The council on Tuesday, Jan. 21, voted 4-1 to deny a neighboring property owner’s appeal of the Planning Commission’s earlier approval of the nonprofit Illumination Foundation’s project.
“The question is: Do we want Fullertonians who are homeless to be on the street or to be in a facility?” Councilman Ahmad Zahra said.
Ashwill Family LP had appealed the project because of concerns over security, inadequate public outreach and the possible lack of parking. In response, city staff put in additional requirements for the project, such as raising the required height of the fence in the back of the building from six feet to eight feet.
Paul Leon, founder and president of the nonprofit, stressed the organization’s track record running La Mesa Emergency Shelter in Anaheim, as well as shelters and homeless service centers across Southern California.
“We’ve had very few complaints,” he told the council. “We want to be good neighbors.”
Leon got support from homeless advocates and members of religious groups in the city, who held a community march to City Hall prior to Tuesday’s council meeting.
“Fullerton is leading the way,” said David Gillanders, executive director of Pathways of Hope, a nonprofit working to end homelessness in North Orange County. “I’m extremely heartened by what we see as a lot of progress.”
Council members said the shelter would help address homelessness in the city, which had an estimated 473 homeless people in the 2019 Point in Time survey.
“This is a place to start,” Councilman Jesus Silva said of the shelter.
But Councilman Bruce Whitaker, who cast the lone vote against the shelter, said he had reservations about whether the city was transparent in its deliberations about the project. He wants to respect the area’s existing property owners, he said.
“In the future, I would hope the council would support being very transparent and open from the beginning,” he said at the meeting. “I think we can solve a lot of push and pull we can see with a project like this.”
The Illumination Foundation secured the facility in the fall with help from an anonymous donor who contributed more than $3 million. The City Council in November committed $500,000 to the nonprofit to help with converting the vacant industrial building into a shelter; the money comes from a fund set aside for creating affordable housing.
Leon couldn’t be reached for further comments. But he said in November that the foundation wants to open the shelter as soon as possible after it secures approval from the city.
North Orange County cities, including Fullerton, also are working on building shelters in Placentia and Buena Park.
Photo caption: Members of the Fullerton Tri-Parish/Diocesan Collaborative march around Fullerton City Hall before the City Council Meeting in support of the final approval of the conditional use permit for the 150 bed Recuperative Care/Navigation Center in Fullerton on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. (Photo by Kevin Sullivan, Orange County Register/SCNG)