Progress Made on OC Homeless Litigation But New Snags, Too

SANTA ANA (CNS) - Santa Ana officials announced today they have a 200- bed homeless shelter due to open within days, as officials in Orange, Anaheim and Tustin edge closer to providing beds for transients as they work to settle a lawsuit challenging anti-camping ordinances.

But Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Andrew Do raised issues with the “side deals” cities are cutting with plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit earlier this year to stop sheriff's deputies from clearing out a massive encampment along the Santa Ana riverbed in Anaheim.

Since then, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter has steered everyone involved in the lawsuit to negotiate settlements rather than go to trial, saying litigation would take years to resolve. Carter has the authority to issue a restraining order preventing local officials from enforcing anti- camping ordinances unless a municipality can prove it has provided enough beds for its homeless population.

In a court hearing Monday, Santa Ana Mayor Pro Tem Michele Martinez showed a video of that city's new shelter, which will have dormitories for men, women and couples that include showers.

“Santa Ana has stepped up in an unprecedented way,” Martinez told Carter.

“We reached deep into our depleted pockets” to pay for the new facility, which was constructed in about a month, she said.

Retired Judge Jim Smith, who is acting as a special master helping all of the parties to the lawsuit resolve their differences, called it a “class A facility” and said the video “didn't do it justice.”

Orange County Chief Executive Officer Frank Kim told Carter that the city has made “substantial progress” in replacing the Courtyard emergency shelter in downtown Santa Ana, as well.

A proposed settlement agreement with 13 cities in the northern part of the county, however, has raised concerns among county officials.

Another proposed settlement agreement is pending with Tustin.

“I have asked repeatedly that if we're going to have a settlement, it has to be a global settlement,” Do told Carter.

Do also contended that the proposed agreement with the northern cities is unfair when it's still an open question what central and southern cities will do to contribute to solving the problem.

“We run into a problem of inconsistent terms being applies to a regional problem,” Do told City News Service after the hearing. “How do you engage people? What would be the proper protocol?”

If a northern city doesn't have a bed for a transient, where would they be then taken, Do asked.

“Why should a city take a homeless person from one city to another city?,” he said. “It's better to have the whole county in the lawsuit.”

Do said there is also “internal conflict” within each city and region of the county.

“We also have Huntington Beach, which hasn't done anything, and here is Santa Ana about to have its capacity increased within a year to 800 beds,” Do said. “What does that mean? That Huntington Beach should be rewarded by dragging their feet and they can send people within the central (region)? And that would be fair to Santa Ana? Those are the problems we run into when we don't look at solutions on a regional basis.”

Do added, “I would not support any settlement agreement with the plaintiffs unless all the cities are in the lawsuit. I'm very adamant about that.”

Supervisor Todd Spitzer agreed.

“I think that a global settlement is obviously critical,” Spitzer told CNS. “You don't want to settle in one part of the county and have the homeless living by a different standard elsewhere.”

Spitzer noted, however, that the county cannot build shelters without the consent of cities.

“We kept hitting a wall on that,” he said.

Spitzer said it was encouraging that multiple cities are “stepping up on their own.”

Spitzer was also encouraged by Carter's emphasis at Monday's hearing that a settlement of the litigation would free up law enforcement to arrest scofflaw transients who refuse services.

“We have to be able to arrest those people if they break the law, and Judge Carter understands that,” Spitzer said.

“I want what law enforcement wants -- their parks and beaches back,” Carter said. “I don't want you emasculated out there in any way.”

The plan would be to send social workers to places where the homeless congregate to invite them to participate in various services, and if they refuse, police would be able to enforce loitering and anti-camping laws.

Anaheim officials announced Monday they are close to setting up 400 beds at the Salvation Army facility by mid-December. Another location is being eyed for 150 beds.

Photos: Getty Images

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