Prado Road site is being considered for SLO homeless shelter

The effort to build a homeless services center in San Luis Obispo could result in an unlikely partnership between the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County and the San Luis Obispo Regional Transit Authority.

The two agencies have signed a memorandum of understanding to study the feasibility of purchasing a 9-acre property on 40 Prado Road.

The RTA is searching for about 5 acres on which to build a maintenance and operations facility. CAPSLO is looking for up to 3 acres to build the homeless services center. Those plans call for 200 beds, a commercial kitchen, laundry facilities, showers, lockers and storage, as well as offices for caseworkers, a classroom for children and community and multipurpose rooms.

The two agencies could purchase the property and subdivide it to develop the projects separately.

The partnership could ease the burden of both agencies in funding overall improvements to the property by sharing those costs. Any costs associated directly with either development would be the responsibility of that agency, according to the agreement.

The location of the homeless services center became controversial when people in the business community rallied against plans to build it in the vacant lot next to the county Department of Social Services on South Higuera Street.

The privately-owned property on Prado Road was thrust into the spotlight as a preferred option by some, including businessman Bill Thoma, who led the effort against the Higuera Street location.

The aging Maxine Lewis Memorial Homeless Shelter, the city’s only shelter, has only 50 beds available. Churches offer overflow beds because need surpasses the number of beds available.

Geoff Straw, RTA executive director, said the agency has been looking for a new location for its maintenance and operations facility, knowing that it will outgrow its current location on Cross Street in the next 10 to 15 years.

That facility will be used to park and maintain buses and house dispatch and administration departments.

RTA’s lease at its current location expires in 2017, and a prior effort to purchase the Cross Street property failed, Straw said.

The Prado Road property is not the only one being considered by the RTA. The transit agency has also considered pursuing a long-term lease of a county property on Kansas Avenue next to the Sheriff’s Office.

The Prado site has some advantages because of its close proximity to town, Straw said.

CAPSLO did not pursue the Prado Road property in the past because of barriers to construction: It is on a floodplain, there are high-voltage utility lines bisecting the property, and a portion of it will eventually be needed for a planned overpass at Highway 101.

Jim Famalette, chief operating officer of CAPSLO, said the possible partnership with RTA could eliminate some of those development concerns.

An additional barrier for CAPSLO in the past was the nearly $2 million price tag of the property.

That cost would be significantly less to CAPSLO should the two agencies decide to jointly purchase the property.

Famalette said a $1 million state grant for the homeless services center, tied to a deadline that requires the center to be built by mid-2015 or be revoked, can be used for the project if it is moved to Prado Road.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” Famalette said.