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    In Depth

    Council Votes 6-2 To OK Year-Round Homeless Shelter in Industrial Area, 1300 block Oregon Ave.

    (Aug. 3, 2004 initial 11 p.m., updated Aug 4, 2:45 a.m.) -- Capping a nearly five-hour hearing, the City Council voted 6-2 (Reyes Uranga and Gabelich dissenting, Richardson absent) to approve -- with over three dozen conditions -- LB's first permanent year-round homeless shelter in a vacant industrial building at 1368 Oregon Ave.

    The Council chamber was filled for the hearing on the adults-only sleeping facility that will be operated by the Institute for Urban Research and Development (IURD), which run homeless facilities in Glendale and three other southern California cities.

    In July, LB's Mayor-appointed, Council-approved Planning Commission approved granting an administrative use permit for the facility on a 4-2 vote (Sramek and Rouse dissenting)...and 19 individuals filed appeals, bringing the matter to the City Council.

    The LB homeless shelter, which will not accept walk-in users, was supported by City Hall staff. The issue split boardmembers and others within the Magnolia Industrial Group...although the most prominent opponents of the facility were industrial area business owners and property owners who argued that the industrial area wasn't appropriate for a homeless shelter.

    The hearing began at 5:42 p.m. with City Attorney Bob Shannon explaining the applicable law and Mayor Beverly O'Neill describing the procedures that would be followed.

    1st district Councilwoman Bonnie Lowenthal, in whose district the facility is located, read a nine minute opening statement in support of the homeless facility. She stated in pertinent part:

    First of all, I want to thank all of you who've come here this evening to address an ongoing critical need that affects our quality of life, not only here in our community but in every major city in the entire nation.

    My hope is that after you hear the presentations, from those who will be running this program and have successfully run this program in four other cities in southern California, along with the safeguards the city will have in place -- and I in fact insisted on those safeguards -- that you will feel more at ease and open to the positive benefits this shelter will have on the thousands of people going through the toughest time in their lives...

    ...[W]e're lucky to have been approached by what everyone who has visited one of their facilities agrees is a well run, non-threatening shelter which will be an effective program and potentially the good neighbor it promises to be, and more.

    I'm aware that many of you here tonight fear the unknown and probably assume that this shelter will be reminiscent of past, perceived failures. However, this is not a traditional shelter that we have seen in the recent past and we know that because their experience and history at similar sights in southern California proves it...

    ...I still have concerns about the number of social service programs that are operating in the first district as do many of my neighbors and would like to see it more evenly balanced throughout the city, but if I had to pick one to be in my neighborhood, then based on what I have seen so far, this one would be my preference.

    ...Some of you want to continue or delay this item to another evening, but as [Planning] Commissioner Chuck Greenberg said at the Planning Commission, this issue is too critical to put off any longer...

    ...Fourteen years ago, I served on the Mayor's Task Force for the Homeless...At that time, what I learned...was that the homeless population generally consists of approximately a third who are serious substance abusers, a third who have serious mental health problems, and a third who are just a paycheck or an emergency away from being homeless, and it's this latter group that the IURD program is addressing...

    City staff presentations in support of the homeless shelter followed.

    Mayor O'Neill gave the 19 named appellants an hour of time collectively in which to present their evidence and positions. Several of the appellants spoke, including:

  • Dan Berns, of the Berns Co.: "Why should I believe you? What is new or what is different this time?...I don't see it. I see lots of promises...We've been told...that you're working on a plan for the homeless. Why do we have to make decision in the city always before we have a plan? Is it because it's just easier to hopscotch and jump around and for the staff to remain in control of it? I think it would be wiser to make our decision with all of the information...[turning to Councilwoman Lowenthal] It's not the unknown that we fear, and it's not the perceived that fear. It's reality that we fear because that's what we experience..."

  • Jane Kelleher: [after citing numerous community groups opposed and indicating that no neighborhood group is on record in support] "We called the City of Glendale, where people were brought to [see IUDR's] shelter [and] Glendale has a population of 205,341 people. They have 13 code enforcement people. We have a population of 481,000. We have one code enforcement person. If we [LB] had the equivalent code enforcement people, it would be 30.5 code enforcement people in the city of Long Beach...
  • Among the other appellants speaking were George Janich of the Magnolia Industrial Group; Jane Kelleher; Leonard Chudacoff; and Annie Greenfeld-Wisner, south Wrigley activist with the Neighborhood Advisory Group. The appellants concluded their presentations in roughly 55 minutes.

    Shelter applicant IURD spoke...and illustrated their points by using the Council chambers visual projector to present slides and the like.

    Mayor O'Neill explicitly offered the appellants an opportunity -- which is part of LB's Municipal Code hearing procedures but not often used -- to question those who'd spoken previously (city staff and the applicant). After a twenty minute recess to mull whether to exercise that right, Mr. Berns indicated his personal lawyer would ask some questions of the applicant and city staff.

    The questions included asking LBPD Police Chief Anthony Batts (who hadn't spoken previously) if he had any concerns about the location of the facility. After being sworn (as were all who testified), Chief Batts said, "At this point in time, I don't see any information that shows me reason for concern. I think what is obvious from the constituents in that area is that they want a concentration of police enforcement. We are able to do that...As far as I hear from the information tonight, I am OK with the situation."

    During the questioning, Dep. City Mike Mais suggested adding as a condition of approval a written waiver and acknowledgment by the property owner and its tenant IURG that if IURD ceases operation at the site, City Hall's approval of the homeless facility on the site would not automatically continue (that is, approval of a homeless shelter on the site would not run with the land). Mr. Mais indicated that both parties had previously agreed to this orally at the Planning Commission proceedings...and there were no objections to the condition indicated from the property owner or IURD at the Council hearing.

    Mr. Berns wrapped up by stating, "Tonight's vote is not a vote on homelessness....We're voting on an operation and a site that's in an industrial area...and what we would ask you [is] to either deny this or to postpone it until you have good information and a good understanding and we have a plan for our whole city."

    Public comment followed, included:

  • Former LB Councilman Evan Braude: "I think that this particular project, from everything that I can see, and I have read about and have talked to the people who are involved with it, it is clear to me that this not the solution for everything that [concerns] our homeless, but it is part of that puzzle that was mentioned earlier...Give it a chance to work..."

  • Current LB Planning Commissioner Chuck Greenberg: "Councilwoman Lowenthal asked me to come to discuss with you and give you input on the thinking of the individual Commissioners at the Planning Commission. [Commissioner Greenberg summarizes views of other Planning Commissioners, then describes his own view] I analyzed it as a lawyer would...The first issue is, when do you not decide something the way the people in the neighborhood want?...And the answer to that is when it has a citywide interest. Does this have a citywide interest? Yeah. A city of 500,000 people needs a facility like this...Then where should it go? Well, whatever site you choose, it's going to be as controversial or more controversial than this site. Try to put it in a residential area. Try to put it in a commercial area. Try to put it in a park. You'll see this chamber a lot fuller than it is today..."

  • Statement read on behalf of Kraig Kojian, President and CEO, Downtown Long Beach Associates (DLBA): "..The DLBA has worked tirelessly in its attempt to address the homeless issue, understanding with compassion that there are a myriad of elements surrounding the situation...The [DLBA] Executive Committee has conferred and supports the proposed site..."
  • Two members of the Magnolia Industrial Group board indicated that their board members were split roughly 50-50 on the issue.

    Veteran LB activist Joanne Weinhof O'Byrne quoted Emma Lazarus' words on the Statue of Liberty ("Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me...")

    Councilwoman Lowenthal made the motion to deny the appeals and sustain the Planning Commission's determination approving the homeless shelter administrative use permit, with inclusion of a condition specifying the applicant and property owner's written waiver and acknowledgment voluntarily giving up their respective rights to have the requested administrative use permit run with the land.

    Other Councilmembers weighed in:

    7th district Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga: "I am concerned that it is somewhat of an environmental justice issue, when you have an area that is in the west side of town that consistent receives social service institutions. To say that's where the homeless aare and that's why it should be there' is really a bunch of nonsense...The reason that there's homeless there is because the city allows the homeless to be there, because the city puts them there, because the Planning Commission has them there, and that's why they're there...And I beg to differ with you, Mr. Greenberg, but it is incredible the lack of knowledge that some of our Commissioners have about the entire city. I mean, I don't think they've ever gone to my side of town or gone up and down and saw the results of some of the decisions that they make on my community..."

    3d district Councilman Frank Colonna:"We have to start somewhere, and we have to start some time, and tonight's the time. And I think we need to move on with this..."

    8th district Councilwoman Rae Gabelich urged creation of a cohesive land use plan and noted that as a long time community activist she'd previously spoken at the podium on issues involving a lack of good City Hall planning. She urged creating a consortium of cities, a master plan for addressing homeless needs, a County project possibly located somewhere on County land, not focused on 59 people but a larger population of people that have needs. Councilwoman Gabelich said she favored having city staff (which indicated during the hearing that long term planning was being done) should go back and bring back the bigger picture...and address the global problem and "not just with band-aids" as it does so often.

    Councilwoman Gabelich offered as a substitute motion a request to have staff take this back and wait for environmental studies and a health risk assessment to be complete, as well as encouraging staff to come up with a more cohesive program to address LB's homeless problem. City Attorney Shannon said this wasn't really a substitute motion, and the Council had to vote the requested administrative use permit up or down.

    Vice Mayor Jackie Kell called for the question.

    At the request of absent Councilwoman Laura Richardson, Mayor O'Neill read a statement on her behalf. Councilwoman Richardson's statement indicated she'd made attempts to continue (delay) the item and now urged laying item due to concerns over environmental issues and how conditions would be enforced. The Mayor indicated that she (the Mayor) believed several of the issues had been addressed at the hearing.

    The Mayor then offered her own comments...that the proposal is for one year and "we have been trying very hard to find ways to work with the problem that we have in the city of Long Beach with the homeless. If you have an emergency, you don't say let's wait till we have a master plan...The things that we have talked about I think are extremely important, but I do feel that a band-aid is better than nothing to get us started and we have to take a step in the right direction."

    Mayor O'Neill said the appellants "did an excellent job...and if there is the slightest thing that shows that there is a has to be taken care of immediately and I specifically am going to make sure that we pay attention to this."

    Councilwoman Gabelich moved to continue the hearing for two weeks...which City Attorney Shannon ruled was a proper substitute motion. The substitute motion failed 3-5 (Yes: Gabelich, Reyes Uranga, Lerch; No: Lowenthal, Baker, Colonna, O'Donnell, Kell; Absent: Richardson).

    The main motion to uphold the Planning Commission's approval of the homeless facility passed 6-2 (Yes: Lowenthal, Baker, Colonna, O'Donnell, Kell; No: Reyes Uranga and Gabelich; Absent: Richardson).

    City staff's agendizing memo described the homeless shelter proposal as follows:

    The Institute of Urban Research and Development would operate the proposed shelter under their Project ACHIEVE program, which provides a case management approach to address the multiple needs of homeless persons. The proposed shelter would provide a maximum of 59 beds with separate sleeping and restroom areas for men and women (maximum 44 men and 15 women). While this would be a permanent homeless shelter facility, client services are intended to be a on short-term basis not to exceed 90 days for each individual client.

    City staff's report said the site has undergone remediation work for removal of hexavalent chromium contaminated soil and received clearance from the CA Regional Water Quality Control Board for future industrial uses. Conditions of approval require the applicant to obtain approval from regulatory agencies with jurisdiction over remediation of contaminated sites with compliance with all directives of such agencies before obtaining permits to operate.

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