Santa Clara County Approves Funding for Temporary Homeless Shelter, Endorses Site at Former Onizuka Air Force Station in Sunnyvale

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors decided Tuesday to construct a $1.3-million 100-bed temporary shelter to provide homeless people a respite from what’s expected to be a wet winter.

Members decided against using county-owned land at the intersection of California and Fair Oaks avenues, instead directing the Sunnyvale City Council to pursue the Onizuka Air Force Station site, which is about seven miles away near U.S. Highway 101 and State Route 237.

Tuesday’s move came on the heels of residents’ opposition to erecting a winter shelter near downtown Sunnyvale’s homes and schools. Some families have front yards only 30 feet away from the site and there are other concerns surrounding traffic and safety, the city's Mayor Jim Griffith said.

The proposal to provide temporary shelter to the city’s homeless population is part of an ongoing effort to counter the closure of the Sunnyvale Armory last winter. North Santa Clara County lost a facility that provided emergency shelter to roughly 125 homeless people when an affordable housing project was constructed on the property.

The soon-to-come winter shelter – a weatherproof, heated modular building – will be operated by the Milpitas-based nonprofit HomeFirst, which works with the county's homeless population, according to county officials. Showers and restrooms will be part of a separate structure, they added.

The former Onizuka Air Force Station is a 4.6-acre property near Mathilda Avenue and SR-237 that closed in 2011.

The City Council was originally scheduled to weigh in on the Fair Oaks and California avenues site during its meeting Tuesday evening but deferred discussion on the plan to next week's meeting to allow the public to be notified of the proposed Onizuka site, Griffith said.

The California and Fair Oaks avenues site is a small triangular piece of land that is not being used and isn't easily accessible by public transportation, a resource the homeless depend on, Griffith said.

While the Onizuka property is near public transportation, there are few amenities nearby such as food or medical services, he added. 

It is in an industrial area known as Moffett Park and within a quarter-mile of major companies including Google, Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo, according to Griffith.

Another consideration is the city's Public Lands for Public Use Act, a ballot initiative set to appear on the November 2016 ballot, which would impose restrictions on any sale or lease by the city for most of its public land, Griffith said.

The measure would require a public vote for the sale, lease, lease extension, lease renewal, land swap or transfer of certain types of city property, city officials said.

"If a cold weather shelter is operating after the act passes then the city can never make its own decisions on how to use that land," Griffith said.

The selected site needs to be prepared in time for the start of the cold weather shelter program scheduled from Nov. 30 to March 31, 2016, and comply with the California Environmental Quality Act.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to hold a final vote on a site Sept. 15.

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