Operation Embrace, a homeless outreach program at Harbor Church in midtown Ventura, will be discontinued in the near future, at least at its current location.
Ventura City Council deadlocked in a 2-2 vote Monday night to sustain or appeal the planning commission’s decision in October to deny a permit for the church, which is located in a residential neighborhood next to a school and a park. Because of the deadlock, the standard protocol is to uphold the prior decision of the commission. The church can appeal the decision though it is uncertain an appeal is under way.
Mayor Cheryl Heitmann and Councilman Mike Tracy voted in favor in sustaining the commission’s decision; Councilmen Carl Morehouse and Neal Andrews dissented; Councilmen Jim Monahan and Erik Nasarenko recused themselves because they voiced their concerns about the church during the last election season; and Councilwoman Christy Weir was absent.
Since the establishment of the program in 2008, neighbors have voiced their concerns about the increased crime — Ventura police stated it’s up 60 percent — and other similar issues directly related to the increased vagrant population in the area before and after the operating hours of the program. They have long contended it is a bad location for such operations and the zoning doesn’t allow for it. Church officials claimed First Amendment protection for freedom of religion.
Jeffrey Lambert, Ventura’s community development director, said the next step is to provide the church this week with a notice to stop operations, and the church will have a limited time to comply, which may be up to 30 days as is normal with code enforcement issues. If the church fails to comply, the city will issue at most three citations with fines attached. If the church does not comply at that point, the matter will be handed to the city attorney’s office. Lambert noted that although Operation Embrace will end, there are other service providers in the area.
“We want to use this opportunity to remind people there are services available: Salvation Army, Turning Point, Project Understanding, also county behavioral health. This isn’t the only service provider in town,” Lambert said, naming a few.
Concerned neighbors have long been under fire for NIMBYism (not in my backyard), though Lambert stated that it’s not really the case as there is actual evidence that shows increased problems in the area whereas NIMBYism is more of a mindset against hypothetical situations.
Lambert said that Operation Embrace may continue if it finds a proper location in areas zoned commercial or perhaps industrial with the proper permit and that the city has offered to help find a better location. The cost to move, however, would have to be funded by the church.