Will NIMBYs Nix Santa Ana's Next Homeless Shelter?

Residents of neighborhoods near a proposed homeless shelter in central Santa Ana are coming together to fight the county's plan, but they face a tougher row to hoe than Fullerton residents who successfully killed a similar proposal last year.

The county's Board of Supervisors on July 15 approved a $3.6 million purchase of a warehouse at 1217 E. Normandy Place, near McFadden and Grand avenues. While the warehouse is on an industrial street, it's not far enough from schools and homes to satisfy an emerging band of opponents. Last year, Fullerton residents successfully pressured their City Council to reject a county proposal to put a homeless shelter on State College Boulevard. However, the proposed Normandy Place site doesn't need approval from Santa Ana's City Council as the area is already zoned “by right” for a 200-bed homeless shelter.


To derail the shelter, the Santa Ana NIMBYs (those taking a stance of “not in my backyard”) will have to persuade the same five county supervisors who unanimously approved the site July 15 to change their minds when the board votes again after a 90-day due diligence period.

Although the board's July 15 action gave the county's real estate staff the authority to close the purchase without another board vote, the staff plans to return to the board for final approval “because of the importance of the project and public interest in the property,” a county spokeswoman said last week. Between now and then, Santa Ana's NIMBYs appear poised to raise as much ruckus as they can. At a City Hall meeting last week, about 20 residents angrily rejected the notion that the shelter would be an asset to their neighborhood, complaining they were kept in the dark about the county's plan and suggesting the community was targeted because it is low-income and largely Latino.

Dora Lopez, a resident who opposes the shelter, said the neighborhood is already beset with problems including crime, traffic and gangs. “This is just going to make it 100 times worse because we're going to have all of these (homeless) people walking around here constantly,” she said. The nearest homes to the shelter site are the densely populated Cornerstone Village apartments at Minnie Street and McFadden, which are home to many immigrant families.

“You're going to see all these transients walking down McFadden … and lounging over here at Madison Park, which is the only park that the children in this neighborhood have,” Lopez said. Still, Lopez said she could live with the shelter if she felt the county's selection process had been fair.

But given that residents weren't given any notification until a couple of weeks before the Board of Supervisors approved the site, she feels that “All they want to do is put something in place and say we're doing something.”

Orange County remains one of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas without a year-round homeless shelter after the Fullerton NIMBYs rose up last year. At a July 2 community meeting at Santa Ana's Kennedy Elementary School–about a quarter-mile from the proposed shelter site–Massimo Marini, an activist who organized homeless denizens of Santa Ana's Civic Center to stand up for themselves (see United We Tramp: How Santa Ana's Homeless Rose Up, July 3, 2014), said his Civic Center Roundtable group wasn't consulted before the site was chosen. He bluntly suggested to residents that their neighborhood was selected “because you don't got enough political power or money to stop it. We're in the same situation.”

The Santa Ana NIMBYs are planning to hold a community forum at the proposed shelter site on Aug. 19 to raise awareness of the county's plan, Lopez said.

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