Newsom Wants Cities To Lease State Land To Fight Homelessness. Here's What Some Might Do

Governor Gavin Newsom talks about how trailers, like the ones he sent to Los Angeles, can be used to house homeless families and children. (Caroline Champlin/LAist)

Governor Newsom's plan to reduce homelessness includes leasing 286 state-owned properties across California to local governments for shelters or other homeless services. The spaces include Caltrans parking lots, state hospitals and armories, among other properties — which can all be rented out for $1 a month plus, a $5,000 annual fee.

Cities and counties can rent the spaces for up to seven years, according to the lease agreement, and they must be used for emergency shelter or a feeding program. However, some of the properties are also listed as available for affordable housing development under a previous order from Newsom. (More on this later.)

Newsom said he's ready to release the properties at any minute.

"You just literally have to write in your name and we hand that property over. It can happen literally in hours, not days, not weeks," Newsom told LAist/KPCC during a recent visit to L.A. to check on state-owned trailers set up to house homeless families.

Cities can also tap into $650 million in state emergency homeless aid to develop the sites.

The state's interactive map shows there are 19 sites in L.A. County and eight in Orange County. Here are what some local leaders want to do with them.

The Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa, June 6, 2019 (Jill Replogle/LAist)

COSTA MESA: FAIRVIEW DEVELOPMENTAL CENTER

The Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa is one of the state properties on the table. The center opened in the 1960s, and over the years, housed hundreds of developmentally disabled people. But the center has been set to close for a while now, and local leaders have been eager to turn the space into something new. (Costa Mesa and Orange County are currently battling a plan to temporarily house coronavirus patients at the site.)

In February 2019, State Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva introduced a bill to use the 114-acre property as temporary housing for homeless people with severe mental illness. Then, in May, Gov. Newsom announced that he would set aside $2.2 million in his budget to study the Fairview property. So, Assemblywoman Quirk-Silva held back her bill.

Now, the center has officially entered shut-down mode, with only a single resident waiting to be transferred out. Talks of repurposing the space are heating up again. Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley said she sent Newsom an outline of the city's plan for the site last month: 1,500 units of affordable, veterans and homeless housing.

"That would basically end veteran's homelessness in Orange County," Foley said of her proposal, which would completely demolish the existing buildings.

She said the initial response from the Governor's office was positive. Still, she said she doesn't know how much the new units will cost, who will pay, or who would run it.

"We're up in the treetops. We're very conceptual at this point," Foley said. She definitely doesn't want the space to be used as a homeless shelter, however. "There is no need to warehouse people," she said. Regardless, Foley doesn't expect anything to be built on the land for at least another year.

Meanwhile, this month Assemblywoman Quirk-Silva introduced a new bill, again intended to use the Fairview Developmental Center to house homeless people with mental illness. Quirk-Silva's office said they're aware that Costa Mesa has an alternative plan for the land, and will continue to watch how that proposal plays out.

NORWALK: METROPOLITAN STATE HOSPITAL

The Metropolitan State Hospital is one of three properties in Norwalk identified by the state for possible emergency homeless services. The hospital is home to several hundred mental health patients, locked in because most have committed some kind of crime. There are no plans to close the hospital anytime soon, but housing for homeless people could be built elsewhere on the property, or existing buildings could be used — if the city wants to lease it.

"I'm in favor of it if we have direct input and we would need to be assured that there was going to be funding," Norwalk Mayor Margarita Rios said. She wants to see the land used for transitional housing for homeless people, and has visited the Governor's office twice to discuss the plan.

At this point, there isn't a specific proposal for the Metropolitan Hospital, but Rios said she's working with the state and county to ensure there would be wrap-around services for homeless residents, like counseling, if they do develop the land.

"We're at a point now where the decisions have to be made," she said. "Now Newsom has taken a big leap forward." She said she plans to meet with the Governor again next week.

The Department of State Hospitals, which oversees Metropolitan, said in a statement that it was "fully supportive of this effort to use surplus state property for short-term housing for our neighbors in need."

NORWALK: SOUTHERN YOUTH CORRECTIONAL FACILITY

The Southern Youth Reception Center and Clinic, a juvenile detention center that closed in 2012, is also on Newsom's list for potential emergency housing. Mayor Rios said she wants to see affordable and mixed-use housing on that land.

"We want to develop something there that would be beneficial to the community of Norwalk," she said.

State Assemblyman Ian Calderon and State Senator Bob Archuleta co-authored a bill to give Norwalk first dibs on the property, rather than Los Angeles County or any other potential buyer. Mayor Rios said she wants to use the site to address Newsom's concerns about homelessness, but also accomplish her own goals for the city.

SOUTH LA: CALTRANS PROPERTIES

Across the state, most of the surplus state properties available are owned by Caltrans. That includes spaces like parking lots or land purchased to make way for freeways never built.

In L.A. County's 2nd District, five Caltrans Park & Ride lots are up for lease along Interstate 5. The office of Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas is evaluating each site. Considering their proximity to the freeway, Ridley-Thomas's office said the parking lots wouldn't be ideal for long-term housing. Some, though, might work for immediate shelter.

Ridley-Thomas said he wants to nail down those decisions quickly. "We cannot be in a mode of hyper-cogitation. We cannot be in a place where we're being unduly laborious about this," he said. (Ridley-Thomas is running for City Council in the 10th District.)

Governor Gavin Newsom tours one of the trailers he sent to Los Angeles to use for emergency homeless housing along with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. (Caroline Champlin/LAist)

WILL THESE PROPERTIES ACTUALLY BE USED FOR SHELTER?

Newsom released Executive Order N-23-20 in January, kicking off the process of evaluating surplus state property that could be used specifically for a "short-term emergency basis" to address homelessness. But in some cases — including the Fairview Center, Metropolitan State Hospital and Southern Youth Correctional Facility — those properties are also on a state list that could be developed as long-term, affordable housing.

This week, Newsom said it's up to local governments to determine how they want to use the land — or if they want to use it at all.

"Some are appropriate, some are not. Some work for temporary shelters, others are better for permanent supportive housing," he said. "That has to be dealt with at the local level."

Newsom has described the development process as a flexible partnership, although the official template for leasing Caltrans properties is more rigid: "Tenants shall only be permitted to use the Premises as a temporary shelter and/or feeding program, no other use of the Premises shall be permitted," the template reads.