PLEASANT HILL -- The City Council on Monday approved a zoning ordinance that creates a streamlined process for opening a homeless shelter in the eastern part of the city.
Under the state Housing Accountability Act, local governments must designate a zoning district where at least one year-round emergency shelter would be allowed to open "by right" without obtaining a conditional use permit or going through a public hearing.
The council selected the Limited Industrial district, which is bounded by Fair Oaks Elementary School to the north, the Pleasant Hill city line to the south, the Iron Horse Regional Trail to the east and warehouses grouped along Vincent Road to the west. The area is roughly 37 acres and includes 19 buildings.
Bowing to residents' safety concerns, the ordinance prohibits a shelter from opening on the county-owned land within the Iron Horse Trail corridor.
The state Department of Housing and Community Development uses several criteria to evaluate "by-right" zones such as proximity to social services, schools and parks; access to public transportation and the presence of existing buildings that can be easily converted into a shelter.
State law also mandates that the development standards that apply to commercial and residential projects within the designated zone also must apply to emergency shelters. However, local governments may set some standards, including the maximum number of beds, proximity to other shelters, length of stay and security.
Under the Pleasant Hill ordinance, a shelter may have a maximum of 50 beds and people can live there for up to six months, with a 60-day waiting period between stays. A shelter must remain open 24 hours per day, every day of the year, and provide on-site security.
Shelter operators and employees also must pass a background check. The city can impose fees to cover the costs of police or other services if the shelter becomes a nuisance.
Cities aren't required to build a homeless shelter, and Pleasant Hill has not received an application to open one. However, the designated zone must be able to accommodate the need for a shelter based upon the homeless population in the city.
The 2011 Contra Costa County biennial homeless census found 116 homeless people in Pleasant Hill who were not living in shelters. The results of the Jan. 30 count should be available by mid-February.
The ordinance stipulates that once the city's homeless emergency housing need is met, based upon the number of beds and the most recent county census data, the "by-right" provision reverts to a conditional use permit process.
Although the council members acknowledged the need to provide housing and services to homeless people, they also grumbled about a "state mandate" trumping local control.
Although one speaker suggested that Pleasant Hill simply ignore the state law, planner Greg Fuz said failure to adopt the ordinance could jeopardize the city's ability to get transportation funds.
"We do not do this because we want to, we do it because we have to," Mayor Michael Harris said.
Residents of Pleasant Hill, Concord and Walnut Creek said they worried about a spike in crime and homeless people loitering, panhandling and harassing people in the neighborhood. They pressed city leaders to designate a district near the Pleasant Hill police station on Civic Drive, but it didn't meet the state criteria.
Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.