OC Officials Move Closer to Homeless Solutions

SANTA ANA (CNS) - Santa Ana and Anaheim officials moved closer today to settling with homeless advocates who filed a federal class-action lawsuit to block law enforcement from enforcing anti-camping ordinances.

Santa Ana and Orange County officials have a tentative agreement to open a jointly operated 700-bed facility and Anaheim officials are working on a 200-bed site.

U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, who is presiding over the lawsuit, praised Anaheim and Santa Ana officials, but he prodded Santa Ana and Orange County leaders who had a memorandum of understanding that came a bit unglued yesterday to settle their differences.

Carter also pressed Costa Mesa City Manager Tom Hatch to consider using the Fairview Developmental Center in his city as a temporary shelter for transients.

Officials estimate there are 2,584 unsheltered transients in the county, so the goal is to provide shelter for 60 percent, or 1,550 people. Officials are hoping to set aside 425 beds for transients in northern cities, 200 to 300 for those in the central part of the county and 300 beds for transients in south county.

Carter said the county will receive at least $15.5 million in emergency shelter funds from the state in the coming year with $9.9 million for cities, including $5.1 million for Anaheim and $4.8 million for Santa Ana.

“So when I hear we don't have any money, yeah we do,” Carter said.

Carter ordered all of the attorneys back to court Sept. 7 for a hearing in which he will consider issuing a temporary restraining order if more progress isn't made to provide shelter beds.

Carter has the authority to issue a restraining order preventing cities from enforcing anti-camping ordinances until officials can provide proof they have enough beds for transients in their city.

The judge has been using the threat of the restraining order to prod local officials to work out a settlement or face “10 years of litigation” and the specter of scrambling to build shelter beds while being unable to arrest transients for camping.

Those cities could see a mass migration of transients from other cities where anti-camping ordinances could be enforced, Carter said.

Carter said he toured the Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa and said it was “ideal” as a temporary shelter because it has dormitories and other facilities that are largely unused on a sprawling campus.

Earlier this year state Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, and Supervisor Shawn Nelson asked state officials who own the property previously used to treat severely developmentally disabled about using it as a temporary shelter for the homeless. The proposal didn't set well with Costa Mesa City Council members and angry residents, prompting the council to pass a resolution opposing any such plan.

Hatch told the judge residents several years ago approved a general plan for the property which would set aside 50 percent of it for single-family homes, 25 percent for open space and 25 percent for “institutional activities.”

Carter pressed Hatch to have city officials call Gov. Jerry Brown, who the judge spoke with last night, to see if a deal could be worked out to let the county use the center as a temporary shelter.

“It's magnificent. It's perfect,” Carter said of the center.

The judge said any such move would be temporary to help officials work on more long-term plans for more permanent housing for the homeless.

Carter, however, said he understood any such move would be unpopular in the city.

“Costa Mesa is always wiling to do its fair share,” Hatch said.

Still up in the air is what leaders in south Orange County cities will do to address homelessness. Laguna Niguel City Manager Kristine Ridge said she heard Carter's admonitions “loud and clear” and would alert her colleagues.

Attorney Carol Sobel, who represents the homeless in the lawsuit, said she was optimistic all sides could come to a settlement. She referenced her 18 years of involvement in similar litigation in Los Angeles County.

“So this is like a speedway,” she told reporters after the hearing.

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