Auburn gets county, airport input on homeless shelters

City would have to fully fund joint facility, county says
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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Faced with the decision of where to allow homeless shelters in the city, the Auburn City Council wondered what options it had beyond permitting them in a couple industrial districts near railroad tracks.

Would working with Placer County be an option? Or what about near the Auburn Municipal Airport? How about some of the city’s other zones? But as the search broadened, the city appears to be stuck with the same question with which it began.

When City Council reviews the issue at its May 13 meeting, it will get more information on ways in which the city can comply with Senate Bill 2. A state law passed in 2007, SB 2 mandates municipalities allow homeless shelters by right in at least one zoning area within its boundaries.

The Planning Commission recommended allowing shelters in the city’s M-2 industrial zone, and, if the council accepts staff’s advisement to relax distance requirements, that would designate three areas in the city.

Permanent homeless shelters would be allowed in two industrially-zoned areas near the railroad on Sacramento Street and around Borland and Lincoln avenues, as well as an additional site on Gum Lane.

At an April meeting, Council member Dr. Bill Kirby called the M-2 zoning “absurd” for this use, and he said that the only thing he would support is a multijurisdictional approach, an option that had not been previously discussed.

A majority of council members voiced support for working with Placer County to devise a solution, and staff sent a letter to gauge the county’s interest in such a venture.

Placer County Community Development/Resource Agency Director Michael Johnson responded Wednesday that the only way it would participate in such an effort is if Auburn wishes to fully fund the construction, operation and management of the shelter. The county met its SB 2 requirements in 2011.

The multijurisdictional shelter would have to be developed within two years, according to the law. If Auburn opts to go that route, the City Council would still have to pick a zone where homeless shelters would be allowed, albeit with an added layer of review.

Rather than allowing a shelter by right in a certain zone, it would instead be subject to a use permit, which goes before the Planning Commission for approval following a public hearing.

Community Development Director Will Wong said it is uncommon for a city to own and operate a homeless shelter. Research is being done to develop a cost estimate, Wong said.

A study performed by the Placer County Airport Land Use Commission determined that, for various reasons, a permanent homeless shelter would not be allowable by right at the Auburn Municipal Airport, scratching off another solution that had been discussed by council.

Council member Bridget Powers wanted permanent homeless shelters to be excluded from the Borland Avenue area, and she asked why other zones had been eliminated as options.

When it comes back to council, a more detailed analysis of the other zones will be available, Wong said. He said he sees the May 13 meeting on the issue as an educational one.

“We’re going to evaluate every single zone district other than single family and open space,” Wong said. “Will there be another zone that is comparable to the M-2 zone? There might be. And we are also evaluating individual areas as well, so we’re not done yet, and it is going to be one of those choices on policy decision.”

The reason for tackling the issue now – six years after the law took effect – is because the city has to update its housing code every five years, and if it did not meet the SB 2 requirements, then it would not get approved by the state this year.

The city had never been approached by a party interested in opening such a shelter before, according to staff, so the issue remained on the back burner.


Jon Schultz can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews