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Judge's Order Temporarily Blocks Deputies From Clearing Santa Ana River Homeless Camps

SANTA ANA (CBSLA/AP) – The controversy over homeless encampments in the Santa Ana riverbed continued Wednesday when a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order prohibiting Orange County officials from enforcing anti-camping laws in the riverbed until at least next week.

The lawsuit filed last month by the Orange County Catholic Worker group and seven homeless people claims a broad range of violations of constitutional protections by the governments of Orange County and the cities of Anaheim, Costa Mesa and Orange for the two-mile camp which lies along a bike trail paralleling the Santa Ana River.

U.S. District Judge David O. Carter granted the restraining order when plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging plans to clear out transients from the riverbed claimed that county officials intended to begin enforcing the anti- camping laws on Tuesday.

A hearing on the requested preliminary injunction is set for Feb. 13.

The judge granted the temporary restraining order Wednesday, barring any criminal or misdemeanor violations. Carter said he would "allow police presence and will allow arrests for any probation or parole violations and any felonious conduct, to protect the homeless and the residents in the area."

But, Carter added, he would not tolerate "haphazard, hurried enforcement action in an effort to clear the population, in contravention of the fundamental issues that the court raised in its Feb. 4, 2018, order."

In Carter's Feb. 4 order, he raised the issue of kicking people out of the riverbed even when they have nowhere else to go.

For the past six months, Orange County Sheriff's deputies have been advising transients that they would have to eventually leave, and social workers are on site daily offering various services, Orange County Board Chairman Andrew Do said.

"We currently have the capacity to house people in shelters if they choose to take advantage of the services we provide," Do said. "At no time during this process have we ever run out of capacity in terms of beds available immediately to the residents of the riverbed, so, frankly, I don't know why Judge Carter did not wait until the hearing on Tuesday so he would be fully informed of the circumstances."

The homeless crisis in Orange County came to the forefront last September, when the Anaheim City Council declared a state of emergency for the more than 400 people who have been living in a tent city in the shadow of Angel Stadium.

That same month, the Santa Ana City Council also declared the homeless issue around the Santa Ana Civic Center a public health and safety crisis, while the O.C. Board of Supervisors approved a plan to increase law enforcement along the riverbed from Santa Ana to Anaheim.

In November, Orange County permanently closed the west side of the flood control channel between Santa Ana and Fountain Valley. During the process, authorities reportedly found about 1,000 bikes hidden in a tunnel system under a concrete flood control channel. Deputies also began strictly enforcing public access hours along the Santa Ana River Trail. Access is only allowed between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.

In January, deputies started going tent to tent along the Santa Ana River telling people the area will be closed and they need to move.

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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