In an unusual move, the Pasadena Board of City Directors has scheduled a public hearing to decide the fate of Union Station, a soup kitchen and temporary shelter for the homeless that has become the focus of an intense controversy here.
At issue is Union Station's proposed relocation from downtown to a largely industrial section of southwest Pasadena--a move that has already received the necessary approvals from both the Zoning Committee and the Board of Zoning Appeals. Business people and homeowners, however, have rallied against the church that administers the shelter.
The board voted last week to hold the public hearing May 21, giving both sides time to iron out their differences if possible.
Usually, decisions by city-appointed appeals panels are final. Only in unusual or highly controversial cases do the city directors step in. Directors are expected to vote on the issue after the hearing.
"We've said, 'Get together and try to work something out,' " Mayor Bill Bogaard said. "When the board hears the matter, it will take into consideration the efforts of both sides."
But Union Station director Bill Doulos said more is at stake than simply moving the shelter.
Union Station will close if it cannot find larger quarters, said Doulos, who runs the shelter under the auspices of All Saints Episcopal Church.
"We've reached a dead end," Doulos said. "We really can't maintain our ministry there (at the present downtown site). The situation there is not very ideal; we're next to a restaurant, we're next to a children's center. It's not the place where we can function best."
Doulos' Last Hope
The proposed location, at 410 S. Raymond Ave., is Doulos' last hope, he said.
"There's no place in the city of Pasadena where we could move if we can't get zoning here," Doulos said. "It's one of the few places we can go, it's one of the few industrially zoned areas in the city."
Since the initial zoning hearing in January, a well-organized group calling itself the Committee of 1,000 in Support of Fairness to Businesses and Residents has been circulating petitions and thousands of mailers to block relocation of the shelter to what is now a vacant lot.
Heading the committee is Dovie Beams DeVillagran, a former actress who lives in a 30-room mansion on a five-acre estate nine blocks from the proposed site. Her home is one of the closest to the corner lot where Union Station may be moved. Several businesses, however, are much closer and some are next to the site.
"(We) don't want a soup kitchen and a Skid Row in the middle of our neighborhood," DeVillagran said. If the shelter is moved, she added, "I will be forced to come into contact with these people and I feel that our property and safety is at risk."
DeVillagran said her committee is afraid that patrons of Union Station would roam the neighborhood, looking for a place to sleep when the shelter is filled. Also, she said, surrounding business owners and residents like her fear that they may be assaulted, that their property values will decline and that transients will "urinate and defecate" around their homes and businesses.
People on both sides of the issue say they are pleased that the Board of City Directors has called the matter up for review. Both sides had lobbied the board to do so.
Doulos pushed for the board to review the issue because of stringent conditions imposed on the shelter at the Zoning Appeals Board hearing last month.
The conditions, added to appease shelter opponents, include providing a security patrol in the area, a staff member to answer complaints around the clock and regular reviews of shelter operations.
Doulos called the conditions unreasonable and too expensive. A security firm that he contacted, which also provides services to the city, estimated that patrolling the area according to the guidelines would cost $20,000 a month, Doulos said.
"That's bigger than our (monthly) operating budget," he said.
The shelter's opponents say they want the board to review the matter because they do not want Union Station in their area. The opponents also claim that the shelter offers only a Band-Aid solution to the larger, more immediate problem of rehabilitating the city's estimated 200 homeless people.
"I'm an Episcopalian. I'm not against the church," DeVillagran said. "But instead of putting one big concentration . . . of people in a soup kitchen, my idea would be to break these needs apart and provide some kind of help for the mentally ill, some kind of help for alcoholics and drug abusers--separate facilities that would really tend to the needs of these people."