About 250 residents of Oxnard's poorest neighborhood confronted the City Council Tuesday, demanding that a homeless shelter not be moved to their community.
Residents from the Colonia told council members that the Zoe Christian Center, the county's largest homeless shelter, should not be relocated to any of four Colonia sites identified by a city consultant.
"We do want to provide for the homeless, but not in our area," Colonia resident Deborah Gutierrez said.
Several residents said they had nothing against homeless people but believe that the shelter does not belong in a community that already has its share of problems.
"None of us is against the program," resident Hector Pelayo said. "We are just overpopulated."
"Crime will rise," Maria Trejo said. "Alcohol and drugs also will rise."
A city consultant has identified eight sites in Oxnard where the homeless shelter could be placed. Four are in the Colonia, the city's largest barrio, and the others are spread throughout the city.
The Rev. Fred Judy, who founded the Zoe Christian Center, said he was appalled by the views of those protesting the shelter.
"They have drugs, alcohol and gang violence, yet they come before the council to object to children who have no place to go," he said.
But residents insisted that the Colonia is already dangerously overcrowded. They complained that they were not consulted in the planning process and questioned why a copy of the 450-page consultant's report was not available in Spanish.
"We are tired that you are making decisions and you don't take us into account," Dorina Zamudio said. "I just want to remind you that Mexicans . . . also pay taxes and deserve the same respect as other human beings." Members of a group called Concerned Residents of the Colonia told city officials last week that they were afraid that a homeless shelter would aggravate existing parking problems, Oxnard Housing Director Sal Gonzalez said.
Some residents also expressed fears that the shelter might depress home values and worried that the city was trying to put the shelter in their neighborhood because more affluent areas might oppose the shelter in their communities, Gonzalez said.
"The community of the Colonia is asking, 'Why is it that four sites are in the Colonia?' " resident Carlos Aguilera said in an interview Tuesday.
Council members said they want to help relocate the homeless shelter but have not decided where it will go if it is moved. The shelter has tried to find a new home for years, Judy said.
"Zoe is losing so much money because they haven't got a permanent site," Councilwoman Dorothy Maron said. "I am very concerned that they're losing this kind of money. I wish somebody would figure out the right site."
The center's problems began last year after Oxnard refused to renew a city permit for the South Rose Avenue facility because it was next to a fertilizer company where hazardous chemicals are stored.
Zoe leaders looked for another site but had no luck. Meanwhile, they lost funds as private donors shied away from a center without a permanent site. And federal officials were reluctant to issue grants, Zoe officials said.
After strong lobbying by Maron and County Supervisor John K. Flynn, the Oxnard City Council hired a consultant this year to find a permanent site for Zoe.
The Colonia sites identified by the consultant are 6 1/2 acres at Rose Avenue and Colonia Road, five acres at Ramona School, 10 acres at Third Street and Juanita Avenue, and 2 1/2 acres at 125 Harrison Ave.
Other possible sites are seven acres at Pleasant Valley and Butler roads, three acres at 1827 Channel Islands Blvd., 11 acres at the Skyview Drive-In at 1250 South Oxnard Blvd. and the shelter's present site on Rose Avenue.
The city is waiting for Zoe to decide which site it prefers, officials said. The City Council has final approval and must also decide whether to give Zoe $40,000 to help buy its new site, Gonzalez said.
Officials say the new shelter would serve 180 to 200 people and include a cafeteria, school, storage area and office space.
After hearing from Colonia residents Tuesday, council members directed city housing officials to again study whether the present site is viable. The action was a step toward leaving the shelter where it is, Councilman Manuel Lopez said. The report should be completed in about three weeks, Gonzalez said.
Judy said he is worried that the quest to find a new site will drag on, continuing to cost the shelter grants that come up in September.
"We cannot continue to play cat-and-mouse games, otherwise we will have to shut down," Judy said. "We can't receive funds where we are because of the city's report."
Judy said he found the protests ironic because many of the people served by the shelter were minorities from the Colonia.
"I think it's time now for the city to be led by moral values," said Judy, who lives in a room at the facility. "I really dislike the idea of talking of the shelter like it carries some kind of disease."