Escondido approves area as shelter site

ESCONDIDO — Despite public opposition, Escondido City Council settled on designating more than 70 light-industrial-zoned acres near its western border along San Marcos as a potential emergency homeless shelter site. 

But Council also directed staff to identify other light industrial areas throughout the city where homeless shelters also could be permitted for future consideration.

The move came in order to meet a 2007 state law that mandates cities to allow the establishment of new homeless shelters without special permits or public hearings.

To be compliant with this law, Escondido needed to identify certain areas within the city where an emergency shelter could be established before the city’s Dec. 13 deadline.

Local business owners and residents came before council to contest the zoning designation along Country Club Drive and north of Hill Valley Drive.

They pointed out that the area offered little transportation and services for the homeless, and a shelter could hurt the existing nearby businesses.

Mike Irwin, who has worked in Escondido for 15 years, said that a homeless shelter would burden that industrial business district.

“It would be terrible for our future growth in this area,” he said.

The light industrial area was selected after the city passed on designating an area near the downtown Palomar Hospital location because it was too close to residences.

City Council agreed that the designated area is not ideal for a homeless shelter.

“It’s not the right place, and I think we need to find an alternate solution,” said Mayor Sam Abed.

Escondido City Planner Jay Petrek maintained that the two months before the city’s deadline would not allow enough time for staff to identify and approve other suitable locations.

If the city failed to meet the state law requirements, Escondido’s Housing Element would become noncompliant and the city would be risking losing millions in state and regional grants.

No homeless shelters are currently proposed in Escondido at this time, and the state law only requires cities to designate property where an emergency shelter large enough to provide for the city’s homeless population could be established.

According to a point-in-time count of unsheltered homeless persons conducted in January 2013, Escondido has 172 homeless persons dwelling within the city.

Considering the upcoming deadline, City Council voted unanimously, with Council member Ed Gallo absent, to approve the industrial area recommended by staff.

Deputy Mayor Olga Diaz urged staff to set up public hearings for Escondido citizens to weigh in on other suitable areas.

“What we need is the public to help us come up with a plan that they approve,” she said.

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