Orange County sheriff’s deputies were advising transients in San Clemente Friday that they could no longer camp out at the north beach and could move their tents to a city yard, San Clemente Mayor Pro Tem Dan Bane said.
City officials and deputies were advising the transients of the new ordinance and their options, Bane said.
“If they need help transporting (their possessions) to the new site” then officials will help the transients relocate to the city yard near Avenida Pico and Avenida Vista Hermosa, Bane said.
“We’re not prohibiting people from sleeping outside,” Bane said. “But if they want tents, then it needs to be in the city yard.”
The mayor pro tem characterized the city yard as a “controlled environment” with security and restrooms accessible to the disabled.
“And we’re looking for partners, nonprofits and other groups to bring in food and control that as well,” Bane said.
There are also other “house rules” in the yard such as no alcohol or open flames or the storage of propane tanks, Bane said.
“Essentially, all we’re doing is enforcing the urgency ordinance that the city adopted this week,” said Carrie Braun, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. “We’re requesting that the individuals who have tents or structures (at north beach) to remove them… So we are just seeking voluntary compliance.”
Bane pointed to a violent brawl between two transients Thursday evening as an example of why officials felt compelled to break up the camp on the beach.
“One of the gentlemen was beaten up so badly he was taken to intensive care unconscious,” Bane said. “A resident had to intervene or it would have gotten worse. It underscores the situation we have there and the need for the city to step in, not just for our residents, but the homeless population as well.”
Braun said deputies have a suspect in the assault who was still at-large.
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.
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.
But attorneys for the city fired back in a letter saying the legal arguments from the homeless advocates were “frivolous” and were “designed merely as a scare tactic to pressure the city” or deputies.
The city’s attorneys say the homeless encampments are obstructing public rights of way and impeding access to public facilities, which raises “serious health, safety, sanitation and environmental concerns that the city is obligated to address.”
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