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San Clemente Planning Commission Rejects Rezoning KMart Site for Homeless Shelter

Residents of Capistrano Beach applaud the San Clemente Planning Commission’s decision to reject rezoning the plaza formerly housing Kmart to allow a homeless shelter. Photo by Jim Shilander
Residents of Capistrano Beach applaud the San Clemente Planning Commission’s decision to reject rezoning the plaza formerly housing Kmart to allow a homeless shelter. Photo by Jim Shilander

By Jim Shilander

While there were no specific decisions made by the San Clemente Planning Commission last Wednesday with regard to meeting state regulations on creating areas to house the city’s homeless, the commission did narrow its choices for potential zones.

Following more than five hours of public testimony, staff presentations and deliberations, the commission indicated a preference for allowing churches in non-residential areas to house up to 35 beds, as well as a 35-bed shelter in an industrial area located on Calle del Industrias and a site near Heritage Christian Fellowship, on Avenida La Pata.

The commission must recommend city areas that could be rezoned to allow for a homeless shelter. Recommendations would have to be approved by the San Clemente City Council. If the council does not approve a proposal, or it is rejected by the state, it could cause the city’s General Plan to be considered incomplete.

City staff targeted potential sites that were removed from residential areas and have access to transportation and job centers.

Sites included the location of the former Kmart on Camino de Estrella, a city-owned utility yard on Avenida Pico near North Beach, a pair of sites in the Rancho San Clemente Business Park and the site behind Denny’s, as well as a canyon on Avenida Pico, near the intersection of Calle del Cerro owned by the Rancho San Clemente Business Park Association.

No Homeless Shelter in Kmart Location

Dozens of Capistrano Beach residents turned out to the May 8 meeting to protest a potential rezoning of the former Kmart property to allow for a homeless shelter, but it turned out they didn’t have to wait very long.

Commission members, who noted the large number of attendees with yellow signs against the proposal, voted quickly and unanimously against the proposal, out of concern for both its proximity to residences and the sites potential commercial value.

Several residents spoke in favor of a shelter, though not necessarily at the Kmart site.

Bill Sandrew, an attorney for the property owner, told the commission during the brief public hearing portion that the owner of the property opposed the potential rezoning due to the potential negative impact on future development of the property.

Sandrew said the owner is currently in negotiations with three national chain stores about coming into a subdivided property.

Deliberations Focus on Numbers, Political Viability

Other sites divided the commission. A proposal from the Rancho San Clemente Business Park Association to provide an acre of land on open space owned by the association for a shelter intrigued some members of the board but drew strong opposition from others, who doubted such a proposal would be politically viable.

Robert Adams, president of the association, said the business owners wanted no part of having the homeless shelter inside the business park, but the association was willing to provide the site as a means for creating a shelter in an area without close neighbors.

He also noted there were already up to 50 homeless people at any time camping out on the approximately 10 acres owned by the association.

Ed Connor, a board member for the homeless advocacy organization iHOPE, said his group favored the proposal and was grateful for the association for reaching out.

“This site would be our number one choice,” Connor said. “It accomplishes everything we need, if we can get there. We have no desire to be in the business park. We aren’t going to want to be around people who don’t want us there.”

Connor told commissioners the organization was doing its best to improve the lives of the homeless in the area.

Commissioners asked Orange County Sheriff’s Department deputy Joe Bull whether the organization had attracted more homeless to San Clemente. Bull said there had been anecdotal evidence of homeless coming to the area for services, but said others simply used the offices as a mailing address.

“We do not bring homeless for the sake of bringing them here,” Connor said, noting that the agency had worked to get many back on their feet or on a bus back to their homes. “We’re dealing with your homeless problem. Not ours, yours.”

He also said the organization would be willing to challenge the city’s housing element if it was not satisfied with the final proposal.

Commissioners Michael Kaupp and Don Brown said they were at least intrigued by the proposal, especially since the association stepped up to help. However they said, the council should put the vote to the residents of the city, which may be legally required anyway.

City voters passed Measure V in 2008 requiring city votes to change areas zoned open space to other uses.

Other commissoners, however, questioned the site due to its proximity to San Clemente High School and Gateway Village Plaza shopping center.

Commissioner and former City Councilman Wayne Eggleston said he doubted the city would support such a proposal, and, in fact, thought it would be overwhelmingly defeated, as Measure V had passed with 71 percent of the vote. He also felt the area around a shelter could end up being a major homeless encampment.

“It’s just not going to be appropriate,” Eggleston said.

Deliberations seemed to favor proposals that would not centralize a shelter but would allow the homeless to be dispersed throughout the city. The board will meet again Wednesday, May 28 to discuss zoning changes.

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