Turlock homeless shelter permit denied

Location impractical, commissioners say

July 3, 2008 

  • WHAT HAPPENED: The Turlock City Planning Commission voted unanimously to deny a permit that would allow construction of a $900,000 temporary cold weather homeless shelter near the waste-water treatment facility on South Walnut Road.
  • WHAT'S NEXT: The City Council can vote to overturn the decision at its Aug. 12 meeting.

The Turlock City Planning Commission said it hoped to send a message to the City Council by voting unanimously Thursday night to deny a permit for the construction of a temporary cold weather homeless shelter west of Highway 99.

The City Council in April voted to sell a building at 400 B St. that had served as a homeless shelter for four years, setting into motion an urgent search for a temporary shelter to open by Dec. 1.

Commissioners said the proposed site on which to build the $900,000 temporary shelter, in an industrial area near the waste-water treatment plant on South Walnut Road, would put the homeless too far away from services they need in downtown Turlock. Some criticized the decision to sell the B Street building.

"I do feel we are being put against a wall here by the City Council," Commissioner Soraya Fregosi said. "I do believe we need to help the homeless. I also believe that a lot of people are not (at a homeless shelter) because they want to be."

Maris Sturtevant, a board member at We Care, the nonprofit that ran the B Street shelter, called the vote "unexpected" but agreed the chosen location was ill-suited for a temporary shelter.

"South Walnut is not a practical place," she said.

The City Council can vote to overturn the Planning Commission's decision at its Aug. 12 meeting, city staffers said.

In May, the City Council voted to approve plans for the 5,000-square-foot building on South Walnut Road that would house 70 people from Dec. 1 through March 31 each year.

After three council members balked at the original shelter price tag of $1.7 million, more than $800,000 was cut from the plan, primarily by using city staff to design the site and building instead of a contract architect.

Debbie Whitmore, the city's deputy director of development services, presented the "bare bones" design to the Planning Commission.

"It will be extremely tight to be able to get a shelter open by Dec. 1," she said. "This was the only site that was available, and we could get it done by this winter."

More than 30 city officials and homeless service providers who met regularly to survey available land decided on the South Walnut site next door to Kelso's Auto Wrecking.

Several nearby business owners, including Lawrence Kelso, said a temporary shelter would put a strain on their businesses.

"I'm very concerned," Kelso said. "They do bring along some of the bad elements because they start laying around ... The shopping carts will be strewn along and I'll be loaded up with those."

A separate group of residents, led by the Center for Public Policy at California State University, Stanislaus, is working on a long-term homeless plan that likely will recommend a place for a permanent, year-round homeless shelter.

Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at mbalassone@modbee.com or 578-2337.

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