SANTA ANA (CBSLA) — Orange County supervisors decided Tuesday to abandon a controversial plan to erect large tents in Irvine, Huntington Beach and Laguna Niguel to temporarily house homeless people recently removed from the Santa Ana riverbed.
Dozens of protesters, the biggest contingent of whom was from Irvine, were brought in by the busload and gathered outside the meeting, which began at 9 a.m. At times, it got heated as members of the crowd yelled at supervisors.
"These tent cities does not provide any healthy conditions to the people living in there, but also, it erodes internally and externally to its communities," one woman told the board.
On the other side were the homeless advocates, who were also out in full force Tuesday.
"It's up to all us, every city, to be a part of the solution and not just be riled up when shelters are wanting to be built, you know, based on state-mandated legislation that makes it so that there are lands for homeless shelters to be able to take care of this growing crisis," homeless advocate Joese Hernandez said.
This comes after supervisors on March 19 held a special meeting to approve consideration of "sprung structures," which are large tents hotels often use to handle overflow from ballrooms. The supervisors voted to direct staff to research the logistics and then work with officials in each of the three cities, but the plan never got far as residents and city leaders erupted with outrage and threatened litigation.
State Sen. John Moorlach told CBS2 that U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, who is overseeing the lawsuit against some O.C. cities from homeless advocates, is asking the impossible.
"We've got a federal judge that says, 'Hey, release inmates,' on one end, and I got a federal judge saying, 'Take care of those homeless," on this end," Moorlach said.
In the absence of a viable solution, Moorlach has floated the idea of turning the soon-to-be shuttered, state-run Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa as one possible place to house some of the homeless in question.
"We only want to put maybe a hundred people there, not 200 to 250 to 4,000, all these numbers that are running around," Moorlach said.
He also had some words for people completely opposed to any housing for the homeless being placed around them.
"You can't just keep tying the hands of people that are trying help out by just being obstinate about it," Moorlach said. "We've got to find our balance; we've gotta say, you know, 'When does compassion kick in,' more than 'Not in my backyard.' Because, baby, it is in your backyard. It's on your riding trails. It's on Fairview Park. We've got homeless everywhere."
The city council is scheduled to meet at the Costa Mesa Senior Center Wednesday at a 4 p.m. closed session meeting. The public is encouraged to attend at 5 p.m.
Last month, hundreds of homeless people were cleared from a two-mile stretch of the Santa Ana riverbed – from Santa Ana to Anaheim -- after months of wrangling between homeless advocates and county and city officials.
During the ordeal, the Orange County Catholic Worker group and several homeless people filed a federal lawsuit against the governments of O.C., and the cities of Anaheim, Orange and Costa Mesa, claiming that removing the homeless from the riverbed violated a broad range of constitutional protections. OCCW argued that evicting the transients would disperse them to the surrounding cities, where they will be cited for trespassing, loitering and anti-camping laws.
The lawsuit resulted in a deal between the advocates and municipal officials in which the homeless would be removed from the riverbed and then be given 30-day motel vouchers while the county looks for more permanent solutions.
Those vouchers are set to run out, however.
County officials are confident they have enough beds to handle the transients from the riverbed, but to satisfy Judge Carter, they pledged to pursue the large tents in the three cities in case they lacked enough beds. The plan was to put 200 beds in Irvine, with 100 each set aside in Huntington Beach and Laguna Niguel. If the beds were filled in Irvine then officials would then turn to Huntington Beach and then to Laguna Niguel.
Hundreds of Irvine residents turned out Sunday to voice their opposition to placing the homeless in a temporary shelter across from the O.C. Great Park, which consists of 100 acres of county-owned land.
Officials in Huntington Beach complained the property in their city is plagued with methane gas issues, and Laguna Niguel officials say the plot of land under consideration in their city is next to the now-shuttered O.C. Superior Courthouse, which has issues with asbestos and mold.
Last week, meanwhile, Moorlach and O.C. Supervisor Shawn Nelson laid out a plan to house the homeless in part of the Fairview Developmental Center. That plan has also been met with a great deal of opposition. Neighbors say there is an elementary school, high school and a Boys and Girls Club nearby.
The urgency to find additional beds came from Carter's plan to see a similar relocation of transients from the Plaza of the Flags area next to the Central Justice Center courthouse in Santa Ana. But Carter told supervisors at a court hearing last week he would tap the brakes on that plan to make sure officials have enough beds for the 170 or so transients there.
Nelson chaired Tuesday's meeting as Chairman Andrew Do is out of town.
Nelson has long championed putting up a temporary shelter at the Great Park, because Irvine officials have zoned it for the homeless. The Huntington Beach and Laguna Niguel sites are not yet zoned for the homeless.
At the special meeting March 19, the supervisors also voted to spend $70.5 million of money earmarked for the mentally ill to provide beds for the transients through the construction of a new facility or renovation of existing facilities.
The O.C. homeless crisis 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.
Deputies began slowly clearing the encampments in January, when they began going tent to tent along the Santa Ana River telling people the area will be closed and they need to move. The area was completely cleared out in February.
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