Pleasant Hill proposed zoning district for emergency homeless shelters worries neighbors

Pleasant Hill proposed zoning district for emergency homeless shelters worries neighbors

By Lisa P. White
Posted: 03/06/2012 02:27:56 PM PST
Updated: 03/07/2012 07:22:07 AM PST

PLEASANT HILL -- Residents, including people from Concord and Walnut Creek, are worried about safety if a homeless shelter were allowed to open in a neighborhood in eastern Pleasant Hill

Under the state Housing Accountability Act, local governments must designate a zoning district where at least one year-round emergency homeless shelter would be allowed to open “by right” without obtaining a conditional use permit or going through a public hearing.

Pleasant Hill, which adopted its housing element last year, has until August to comply with the law.

Cities aren’t required to build a homeless shelter, and Pleasant Hill has not received any applications to open one. However, the designated zone must be able to accommodate the need for a shelter based upon the homeless population in the city. The 2011 Contra Costa County homeless census found 116 homeless people in Pleasant Hill who were not living in shelters.

The Planning Commission is considering a proposal to designate the Limited Industrial district, which is bounded by Fair Oaks Elementary School to the north, the Pleasant Hill city line to the south, the Iron Horse Regional Trail to the east and warehouses grouped along Vincent Road to the west.

Residents who packed the council chamber last week urged the Planning Commission to designate the Professional and Administrative Office district instead because it is located near the Pleasant Hill police station on Civic Drive.
Several speakers expressed concern for the safety of children who walk to school along the Iron Horse Regional Trail. Others said they worry about homeless people loitering, panhandling and harassing people in the neighborhood.

The state Department of Housing and Community Development uses several criteria to evaluate “by-right” zones such as proximity to social services, schools and parks; access to public transportation and the presence of existing buildings that can be easily converted into a shelter, according to planner Greg Fuz.
Although the two districts are roughly the same size, the LI district includes warehouses and light industrial spaces, while the PAO district is made up mostly of office buildings.

The PAO district also is close to Gregory Gardens Elementary School, Valley View Middle School, College Park High School and the Irvin Deutscher Family YMCA, which runs a preschool program. Therefore, a proposal for a 300-foot buffer zone around schools would greatly reduce the area where a homeless shelter could open, Fuz noted.

The Planning Commission has discussed the proposal at three meetings since January, the most recent on Feb. 28. Another study session is scheduled for March 27.

State law also mandates that the development standards that apply to commercial and residential projects within the designated zone also must apply to emergency shelters. However, local governments may set some standards, including the maximum number of beds, proximity to other shelters, length of stay and security.
Despite the state law, Contra Costa County has moved away from emergency shelters, said Jennifer Baha, director of program services for Shelter, Inc. of Contra Costa County which runs a family shelter in Martinez and transitional housing in Antioch and Pittsburg, and owns rental properties.

“We want permanent housing because that’s the solution for homelessness,” Baha said.

Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at


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