While no one questioned the moral imperative to help the less fortunate among us, how and more importantly where to do that remains a large hurdle. The El Dorado County Board of Supervisors, Placerville City Council members and a packed chamber tried to deal with the how and the where during Tuesday’s board meeting.
Specifically, the city is asking the county to provide space for the Hangtown Haven Inc. residential encampment at its property on Perks Court off Missouri Flat Road at Highway 50. For the past year, the Haven has operated on upper Broadway in Placerville, serving an average of 30 and up to 40 homeless individuals. The program has evolved from simply providing food and modest shelter into a much broader social service agency — albeit one with a serious problem. Its temporary use permit with the city ends Nov. 1.
Theoretically, the homeless shelter will itself be homeless after that date, and the city has not indicated a strong desire to renew the permit. Calling the Broadway location not “suitable,” Placerville Mayor Wendy Thomas described hazardous traffic, no sidewalks, electricity or sewer facilities to maintain a more permanent camp.
Through Mayor Thomas, the city is asking El Dorado County to develop a “legal temporary encampment at Perks Court for a few years,” at no cost to the public or to local taxpayers.
For its part, the Board of Supervisors eventually voted unanimously to create a “task force” to consider the issue from various perspectives, including the most reasonable location, the facility itself and “risk” to the county.
Board Chairman Ron Briggs suggested that the matter has created a “major shift in policy,” that is, a focus away from simply “helping the homeless,” to a more targeted effort to establish “transitional housing” in the county. Toward that end, he said, “Moving (homeless) people from one place to another isn’t necessarily a solution.” He acknowledged that he is not a “fan” of the Perks Court location.
Discussion took divergent paths. A majority in attendance addressed the success of Hangtown Haven at helping people resolve serious problems and move on to more productive lives. The moral nature of a community can be measured by its efforts to ease the burdens of “the least of us,” some said. And there is a local homeless problem that can’t be wished away.
Another perspective represented by a smaller, but nearly as vocal minority, decried the proposal to move the camp to the Missouri Flat-Highway 50 intersection. While few used the term “blight,” several speakers suggested that a tourist’s early view of the area from the freeway should not be rows of tents or plywood micro-homes on the side of the hill. Additionally, the area is zoned for commercial activity, and existing or future businesses would not welcome “homeless people wandering around, drinking or using drugs,” and “some businesses are already complaining about people going through their garbage.”
Concerns and perspectives were countered or supported by other speakers. A threat of wildfire burning up from Weber Creek concerned Bob Smart, former Eldorado National Forest district ranger and president of the Diamond Springs Advisory Committee. Conversely, Hangtown Haven Director Art Edwards said fire danger would be much reduced by having one contained central fire rather than 40 individual fires out in the woods.
Adding both a professional and historical perspective, former Department of Transportation engineer and current “community advocate,” Kris Payne warned that “Perks Court is not ready for development … and access to the property is not finished.” Payne also said that there needs to be some conditions for mitigation established prior to development, and that the county “bought the properties for use if needed for the Highway 50-Missouri Flat Interchange, not for this.”
Calling the Interchange the “Gateway to our community,” area resident Walter Klinefelter said praising the “Perks Court site would be ludicrous, and why would we put that kind of image at our gateway?”
On the other hand, four-year program volunteer Janice Carney called the Haven “a place of grace and second chances” and a “safe place for the forgotten people.” She said she and her husband had “been there from the beginning with the Green Valley Community Church.” That large, local church has been a significant source of volunteers and donations for the Haven as well as a venue for the “winter nomad shelter” program.
Several speakers challenged the proposal, suggesting that “If it’s such a wonderful program, why is the city trying to get rid of it,” and “if it works, why fix it?”
Perks Court resident Ann Williams pointed to “a lot of ifs that I haven’t seen resolved” and reviewing the notion of the traffic hazards on Broadway, the traffic load in that location is said to be 3,000 vehicles a day. “Missouri Flat has 33,000 a day,” she said. She also noted that the property is “extremely valuable” and could be the location of a “7-11 or a mini-mart.”
Kenneth Green, president of the Haven community, told the board, “We’re not here to be a problem. We’ll do everything you ask us to do.”
District 1 Supervisor Ron Mikulaco described his bona fides as a compassionate person but said that he had to look at it as a “business decision, not an emotional one.”
“Does the county want to go into the homeless business?” he asked. “El Dorado County spends tremendous amounts of money on helping people… but we have to weigh everyone’s position. This is about transitional (housing), not a homeless camp.”
Chief Administrative Office analyst Mike Applegarth was appointed to lead the effort of a task force to “identify the hurdles and determine how to handle them. I’d like our staff to get us some answers,” Briggs directed.
Applegarth said, “It’s clear we won’t have an answer today, but you want one… The issues are complex and maybe we can have something before November, but if we don’t get this correct, we will be back here in a year or two, like the city is now.”
Both Placerville and Perks Court are in Supervisor Brian Veerkamp’s District 3. Veerkamp had recommended that the county hear the presentation and consider the proposal. He also agreed to be the board’s representative on the upcoming task force.
In a follow-up request for information regarding the city’s ability or willingness to extend the temporary use permit for Hangtown Haven, Mayor Thomas replied by e-mail to the Mountain Democrat Thursday morning.
“Ultimately the council does have the discretion to extend the TUP. With that in mind, we must also be very aware of commitments made to our citizens,” Thomas wrote. “The council reluctantly approved the TUP last year due to safety concerns at the current location. Those safety concerns are heightened during the winter months due to shorter days and severe weather conditions. With that approval, the council clearly stated to the leaders of Hangtown Haven that the facility must be closed at that location by Nov. 15. Ultimately the council will be working collaboratively with the county and will weigh all their options going forward, given all necessary information, including the results of the county appointed task force.”
Thomas concluded with kudos to the Board of Supervisors “for their bold position” and the city looks forward to working with the county “to accomplish a proper solution.”
Contact Chris Daley at 530-344-5063 or [email protected]. Follow @CDaleyMtDemo.