October 11, 2017
SAN CLEMENTE Local officials are hoping the city’s newly adopted housing policies will resolve a three-year dispute over homeless shelter zoning.
On Tuesday, Oct. 10, the City Council approved what is known as a Midterm Update of the Housing Element of the San Clemente General Plan. It includes relaxed requirements for homeless shelters in the Rancho San Clemente Business Park.
If the state’s Housing and Community Development agency finds that those standards comply with state law, Superior Court Judge Robert J. Moss could lift a court order he issued in February, restricting the city’s permitting powers until the city comes into compliance.
In 2014, a group called the Emergency Shelter Coalition sued the city, asserting that zoning rules enacted earlier that year violated Senate Bill 2, a law designed to make it easier for groups to establish homeless shelters.
Under SB2, local governments had to establish zones where groups could develop a homeless shelter “by right,” without having to apply for discretionary permits.
San Clemente’s City Council, facing an outcry from residents who didn’t want a homeless shelter in any neighborhood, decided to allow shelters primarily on publicly owned sites.
The shelter coalition’s lawsuit argued that that zoning violated SB2, since the city would have discretion whether to make city-owned sites available. In July 2016, Judge Moss invalidated the zoning and ordered a new one enacted by Nov. 1.
In response, the city zoned part of the Rancho San Clemente Business Park for up to 70 shelter beds. There would be a limit of 35 beds per shelter. The coalition objected, saying it would require two shelters in separate buildings to serve the city’s estimated population of 70 homeless.
The coalition suggested to the court that the 35-bed cap and a 300-foot separation between shelters wouldn’t facilitate a viable shelter and that there is no public transportation to get homeless people to the business park, since OCTA halted bus service there.
The city replied that a 35-bed cap is reasonable and the city is willing to work with shelters, with ride-share vendors and with social service agencies on a transportation solution involving vouchers.
In February, Moss issued a court order barring San Clemente from issuing building permits for new development in certain commercial parts of town until the city complies with SB2. The city responded by relaxing standards – for example, allowing two 35-bed shelters next to each other if operated by the same organization. The city also relaxed prior security and management rules.
In July the state’s housing agency issued a letter to the city, finding a newly drafted city housing document to be in compliance if specified issues could be addressed.
In September the City Council made amendments and approved the document. It is a comprehensive new housing policy designed to cover the years 2013 to 2021. City Attorney Scott Smith said the city could use it to ask the court to declare the dispute resolved.
But a further submittal, known as a Midterm Update between 2013 and 2021, was required to complete the process. The City Council approved it Oct. 10.
City Planner Amber Gregg said the Midterm Update will be submitted to the state as soon as possible. She could not predict when the city’s full permitting powers might be restored.
The council, waiting for legal clearance, has repeatedly delayed its consideration of agreements with owners of the historic Miramar Theater to facilitate the landmark’s renovation as an events center with restaurants at North Beach. The project again appears on the council’s Tuesday, Oct. 17, agenda and Gregg could not predict if it will be approved or postponed again.
“That will be for the City Council to decide,” Gregg said.
While the city is holding some permits in limbo, Gregg said the city was able to negotiate the ability to issue permits valued at $75,000 or less. Those types of permits have not been barred, she said.