A federal judge Tuesday is expected to sign off on a settlement of two federal lawsuits stemming from attempts to clear the Santa Ana riverbed of a homeless encampment.
U.S. District Judge David O. Carter will preside over an afternoon hearing, expected to result in a landmark agreement governing how county officials respond to a growing population of transients.
The agreement will allow the county to enforce nuisance laws on county property by creating two zones — one in which transients can be arrested immediately and another that requires that law enforcement first do outreach and try to move the transients into shelters, Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do said.
The restricted areas allowing for immediate arrest include John Wayne Airport, flood control channels and high-risk wilderness areas. In other areas, officials will send social workers to engage with transients, but if they refuse services, they could be taken to jail, he said.
Transients with an obvious medical condition would be taken to a health clinic first for assessment before placement in an appropriate shelter, Do said.
A procedure built into the agreement will allow Carter to resolve grievances, Do said.
The settlement also prevents the Orange County Sheriff’s Department from enforcing anti-camping laws in its contract cities unless those cities have shown they have provided adequate shelter for their homeless population, Do said.
Last month, a dozen northern Orange County cities approved a settlement in the federal litigation, agreeing to build two shelters in Buena Park and Placentia. Those two “navigation centers” will provide a variety of services to the homeless aimed at getting them into permanent housing.
Cities in south Orange County, however, are still embroiled in federal litigation. U.S. District Judge James Selna recently ruled that Carter had made some comments during the case that could be viewed as prejudicial, so the case was sent to a federal judge in Los Angeles County.
The Santa Ana-based homeless activist organization Orange County Catholic Worker sued in January of last year to stop a move to clear out hundreds of transients camped out on the riverbed near Angel Stadium.
Attorney Brooke Weitzman, who represents some of the plaintiffs in the federal suit, said the dispute resolution before Carter will be available for three years. That will give both sides time to iron out bugs in the process, she added.
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