District 3 resident frustration with a planned recuperative care facility for the homeless at 280 N. Wilshire Avenue, in the Westmont neighborhood boiled over at a June 28 community forum hosted by Councilman Jose F. Moreno found himself in the soup with his constituents at a June 28 community forum he had organized.
After public hearings on April 30 and May 30, the Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit (CUP) for a 75-bed recuperative care facility at 280 N. Wilshire Avenue. The site is home to a defunct assisted living facility and is owned by 280 Wilshire Anaheim LLC, among whose partners are Eric Chaves, president of Parking Company of America, and John Wong.
The facility is supposed to serve as a sort of way station primarily for homeless substance abusers after they leave a shelter and before presumed placement in permanent supportive housing. They would stay for anywhere from 3 to 12 months. The facility owners will not be the operators, but indicated potential operators could include the United Way, the Illumination Foundation and Mercy House.
Few residents were aware of the proposed recuperative care facility for the homeless. Consequently, people came to the meetings to speak. Those who did, were opposed. Lifelong resident Paul Kott, who lives in the Westmont neighborhood, pointed out there are already at least half a dozen group homes in the neighborhood, in addition to other facilities such as a transitional home for ex-convicts. Their overall point: their section of Anaheim was already home to its fair share of these type of facilities.
The Planning Commission approved the CUP on May 30, with only Commissioner Michelle Lieberman dissenting. As word got around, a growing number of District 3 residents became upset the facility was approved and they were only finding out after the fact.
Moreno organized a community forum on homelessness on June 28, and the Wilshire Avenue homeless facility was on the agenda:
175 unhappy people attended the forum to express their opposition to both the project and at being left out of the process. They vented it at Moreno, who is facing a stiff re-election challenge from former Anaheim Neighborhood Association President Mitch Caldwell.
Caldwell was among District 3 resident in attendance, and took Moreno to task for being more engaged with the investors in the recuperative care facility than with his constituents. Moreno had been aware of the project for moRemove featured imagenths and had taken to steps to outreach to nearby residents – especially given the obvious interest nearby residents would take in a project of this nature.
And so went the general tenor of the meeting, according to attendees with whom I spoke.
Since that contentious encounter with his constituents, Moreno has been in damage control mode. In a NextDoor post, he took “full responsibility for not digging deeper into assuring that more robust and expansive notification” while blaming the 300-foot notification as “woefully inadequate.” He also promised to see if the investors would “open to another use” for the property other than the one they had already spent time and money to obtain approval.
In other words, Moreno’s trying to mollify voters who are upset at being in the dark about a project of which he had long been aware by promising to expand the notification radius after the fact – a case of closing the barn door after the horse get out. And now that the facility’s investors have spent time and money getting their project approved, Moreno wants to talk them into doing something else.
The District 3 councilman’s apologies weren’t appeasing angry residents, judging by the string of replies to Moreno’s NextDoor post. One resident response was indicative:
“You stated that you take full responsibility for not digging into assuring that a more robust and expansive notification was conducted for the Wilshire project. It is clear in that statement that you are out of touch with the thoughts, needs, and feelings of your district. The fact that you could not foresee the issue this type of an establishment being approved in your area speaks volumes.”
Moreno’s post-debacle spin is casting this as a process issue – that the failure is in the system that has been ins place for many years and applies to all CUPs, rather than with Moreno. The day of the July 17 city council meeting, Moreno e-mailed constituents on the Anaheim Colony listerv to say he would be voting for a proposal to expand the notification radius for “discretionary land use requests”:
“I plan on bringing forth my concerns and those shared passionately at our community meeting last month about the need to assure more expansive notification of projects proposed.”
Keith Oleson, an active, outspoken District 3 resident, replied with an epic take-down:
Jose—there’s a great deal more to this issue than just the 300 foot notification requirement. You had the ability and obligation as the District 3 representative to inform residents of a new homeless shelter planned adjacent to a residential neighborhood. For those unaware, the approved location for the project in question is 280 N. Wilshire Ave (Planning Commission Resolution PC2018/CUP 2018-05962).
As you stated at the community meeting you were contacted by the investor prior to their purchase of the building and briefed on the intended use then. At that time you could have pointed out the incompatibility of this use in this location. Given the pressing need for shelter and services for our homeless population you could have gone further and suggested alternative sites and/or even offered assistance in helping the investor find a more suitable location in Anaheim.
In addition, you knew – or should have known as a sitting member of the council – that there is a 10 day appeal process following approval by the Planning Commission, however it was not until after that time had expired that you held a community meeting on the planned facility. By informing residents after the appeals process expired, they were prevented from engaging in the appeal process thus eliminating any ability to require full city council review and other legal options.
You stated during the June 28th community meeting that you had “no ability to intervene as a member of the council”. That is incorrect. There were numerous times during the process when you could have engaged directly or indirectly by communicating with residents that this investor was intending to seek a CUP for this facility. In fact, here’s a list of what you could have done:
• Could have advised against this use at this location when first contacted by investor prior to his purchasing the property.
• Could have notified residents through social media or direct communication that an out of town investor was planning to purchase this building for this purpose to seek input from the affected residents. You used these methods frequently “after the fact”.
• Could have asked staff to require a fully vetted operational plan and certified operator of the facility in advance of CUP review and approval by the planning commission; instead this happened after the fact as a condition of approval.
• Could have notified residents when it was scheduled for consideration by the Planning Commission originally on April 30 and again when continued until May 30.
• Could have notified residents once it was approved by the Planning Commission on May 30 and advised residents that they had 10 days to appeal the decision.
• Could have appealed the decision yourself as the District 3 representative on behalf of residents.
You did none of these things.
District 3 and all Anaheim residents deserve representatives who engage residents in important decisions affecting our community in advance so that we can be engaged in the process and the outcome of that process.
Instead you chose to work with this developer with no communication with your constituents.
As bad or maybe worse, you supported the development of a facility intended to serve homeless individuals who are injured and/or recovering – by an investor with no expertise in treatment/recovery and who, at the time the application was approved, had no set operational plan and no certified operator in place. If they fail to provide quality care to those who are placed in this facility, it is both the homeless and the residents who suffer.
You don’t rush something through the process that’s intended to serve our most vulnerable residents – especially when it involves investors with no vested interest in their care, no expertise to help them, and no vested interest in the community. From all indications this is a business that buys property for investment purposes and contracts with others to provide services – not someone who has committed their time or resources to serving those in our community who are in need. Remember, when asked the property owner couldn’t even remember the name of the other facility he’s involved with. We’ve seen these types of businesses and we can’t allow this to happen in the heart of Anaheim.
As residents, we shouldn’t have to be on high alert for every city notification on a program or development. Residents rely on our elected officials to look out for our best interests and protect our neighborhoods.
In that regard this was an epic fail on your part.
Homelessness and housing are two of the most important, difficult and pressing issues Anaheim faces. Our neediest and most vulnerable population must be given the opportunity to receive much needed shelter and available services from a partnership between government and qualified service providers, however it cannot be done in a manner or location that negatively impacts other residents, businesses, and property owners. The focus of city government should be its residents, not political agendas. Don’t blame the system, it was not the system that failed.