Should Fairview Developmental Center’s future include the homeless?
The Fairview Developmental Center, with its 125-acre Costa Mesa campus sitting nearly empty, has repeatedly been suggested as a place to house homeless people.
Now, two of Orange County’s state legislators are pushing bills that could determine the center’s future, at least in the short term, and both ideas could involve the homeless.
The developmental center opened in 1959 on Harbor Boulevard as a state-owned residential facility for people with developmental or intellectual disabilities, but its population – 2,700 residents at its peak – has dwindled to about 80 people. In 2015, then-Gov. Jerry Brown ordered it closed by 2021.
A proposal from Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva would use a portion of the center to house and care for up to 200 homeless people with the most serious mental health needs who can’t be placed in a typical emergency shelter. The temporary mental health program would open this summer and operate until the center closes or until the end of 2021.
More than 200 homeless people died in Orange County last year, including Quirk-Silva’s brother. While not all of them had a physical or mental illness, she said it still leaves her “shocked and devastated and horrified.”
“I just feel like Orange County is too great of a county to allow this to happen on our streets,” she said. “We have a state facility that has thousands of rooms.”
Using Fairview to house mentally ill homeless would be a short-term solution until permanent facilities can be built, and county mental health funds could pay for it, Quirk-Silva said.
Meanwhile, Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, whose district includes Costa Mesa, drafted a bill that doesn’t dictate Fairview’s future, but would require the state to hold a hearing and take public input before it could sell the property as surplus. Currently, no such public involvement is required.
People in the surrounding community deserve to know what will happen to the center and to be involved in the process, Petrie-Norris said.
In the long term, she said, given the property’s size it could host a variety of complementary developments, such as a college campus, a mental health center, affordable housing for students and seniors, and housing with long-term support and services for the formerly homeless. Petrie-Norris said she may put that plan forward in a separate bill later.
Because of licensing requirements, earthquake safety issues and other regulations, Petrie-Norris said she’s skeptical that Quirk-Silva’s plan could be put in place quickly enough.
“There are programs that are already up and running that we can amplify and build up their capacity,” such as publicly funded emergency shelters run by the nonprofit-Mercy House and an agreement with College Hospital to provide mental health crisis care, Petrie-Norris said.
Both ideas for Fairview could prove divisive.
U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter is one of the leading voices for using some part of Fairview to temporarily house and provide services to homeless people whose mental illness poses the most danger to themselves and others.
For more than a year, while presiding over homeless lawsuits, the judge has repeatedly questioned why the mostly dormant but well-equipped Fairview grounds can’t be used as a stopgap to address one of the more pressing needs in the county’s ongoing homelessness crisis.
Again, during a hearing on Tuesday, Carter expressed his exasperation and called for local officials to contact Gov. Gavin Newsom on the spot. “I don’t want to wait for the California Assembly on this.”
But Costa Mesa city leaders and residents are likely to oppose housing homeless at Fairview, as they did when a former Orange County supervisor suggested it in 2018.
In a recent interview, Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley said she supports helping the community’s mentally ill homeless residents, but she doesn’t think the developmental center is the best place to do it. Foley does like the idea of giving the public an opportunity to give input on the facility’s future.
While their ideas for the future of the Fairview Developmental Center diverge, the assemblywomen agree that the need to address homelessness and mental health in Orange County is urgent.
“Every day that we don’t do something is a day that we have the potential to lose another person on the streets of Orange County,” Quirk-Silva said.
Both bills have been sent to assembly committees for discussion.
Staff writer Theresa Walker contributed to this report.