By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach) renewed her support for revitalizing the Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa as part of the county’s solution for providing the homeless with housing during a recent forum hosted by Councilman Peter Blake
More than 100 people packed a conference room at the Wells Fargo building in Laguna on June 8 to hear about the state’s ongoing efforts to address the three-headed crisis of homelessness, mental health, and substance abuse. Gov. Gavin Newsom has requested $2.2 million to conduct a site assessment of the 114-acre, state-owned center once 200 remaining individuals with cognitive disabilities are moved out by the end of this year. The assessment is expected to take six to 12 months and will study asbestos removal and other needed remediation before it’s opened to the homeless.
“My personal view on Fairview [Developmental Center] is I’d like to see Fairview as part of the solution,” Petrie-Norris said. “I think there is a way for Fairview to be a part of the solution and still have the surrounding community be excited about it.”
Petrie-Norris also shared a plan to invite Cal State University Fullerton to establish an extension program at the Center to train mental health professionals who could help fill the state’s growing need for mental healthcare.
“This is all very conceptual, so it’s not set in stone,” she said.
One of the audience members at the forum asked Petrie-Norris if she supports reforming of Proposition 13, which protects low property taxes enjoyed by long-term homeowners, as a way to fund housing and services for the state’s homeless population. Petri-Norris said she is absolutely committed to maintaining Prop. 13.
As a voter-approved initiative, Prop 13. can only be amended or repealed by California voters, not the state legislature.
The county has made progress on increasing the number of beds in emergency homeless shelters, but the cost of land, neighborhood opposition, and state environmental law has made it difficult for new construction to keep pace with demand, Petrie-Norris said.
Planning Commissioner Jorg Dubin suggested that the county explore rehabilitating decommissioned logistics warehouses from Marine Corps Air Station El Toro as temporary shelters for the homeless to get around some of the construction obstacles. Petrie-Norris promised to investigate the idea.
After coming to Sacramento in December, Petrie-Norris hoped she would hear from one of her colleagues in Northern California and Central California about how their communities established a model to better serve the homeless, she said.
“The honest truth is that is not what I have found,” she said. “Everyone is struggling, and everyone is trying to figure out what can we do to actually address this problem in our communities.”
Although Blake was grateful to hear from Laguna Beach’s assemblywoman, he is concerned about Orange County continuing to spend $300 million per year on homeless services.
“We’ve realized throwing money at this problem only makes it worse,” he said. “Since when did it become acceptable for families to not feel safe when they walk down the street?”
Blake said he recently learned about Assembly Bill 516, which would prevent cities from impounding cars that have five or more parking tickets or have a vehicle registration that is six months overdue. From his perspective, this would prohibit cities from policing people living out of their cars in residential neighborhoods.
“Now you’ve got someone living in their car in front of your house throwing trash out the window and there’s nothing you can do about it,” Blake said.
Petrie-Norris said she opposed this bill and she expects that it will have a more difficult time making its way out of the State Senate.
About 150,000 men, women, and children in California go without a permanent place to sleep, which includes about 6,800 counted on Orange County streets in January.
“Whatever your political affiliation, we’re certainly united in our conviction that this is just not acceptable and that more needs to be done and we need to forge real solutions,” Petrie-Norris said.