The Laguna Woods City Council was meeting Friday evening in an emergency closed session to discuss the county’s plan to house transients in a hotel in the city to combat the spread of coronavirus among the homeless.
City officials have threatened potential litigation to try to block the county’s decision to rent out the 138-bed Ayres Hotel at 24341 El Toro Road.
Mayor Pro Tem Shari L. Horne said she doesn’t object to housing the homeless in the hotel, but she doesn’t want any sick transients there. The plan is to use the hotel to house the elderly, those with underlying health conditions and deemed at high risk of the virus and those suspected of having coronavirus and those who have tested positive.
“There’s two different issues here that they’re conflating,” Horne told City News Service. “I understand the homeless issue. Many of us are very sensitive to the homeless. But this is a different issue. They’re bringing sick people with the virus here, and we have in my community 76 people over 100 years old. We’re a senior community. People are trying our best to remain well.”
Horne noted that the elderly are the most vulnerable to dying from the virus.
About 90% of the city consists of Laguna Woods Village, a private gated retirement community formerly known as Leisure World. More than 80% of residents of the city are 65 and older.
Orange County CEO Frank Kim said Thursday that the hotel would be a lockdown facility, so private security would stop the guests from coming and going, but if anyone fails to follow the rules they will have to leave.
Orange County Supervisors Lisa Bartlett and Don Wagner argued the hotel is a more effective way of managing the contagious disease among the homeless than letting them wander around on the streets, and that it will help protect the public at-large.
“It’s totally disingenuous for them to say that,” Horne said.
“They’re bringing sick people into the midst of the most vulnerable population, so we’ll do everything we can to stop this. Our residents are demanding it. They’re scared, and I support them, she said. “There are empty motels and hotels all over the county for them to put the sickest homeless people.”
Kim, however, said it has proven difficult to find hotels willing to take on the transients. It may have something to do with the county having to pay $4.5 million to settle a dispute with a motel in Anaheim which sustained property damage and loss of revenue when transients were housed there after relocating them from an encampment along the Santa Ana riverbed, Kim said.
A hotel in the city of Orange is likely to be the first to house transients, who aren’t likely to be housed at Ayres for another week or so, Kim said.
Horne said: “These people will be walking around, shopping in our stores and using up all the medical supplies.”
Kim said the farthest from their room the guests could go would be the courtyard area.
A group of residents held a protest outside the hotel on Friday afternoon.
Horne said residents are likely to boycott the hotel now. It had been a popular hotel for the families of residents visiting grandparents, she said.
A message left for the hotel was not immediately returned.
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