Oliver Chi said. “From a staff perspective we are excited that with this issue resolved we can hopefully move forward and help to better address this situation in Huntington Beach.”

The Pipeline Lane property could not be used for various reasons, Chi said, but primarily because of the underlying legal restrictions that forbid the use of the site for a shelter. 

“There was a hope the facility could be used as a navigation center, but as we looked into the CC&R (covenants, conditions, and restrictions) in more detail, it’s not an acceptable or approved use at that property,” he said.  

The city was not aware of the CC&Rs until after the purchase, Chi said, adding “That is something staff will have to do a better job moving forward.”

In an email to the City Council dated Oct. 3, Gino J. Bruno, a Huntington Beach resident, called the city’s purchase “a white elephant.”

Surrounding Pipeline Lane property owners have sued Huntington Beach. The attorney for the owners did not respond to requests for comment.  

“Our attorneys are in discussion with the other side to see if we can get this whole thing resolved,” said Chi. “In short order, we should be able to get a settlement finalized.”

At an Oct. 7 council meeting, the panel voted unanimously to direct staff to look at other sites for a shelter, which the city calls a “Navigation Center.”

Over the last several years, homelessness has grown in Orange County and several cities are grappling with how to tackle the situation. Fullerton, for instance, declared a shelter crisis in July to help ease building laws after difficulties in constructing shelters. Placentia recently approved a management contract for a shelter that will serve the homeless from 13 north Orange County cities. 

Huntington Beach is also exploring the possibility of partnering with Costa Mesa and Newport Beach to build a regional homeless shelter, which would help to alleviate the number of unsheltered people in the three cities. 

“We are currently looking at a couple of possibilities that might help us address the growing homeless issue,” Chi said. “We are considering a regional partnership. We hope to have more details in the next week or two based on some direction given by council.” 

The next council meeting is scheduled for Nov. 4 at Huntington Beach City Hall, 2000 Main St. 

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