City Commits to Owning Homeless Shelter

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Before the price jumps more than $100,000, the City Council voted to purchase outright the modular structure that has served as the city’s overnight homeless shelter since 2009.

The council last week unanimously approved purchasing the building formally known as the Alternative Sleeping Location in Laguna Canyon for up to $200,000 rather than leasing it for another year.

The city would prefer continuing to lease the 3,600 square-foot trailer at $1,800 a month, City Manager John Pietig said at the meeting. But the price at the end of the lease term is prohibitive, he said.

The rental company, Mobile Modular Management Corp. in Mira Loma, will “jack up” the price in a year to $275,000, Christa Johnson, assistant city manager, told the council. If the city doesn’t purchase, the modular rental company is only offering another 12-month lease. The options “led to uncertainty” about the future of the facility, according to the city’s report.

“They argue there’s a market for it,” Pietig added. “I think you’re leaving too much money on the table if you don’t buy it now.” Messages to the portable modular company were not returned.

The current asking price is $158,625 plus $13,000 in sales tax, said Johnson. The access ramp for disabled individuals, also rented from Mobile Modular, adds another $7,700, she said.

Waiting another year, said Pietig, would be preferred due to a pending lawsuit with the American Civil Liberties Union, which was filed last August on behalf of five homeless individuals.

Last month, a federal judge denied the lawsuit’s request to order a halt to enforcement of anti-camping laws in Laguna Beach. Because Laguna’s year-round overnight shelter lacks adequate capacity, the suit contends disabled individuals are denied a safe, legal alternative and, instead, are subject to citations from police officers. The lawsuit alleges these practices violate the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The ACLU raised similar grievances with the city in 2009, which resulted in a settlement and the opening of the only year-round municipal shelter in the county on city-purchased land.

The shelter can accommodate 45 people and offers meals and showers. The unit has been upgraded with a kitchen, bathrooms, office, laundry room and storage using $60,000 contributed by the nonprofit Laguna Relief and Resource Center, Pietig said. Buying this unit rather than shopping for another, he said, will prevent losing the value of the improvements.

Before the sale is final, the modular company needs to make good on maintenance agreements in the lease, such as coating the American Disabilities Administration-approved access ramp and repairing screens and plumbing, Johnson said in an interview this past Tuesday. “There’s no deal yet,” she said. “We want to give them every opportunity to cooperate.”

The shelter is expected to last at least another 10 years with regular maintenance, such as a new roof and siding, Pietig said.

The ASL opened six years ago under a four-year lease agreement with Mobile Modular. The lease was extended for two more years in 2014 and expires on March 22.

The facility is operated by the nonprofit Friendship Shelter, a residency transition program for displaced people, under a contract with the city.




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