The Redondo Beach City Council in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Oct. 21, unanimously approved a temporary homeless shelter for at least six months at a site between train tracks and a cemetery near the South Bay Galleria.
The site would be the first homeless shelter in the South Bay beach cities. The project, which is meant as transitional housing and not permanent, will include 15 premade Pallet shelters, essentially tiny houses made of aluminum and composite materials that can sleep up to two people each.
The city will fund the project with $300,000 in community development block grants and $410,000 from county grant funds made possible by Supervisor Janice Hahn. Another $420,000 in County CARES Act funds would cover the costs for the second six-month period if the project continues. Another $75,000 would be needed to relocate the shelters. Fencing, 24-hour security and three meals per day were also included in the costs.
As part of the motion by the City Council, the city will consider further a site at Moonstone Park in King Harbor for the second phase of the project where the shelters could potentially be moved after six months for the remainder of a one-year pilot project.
Any decision on whether the project continues at the site off Kingsdale Avenue near the Galleria or the shelters get moved to the waterfront would require approval by the City Council in six months. An initial spot first floated at Aviation Park was eventually rejected because people were beginning to use the park now and the site was too near a preschool.
Two councilmembers from North Redondo pushed for the shelters to first be located at either Seaside Lagoon or Moonstone Park, both sites in the harbor.
The waterfront locations were met with extreme opposition from boaters, paddlers and hotel administrators. A manager of the Crowne Plaza said the idea would absolutely hurt business. Others called it the worst possible place, saying that the waterfront was the city’s crown jewel and not appropriate for a homeless shelter. Moonstone park is also used as a helicopter landing for U.S. Coast Guard and other first responders.
But Councilmembers John Gran and Laura Emdee were nonetheless adamant that the waterfront was the best place to house people experiencing homelessness.
“No one wants it in their neighborhood next to them,” Gran said. “It’s not like we are going to find a place that is equidistant form everything… You have to get past the fact that you don’t want it near you.”
Gran went on to say he preferred Seaside Lagoon for a homeless shelter “where all of us can watch this and make changes.”
The idea also faced an almost certain veto from Mayor Brand.
“That’s a tourist destination,” Brand said. “We are trying to market that place. It’s just inappropriate to have it down on our waterfront when we are trying to market it.”
Despite the opposition and lack of majority support on the council, the two councilmembers continued to push for a waterfront location, couching the debate as a north versus south issue in this seaside community.
“You keep saying that’s the jewel of the South Bay, but the Galleria is the biggest sales tax revenue generating that we have,” Emdee said.
The debate, which stretched until 1:30 a.m., nearly broke down and torpedoed the idea for a homeless shelter altogether as the council would need a 4 to 1 majority in order to eventually pass a budget modification required for the project to go forward. But in the end, both Gran and Emdee agreed to put the site off Kingsdale.
“It’s not that I want to stick it in North Redondo,” said Councilman Todd Loewenstein. “It’s the only place I could see looking at a map where it’s not an eyesore. I don’t think this is about equality. It’s about taking care of people who are really in need.”
The whole point of erecting a temporary homeless shelter was to set the stage for allowing the city to enforce anti-camping laws, explained City Attorney Mike Webb.
Based on a court decision in the landmark case Martin vs. Boise, cities cannot enforce anti-camping laws without providing shelter beds. Other cities such as Bellflower and San Clemente, have been successful at clamping down on homeless issues since they provided a shelter, though both cities have faced legal challenges.
Redondo Beach and the South Bay have been experiencing an influx of people experiencing homelessness in recent weeks with more and more people seen camping on city streets. Webb proposed that once the shelter is put in place, the city could prohibit camping in the city during nighttime hours.
The most recent survey of people experiencing homelessness, taken during a snapshot in January, estimated that Redondo had 176 people on the streets. But city officials working with police estimate that number is much lower, closer to 120.
Courts have upheld that if the city can provide beds for roughly 60% of its homeless, then it can enforce anti-camping laws and even prosecute offenders. Without the 60% threshold, the legal issues are more gray, according to Webb, who said at the least the city could threaten individuals with prosecution and encourage them to move on if they chose to camp in the city.
“If we’re going to do anything that could invite ligation it makes sense to place ourselves in as good a position as we can,” Webb said.
There was some concern that the shelter could attract even more homeless people such as what’s been the case in Venice where a shelter with more than 100 beds opened earlier this year, part of Los Angeles’s A Bridge Home program. Nearby residents in Venice, however, have reported a spate of recent crime and even homeless advocates acknowledged the shelter has spawned a new encampment on the streets close by.
“It’s a pilot program,” Webb said. “If it make things worse we should have the right to shut it down.”
Another advantage of the temporary shelter is that it provides a place for individuals to connect with social workers and other providers in order to get them ready to receive permanent housing, according to Webb. One of the biggest problems facing homeless advocates is that even when housing is available, recipients often don’t have the necessary documents and are unprepared to move in.
The temporary shelter would be just one more piece in the city’s ongoing efforts to combat homelessness spearheaded by city prosecutors and advocates through the county’s first homeless court, which recently started meeting outdoors as a way to resume its efforts during the pandemic.
“I appreciate Mayor Bill Brand and the Redondo Beach City Council’s willingness to step up and be part of the solution with this shelter project,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn. “We have not had enough shelters in the South Bay and that has been a real problem. A shelter means more than putting a roof over someone’s head. It is our best tool to stabilize a person, get them the care they need, and get them on the road to permanent housing.”