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Council reviews homeless shelter study area

POSTED February 8, 2011 11:36 p.m.

Turlock’s plan to comply with a state mandate to ease restrictions on constructing homeless shelters became clearer Tuesday night, as the Turlock City Council approved a study area where it will look to site 200 beds – up from the 100 bed figure suggested by city staff.

The plan, expected to be implemented this year, is still in early planning stages. The document presented on Tuesday, due for much revision, mistakenly read that “weapons or illegal substances may be allowed” in shelters, omitting the intended “not.”

Tuesday marked the first time council offered concrete direction on the plan, nearly a year after the first community meeting on Senate Bill 2 compliance was held on Feb. 18, 2010.

Senate Bill 2, passed by the California Legislature in 2007, requires municipalities to designate a zoning area where homeless shelters may be constructed without the currently-required commission and council approval. SB2 does not require jurisdictions construct or operate homeless shelters, only that a zoning area is provided where such shelters can be constructed.

The large study area approved by council on Tuesday is roughly bordered by West Main Street on the north, Tully and Soderquist roads on the west, Linwood Avenue on the south, and Center Street on the east. Through the public input process, that area will be refined into a smaller area capable of holding the expected capacity.

In a change from staff’s proposal, residential areas will only be considered should commercial and industrial zones not have sufficient available space to allow for the construction of 200 beds, following council direction on Tuesday.

The decision was made by the Turlock City Council in a special meeting with the Turlock Planning Commission before Tuesday’s regular council meeting. The meeting was intended to insure that the commission and council were in agreement on a jumping off point for a public input process where final details will be hashed out at community meetings.

“We know it is going to be a sensitive issue for the community to engage in this discussion, so we want to make sure we’re at least starting off well,” said Turlock Planning Manager Debbie Whitmore.

The council agreed with the proposal, by and large, but took issue with plans to study residential areas – mentioned above – and the low, 100 bed cap suggested. Once Turlock hit that 100 bed figure, then all further shelters would be forced to obtain discretionary permits.

According to Chris Kiriakou, Turlock Gospel Mission board member, Turlock homeless providers served 153 unique homeless individuals last winter. With 34 beds, We Care, Turlock’s winter shelter for men, had as many as 70 men line up in search of a place to stay last year.

“We were turning people away,” said Maris Sturtevant, We Care board member. “… It needs to be raised to 200 to accommodate the people we have that are homeless here today.”

Council agreed with providers’ pleas, doubling the capacity in the process.

Homeless providers won another council favor as the bed capacity for a facility in Turlock’s Industrial-Residential zone was raised from 40 to 100, in deference to TGM’s efforts to site a shelter in such an area. But some provider concerns regarding parking space requirements – one per five beds – and security requirements – with bonded, licensed security guards required for guest intake – remained unaddressed by council. Both were said to be too costly, though Police Chief Gary Hampton noted that security plans will be reviewed individually, and that volunteers could obtain guard cards fairly easily.

Those restrictions will, however, be on the table during the pending public input process, expected to run for several months. The process will not only define a final area for shelters, but will also determine zoning standards from shelter density to bicycle parking spots and pet care.

The clock is ticking to complete the plan.

If Turlock does not comply with SB2, the state will not approve the city’s Housing Element, a document which governs housing construction in Turlock. Should Turlock’s Housing Element not be approved, the state may withhold housing grants or transportation funding.

“We would like to get it done as soon as we can,” Whitmore said.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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