By Chris Frost
Oxnard-- The conversation about the new permanent site for the Oxnard Navigation Center continues with Ventura County helping the city find a viable location for the center.
The Oxnard City Council approved the lease for the Oxnard Navigation Center at 1258 Saviers Road Nov. 19, by a 5-2 vote.
The location will have 110 beds and serve as a year-round 24-hour shelter with shower and laundry facilities. Additionally, the navigation center will have meal and pet services, housing navigation, and case management services for Oxnard's homeless population.
"The county did reaffirm their pledge for a financial contribution and doubled down and assigned some of their staff to our staff to help us find a viable site," Oxnard Housing Director Emilio Ramirez said.
He met with the city's information technology department and got a mapping tool to help them find a viable site.
Ramirez started with a map of Oxnard, and they began to think about where they wanted a navigation center and why the site mattered.
Ramirez looked at 22 different sites throughout Oxnard, and one thing they needed was a site that could offer services to shelter residents.
"We know that a high percentage of shelter residents are employed and homeless," he said. "We needed to provide a place where they would be able to go to work, and that meant having the navigation center near a bus stop."
They also needed a place near a medical clinic, and they mapped those places along with mental health centers and homeless service centers.
"We were after a place that would be approximate to these things at the same time," he said. "In addition, we wanted to make sure it was going to be permissible by the city. We mapped all the zones that would be eligible.
Ramirez also wanted to make sure they would be able to compete for funding. In the future, the city wants a place that can support permanent supportive housing.
"We wanted to score a site using the tax-credit-allocation-committee formula for the allocation of funds," he said.
The site needed to score 15 for amenity allocation, he said, and the Saviers Road site does.
"We went through a thoughtful process and not just find a place that is available," he said. "First, we wanted to identify a map and ask the county about real property units. We wanted to find a site that meets all these conditions."
Most of the property owners did not want a shelter at their location.
"We were competing with a private activity that had more money, cannabis users, and they were able to offer a better deal," he said.
The search identified the Saviers Road site to be eligible with a special-use permit issued by the planning commission.
"The site on Saviers scores 15 points using the tax credit allocation formula, which is the maximum amount of points a site can score," he said. "It makes it competitive for future funding if we ever want to move to a permanent supportive housing structure. We think that we might in the future."
The new site includes public transit, two clinics, a new behavioral health wellness center, the Salvation Army, a Human Services Agency, and an outpatient clinic, plus more within a one-mile radius of the navigation center.
"That's why the site was chosen," he said. "Not because it was convenient, because it worked in that regard."
The site is considerably more significant than the current location, and it allows for indoor showers that are currently outside.
Adjacent to the site is a business manufacturing park, mini storage, and a UPS shipping yard.
The Saviers location has a variety of retail functions, he said, which includes two liquor stores across the street.
"Liquor stores exist all over the city, as well," Ramirez said.
"Commercial uses mostly surround the site, but there is a residential community approximate to the location," he added. "The Saviers site is more proximate to needed services and amenities than the K Street site. Including a pharmacy, grocery, and bus stop."
Mercy House, the future operator, toured the site with Ramirez, and they feel it can be operated safely.
The Navigation Center is zoned C2, and the city staff feels they can accomplish a special-use permit.
"The site is located in the Cal Gisler neighborhood, and we have started a community engagement process," he said. "That process started at the regular homeless commission meeting on Nov. 4."
The new site is in district 6.
Ramirez said the proposed lease includes a Dec. 1, 2019 start date and will have a five-year term with two additional five-year options.
"The base rent will be $1.25 per square foot, which works out to just under $22,000 a month," he said. "The rent will be fixed without rent increases for the first 24 months. Then rent will increase at 3 percent per year from then on. The initial amount due will be $52,975, which includes the security deposit plus the first month's rent taxes, and insurance."
The lease offers the city the first right of refusal to acquire the site if they can get together enough funding.
"The city will pay maintenance taxes and insurance in a triple net structure lease, and all the tenant improvements and the cost of operation," he said.
The city is looking to employ a design consultant to get a cost for the client improvements. The staff estimate sits at $1.5 million.
"The annual estimate for operating costs is about $2 million," he said. "The proposed lease allows the city to terminate before Oct. 2020, but rent will continue to be due until Feb. 2021. The lease includes a three-month contingency period in which the city can terminate the lease for any reason. All payments made until that date will be reimbursed to the city."
Rent will be abated during the contingency period.
"Staff will undertake a community engagement process during that contingency period regarding the proposed site and its use," he said. "Staff will also complete due diligence on the site for structural soundness, and there are provisions in the lease on whether or not the landlord or tenant will pay for the structural soundness."
Moving forward, Ramirez said there would be presentations to all the neighborhood groups in the area. They'll also invite community representatives for the current site, plus engage with business groups like the Chamber of Commerce.
"We'll work to host two town hall meetings," he said. "One in Dec. and one in January. The design consultant will be at both town hall meetings."
Ramirez said that Oxnard remains in good partnership with Ventura County.
The two agencies work well with the homeless, he said, along with all the neighboring cities.
The county pledged a contribution for half of all the capital improvements and operations at the navigation center.
During public comments, Richard Tucker said he lives in the Cal Gisler neighborhood and said no one in the neighborhood heard about the navigation center.
"The first home on Ash Street is 100 feet from the site," he said. "There are two elementary schools, Elm and Harrington. Elm is right down the street. Two blocks away, you have Haydock Junior High School."
He feels the housing department wants a default site.
"We understand that there's been a lot of work put into it, and we understand the amenities that are needed, but we are concerned about the impact it has on our neighborhood with such high density and the vagrancy and traffic going through our neighborhood."
Ventura Safe and Clean Program Manager Meredith Hart complimented the city staff and said she's worked closely with Mark, Karl, and Emilio over the last year.
"Assisting homeless individuals in each of our cities with sheltering and navigation centers will do a significant amount of reducing the homeless on our streets," she said. "Ventura is hopeful that we will continue to move forward simultaneously in these efforts. The Ventura Shelter is slated to open on Jan. 9, 2020. We are having a grand opening. I will send you a personal invitation."
City Manager Alex Nguyen said he is aware of all the concerns expressed during public comments and concerns the council hears daily.
"They pertain to the kinds of activities that occur, not by all homeless people, but by some, and in some instances many," he said. "The concerns pertain to homeless people forced to live outdoors. There is no way when we get people inside to a professionally managed shelter where they're provided proper care; there is no way that is worse than having them continue to be forced to live outside. I guarantee you in a well-run shelter; it is 1,000 percent better than it is outdoors."
He reminded everyone that it is not a flavor of the month issue; it is a full-blown public health crisis.
"Mercy House is a world-class operator, and we are fortunate, along with our neighbors in Ventura, to have them here," he said.
He told the body that the city needs a site for a homeless shelter, and anyone can point anywhere on the map, and Nguyen could give them 10 reasons why it wouldn't work.
"This is a key component," he said. "I hate to tell you this, but this is the easy part. After this comes housing first."
Mark Alvarado from Homeless Services said the city is currently issuing Section 8 Vouchers to people who run the gamut of homelessness.
He is in charge of getting people into homes where they accept Section 8 Vouchers.
"Today, I came across an advertisement that accepted a Section 8 Voucher," he said. "The property manager asked me to tell him a little more about the client, and I told him my client is in a shelter and fleeing domestic violence, has a child and is homeless."
The property manager told Alvarado that they don't rent to homeless people.
"Technically, she's not homeless, she's in a shelter," he said. "She's in transition, she works full time, has a car, a child, and she needs to find a place to live."
The property manager told him again that he doesn't house the homeless.
"I told him he was being unfair, and he said are you lecturing me," he said. "I stopped the conversation there."
Nguyen said everyone wants the city to do something about the homeless, but no one wants them in their neighborhood.
"That's the reality we have to get past," he said.