REDONDO BEACH, Calif. — Redondo Beach is investigating options to build temporary shelters for unhoused individuals in the city during the pandemic.
Following a unanimous vote of the Redondo Beach City Council on Tuesday, the city will look at potential sites for as many as 30 micro-shelters for unhoused people within Redondo.
Should the city eventually do so, it would expand the South Bay’s inventory of shelter beds beyond the Los Angeles Harbor area for the first time in years.
The greatest challenge that the city faces might be buy-in from the public.
Based on the comments received from the public regarding an initial proposed site — tucked between an aerospace campus and a city park currently closed by the COVID crisis — that’s no small hurdle to overcome. Other sites throughout the city will undoubtedly face similar scrutiny, as there is little available city-controlled open space that is not adjacent to residences.
The idea to establish temporary housing within the city came together soon after City Attorney Michael Webb, with Councilmember Christian Horvath, attended a meeting of the local South Bay Cities Council of Governments earlier in September.
There, he and Horvath heard a presentation by Seattle-based Pallet, a “social purpose” company that creates temporary shelters for unhoused people.
According to its website, Pallet has established “shelter communities” in seven states, though mostly in Washington and California. In March, 30 shelters were raised in Riverside, in association with local government.
Pallet's shelters are small (the company offers 64 square-foot and 100 square-foot options) and simply-designed; they’re little more than four walls, a roof, beds, and a locking door.
Options exist for other add-on amenities, like heating and air conditioning.
“We, as a company that builds shelters, believe that rented and affordable housing is important and ultimately a big piece of the ability to solve homelessness,” Pallet representative Patrick Diller told the Redondo Beach City Council on Tuesday. “However, due to the excessive cost — especially in Southern California — to build that, as well as time constraints, the streets can’t be a waiting room for people that are experiencing homelessness.”
Diller told the council that a truckload of shelters can be shipped for less than $100 per shelter and that each can be constructed in less than an hour.
The rapid turnaround is important — Redondo currently has more than 30 people in temporary housing set up by Project Roomkey, an initiative to provide housing for homeless people in L.A. County. However, the city believes that housing for its Roomkey participants is set to expire in early October, and it’s unclear that those people will be able to find new housing within the program.
Building shelters would also give Redondo’s police the ability to enforce the city’s camping ordinance.
Under the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’s ruling in the case of Martin v. Boise, it is unconstitutional for cities to enforce ordinances against sleeping outdoors when individuals have no other meaningful alternatives. Creating shelters in the city limits would create that alternative — and the city wouldn’t have to rely on outside partnerships to make that happen, as when a previous attempt to collaborate with a nearby municipality died.
“Enforcement would be a last step, not a first,” Webb wrote in a report to the council.
In that report to the council, Webb suggested a location in the northern part of the city, in an empty, city-owned lot near aerospace technologies developer Northrop Grumman and the city’s Aviation Park. The park is currently closed as a result of the COVID crisis; access to its fields are limited, and play equipment is cordoned off with caution tape.
He also stated, in response to concerns from councilmembers, that the city could rotate sites on a regular basis.
Residents in the area — including some from adjacent Manhattan Beach — were repelled by the idea.
One suggested that the city lease space from empty big box stores; another said they worried that the temporary shelter would eventually become permanent.
“Are we going to continue adding units as people flock to the city, knowing what kind of facilities we offer, and are people going to come from neighboring cities to Redondo because they know we’re at capacity and therefore can sleep in the parks?” resident Valerie Fernandez said to the council. “It’s honorable, I think, to try and be the first ones to offer this, but it could also be used against the city, especially if our neighboring cities aren’t taking care of this.”
Many comments seemed to have a similar thread: they support the abstract idea of building shelters, but they’re concerned about the location.
“We are taking a proactive approach in Redondo Beach, and I don’t see the other cities doing something similar,” said Mayor Bill Brand. “It all comes down, as many people said, to location, location, location.”
Despite being a relatively small, quiet beach community, Redondo Beach has seen spikes in the unhoused population in recent years.
Since 2015, the city has had an estimate of at least 150 people living on the street or in vehicles during the County’s annual Homeless Count. That’s both in the city’s southern section, near the beach and charitable food programs provided by religious organizations, as well as in the northern portion, where encampments would grow near the 405 Freeway.
Over that time, the City of Redondo Beach has investigated ways to combat the growing issue of homelessness within its borders, eventually moving to include its municipal neighbors of Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, and El Segundo.
Redondo has partnered with Los Angeles County’s Department of Mental Health to partner mental health clinicians with police officers and contracted with homeless services providers Harbor Interfaith and PATH to connect unhoused residents with helpful programs.
As of September, Redondo also established an outdoor “Homeless Court” in partnership with Los Angeles Superior Court. That program takes homelessness-related hearings out of the nearby Torrance Courthouse and into Redondo’s open air, so as to minimize the potential risk of spreading COVID-19.
The City Council unanimously voted for staff to explore the idea of developing shelter housing — but that they would prefer to see independently-produced reports, rather than information directly from Pallet, as well as how effective the temporary shelters were at getting users into permanent housing. The city will also look to different locations throughout Redondo, and nearby cities, for such housing.
Councilmember Laura Emdee, who represents the North Redondo Beach area including Aviation Park, said in an interview that she understands resident concerns about that site, especially as the Aviation Park lot would share a wall with a preschool that has reopened during the pandemic.
Instead, Emdee said that she had identified a number of other sites around town, including a little-used park in the city's harbor-area, as potential locations that she will float to residents in the coming weeks.