Deciding where a homeless shelter could be built in San Anselmo has angered business owners and residents, and placed city council members in an awkward position.
The council is not proposing a shelter anywhere in San Anselmo. Rather, they are complying with a state law that mandates an area be zoned to allow a shelter should one be needed.
Every California town is required by state law to designate an area where a permanent homeless shelter is allowed to exist. As part of its new housing element plan, San Anselmo had designated Greenfield Avenue as that area.
Overwhelming opposition, however, prompted the council to reconsider Greenfield Avenue as the area where a shelter could be built. It decided instead to designate a number of commercial areas to be zoned for the possibility of a homeless shelter.
The council agreed it was unfair to force Greenfield Avenue to bear the entire burden of a possible shelter. It voted to, instead, zone all C-L, C-3 commercial areas and public facility zones as possible locations for homeless shelters, and in that way spread out the possible shelter locations. This would include portions of Greenfield Avenue, Red Hill Avenue, and southern San Anselmo Avenue, and public facilities like Isabel Cook or Town Hall.
The council will reconsider the new possible zoning locations at its Aug. 10 meeting. Other than the issue of the homeless shelter zoning, the council approved the proposed housing element.
This doesn't mean a shelter will necessarily be built.
The housing element is a plan for zoning guidelines and has a number of requirements placed on it. The town is merely required to plan for things like affordable housing and the homeless shelter, but has no obligation to see those things are actually built.
However, a number of residents suggested they didn't want a homeless shelter in town at all.
"We don't really have that much of a choice about it. That's a demand that's being put on us from above," said councilman Ford Greene, who inquired about what the state penalties could be if the town chose not to comply with the new state law.
Town Attorney Rob Epstein said the town would be open to lawsuits and that the town's General Plan would be invalidated without a state-approved housing element. With an invalidated General Plan, the council, said Epstein, would not legally be able to approve developments or buildings.
"I didn't realize the path to shutting down development was to go on strike with respect to complying with affordable housing recommendations," joked Greene.
A number of business owners on Greenfield Avenue and residents in the area spoke about concerns that long-term homeless individuals are often mentally unstable or addicts. The residents were worried about their safety and about the impact on businesses.
"If my business is affected, then I can't pay my employees," said Joyce Brown, owner of Elan Fitness. "I don't consider myself a selfish individual."
"We're sort of stuck here between the state on one end and our residents on the other. How to cut the baby and have it survive?" said Councilman Jeff Kroot.
By spreading out the zoning, the council hoped to encourage smaller, residential-like facilities, as opposed to a large-scale homeless facility. The town is only required to plan for 17 beds, something that could be spaced out in smaller amounts. The town is also able to put some requirements on the permit a possible homeless shelter would acquire, including number of beds, hours, rules like no alcohol, and number of staffers.
Despite these assurances, the council felt it was important to bring the issue back so residents in the areas added to the possible locations could voice their concerns.
"You point me to the neighborhood where this will go in and be gladly accepted," said councilman Tom McInerney.