SAN CLEMENTE (CNS) - Orange County sheriff's deputies will advise transients in San Clemente today what shelters and assistance are available to them, but will not be taking anyone to a city yard where city officials now want the homeless to camp, a sheriff's spokeswoman said.
The San Clemente City Council approved a plan Tuesday to move transients from the north beach area of the city to a city yard near Avenida Pico and Avenida Vista Hermosa. However, attorneys representing the county's homeless in federal lawsuits have threatened to sue the city if they follow through with the plan.
Sheriff's deputies on Thursday, while relocating out of their San Clemente station because of an asbestos problem, were working on a plan on how to approach the transients in the beach area on Friday, said Carrie Braun of the Orange County Sheriff's Department.
The deputies were working on a “balance of outreach and enforcement,” Braun said.
Social workers will be made available to help the transients understand what options are available to them.
“Depending on the information we get from county counsel that will dictate what enforcement action they will take,” Braun said. “But the sheriff's department will not be moving anyone physically to the city yard.”
The attorneys for the homeless sent a letter to city officials on Wednesday advising them that unless the city provided indoor shelter beds for the homeless they cannot legally enforce anti-camping ordinances.
City staff wrote a memo to council members this week arguing that the “ban on enforcement does not apply when the city finds that exigent circumstances relating to immediate threats to the public health, safety and welfare...”
The attorneys for the homeless say the city is mistaken, citing a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that prohibits the enforcement of anti-camping ordinances unless municipal officials can establish they have provided adequate shelter space as an alternative.
Attorneys Carol Sobel, Brooke Weitzman and Catherine Sweetser, who represent the homeless in the Orange County federal litigation before U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, wrote the letter objecting to the plan to move transients “to a fenced parking lot that will be subject to monitoring and security.”
They said city officials have mistakenly interpreted the 9th Circuit ruling and deliberately “misquoted” part of it to avoid providing “indoor” shelter.
“The city may not avoid the requirement of adequate indoor shelter,” their letter says. “If the city enforces its urgent ordinance, it will violate the Eighth Amendment under (the recent federal appellate ruling).”
The attorneys noted that the city failed to pass an emergency shelter ordinance earlier that would have allowed it to qualify for “considerable funds” through Homeless Emergency Aid Program grants.
“The city also has an offer of nearly $1 million from the Emergency Shelter Coalition,” the attorneys' letter says. “In any event, a defense of indigency will not excuse the city from the obligation to comply with the law in this instance.”
The attorneys said the city's plan “replicates the inhumane camps now holding refugees and asylum seekers along the southern border of the United States. Unsheltered individuals are not criminals. The city is not even willing to provide basic shelters for individuals at this location.”
They said the lot has a “gravel base” that will make the land hot during the summer and provide no shade, and argued that confining transients to a fenced area with security would be a Fourth Amendment violation.
City officials have not returned messages for comment.