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Commission OKs limiting year-round homeless shelters to industrial areas

Homelessness at all-time high in Auburn, advocate says
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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The Auburn Planning Commission has recommended allowing permanent homeless shelters in the city’s industrial district as the only place where they would be permitted in the future.

That would bring the city in compliance with a 2007 state law that mandates local governments designate at least one zone where at least one year-round emergency shelter – housing with minimal supportive services for the homeless – can be accommodated as a permitted use.

In April, the City Council is expected to vote on it as part of a package featuring four ordinance amendments addressing the city’s housing policies, three of which are intended to bring the regulations in compliance with state law.

At its public hearing Tuesday, the commission heard from two ends of the spectrum: An Auburn man wanted the minimum mandated allowances for homeless shelters, while an advocate for the homeless urged for looser restrictions.

The Planning Commission passed the recommendations 3-0, with commissioners Lisa Worthington and Fred Vitas absent. The zoning ordinance would be amended to permit, by right, permanent homeless shelters in the city’s industrial district, and, after effecting certain distance requirements, that boils down to two areas within the city.

Both locations are near the railroad: One stretch around Lincoln and Borland avenues near Downtown Auburn, the other to the north and northwest of Railhead Park off Sacramento Street.

“I would hate to see Auburn consider housing for people who are very low income or no income in only areas that are industrial,” said Suzi deFosset, executive director of the Gathering Inn, which provides temporary shelter for Placer County’s homeless. “When you disenfranchise a group that has already been disenfranchised, it does not leave a good taste in everybody’s mouth, and Auburn is bigger than that.”

Industrial zones typically do not have adequate public transportation, and that would make it difficult for the homeless population to not only enter the shelters, but travel from them to get vital services, deFosset said. Industrial areas also usually lack sidewalks, she said.

The city’s planning staff is currently researching issues surrounding transportation at those locations, said Reg Murray, senior planner.

Joseph Tucciarone owns and operates a car wash on Fairgate Street in Auburn, and he said after his daily encounters with homeless people that the city should pass requirements of nothing more than the legal minimum.

“If we loosen the requirements that make it easier for facilities to be built or placed in Auburn, then we will bring more homeless people to Auburn,” Tucciarone said. “And the condition of homelessness that I see is one that will always be with us, and I’m fearful of encouraging it in the subtle way of being helpful.”

deFosset’s testimony helped convince the commissioners to relax some restrictions recommended by city staff. They granted a couple of her requests: increasing capacity for temporary shelters such as hers from 60 to 75 and reducing the amount of parking spaces required at shelters.

However, they increased the distance requirement between permanent shelters and single family residential zones from 300 feet to 500 feet, and also applied that buffer zone to schools, parks and libraries.

The commission also did not adopt deFosset’s suggestion to increase the capacity limit of permanent shelters from 30 to 60. Opening and operating such a shelter costs about $300,000, she said, and allowing it to house just 30 people would not make fiscal sense.

“(Limiting it to 30) is not a viable business plan for the people that are going to open the shelter nor will it help the community whatsoever,” said deFosset, an Auburn resident who also represents the Placer Consortium on Homelessness.

Commissioner Roger Luebkeman said the limit recommended by city staff passed the commission’s muster but ultimately that is one decision he felt more comfortable having the City Council tackle.

“The City Council gets more involvement with the community,” Luebkeman said. “And to change that to something higher I think would require some community involvement.”

The recommendations do not require shelters to have showers, which deFosset said would be a great detriment to its users if any future facility made the rare move of not providing them.

The January 2011 census found 631 people homeless in Placer County, and a count taken two years ago indicated 278 of them had been living unsheltered.

Homelessness in Placer County is on the rise since AB109 prisoner realignment took effect, deFosset said, along with the closure of a Marysville parole office that split 352 of its parolees between Auburn and Woodland.

“We are seeing so many more people homeless in Auburn than we’ve ever seen before,” she said. “I can only tell you that according to my own statistics I’m seeing about an 11 percent increase (at the Gathering Inn).” 

The proposed changes to the zoning ordinance are not a product of any current applications or development interest, Murray said, and they had been outlined when the city last updated its housing element in 2008.

The amendment on emergency shelters also outlines requirements for transitional and supportive housing. The other three amendments cover reasonable accommodation, residential care facilities and single room occupancy units.

 

Jon Schultz can be reached at jons@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews