Laguna Hills officials said Friday they would consider suing to stop the county from using a hotel in the city to house transients, some sick and some healthy, to help with the state’s program to quarantine homeless people during the coronavirus pandemic.
The county this week signed a contract to use the Laguna Hills Inn, a 76-bed hotel at 23061 Avenida de la Carlota, to shelter transients, some who are sick with COVID-19, some who are older than 65, and others who have underlying medical conditions that make them especially vulnerable to the coronavirus.
“The City Council is deeply troubled with the county of Orange’s unilateral decision to place individuals afflicted with COVID-19 within 750 feet of a residential neighborhood and about one-third of a mile from the thousands of susceptible, elderly residents of Laguna Woods,” said Laguna Hills Mayor Janine Heft.
On Monday, the county announced it had abandoned plans to house transients in the 138-bed Ayres Hotel at 24341 El Toro Road in Laguna Woods because the hotel chain had exercised a clause to get out of its lease with the county. The plan drew lawsuits filed Monday morning by the City Council and the Laguna Woods Village retirement community, but were withdrawn when they learned the hotel chain backed out of its lease.
Heft claimed the county abandoned the plan “because of genuine concerns for this same older and more vulnerable population. This new location in Laguna Hills does nothing to solve that problem. I strongly urge the Orange County Board of Supervisors revisit the decision to open this facility.”
Orange County CEO Frank Kim said the county is participating in Project Roomkey, a federal program being administered by the state.
“What we’re doing is 100% lock and step with Project Roomkey,” Kim said.
The program is meant to help the homeless avoid getting sick, and to remove what could be a significant vector of transmission of the virus among the general population, Kim said.
“When you’re homeless you can’t isolate at home,” he said. “Ultimately, the goal of this program is to make sure the homeless population are protected, as well as all residents in Orange County. If we don’t protect them, the risk is this will spread like wildfire in Orange County and they will take up all of the (intensive care unit) beds in our hospitals.”
Overwhelming the area’s hospital system would not only place the homeless at risk, but the general population, as well, Kim said.
“We’re all in this together,” he said.
Laguna Hills, a city with a population of 31,572, has 13 confirmed cases of COVID-13. Laguna Woods, which has a population of 16,518 with a median age of 76, has seven cases.
Stanton Mayor David John Shawver said the county “has gotten smarter since the Laguna Woods incident” because the new contracts the county has executed do not have an escape clause.
Shawver said he and his City Council “scrutinized the process” and “how the facility will be run” when transients are housed in the Stanton Inn & Suites at 7161 Katella Ave.
“There are some things we made demands of,” Shawver said, including that people housed there cannot come and go as they please.
“We don’t want them wandering around with the disease,” he said. “So we made sure that wasn’t optional.”
Kim emphasized that the transients signing on for the program understand it is a lockdown facility. If they break the rules,they have to leave, he said. Private security will enforce the rules.
Shawver hopes county officials will do more after the emergency to help his city shelter a migration of transients from neighboring cities where officials have been allowed to enforce anti-camping laws.
“I’m inundated with homeless people,” he said. “I can’t help a lot of them and they don’t want to go to shelters.”
Shawver said it is important that county officials ramp up testing to help with any quarantine plans going forward. He said he worked with Rep. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, to get testing kits shipped into Orange County that are being used in Westminster.
The county will begin placing transients in the Stanton motel next week. The county is already housing some homeless people in a hotel in Orange,and officials are “working on a few more,” Kim said.
In a couple of weeks, the county expects to receive sprung structures, which are like large tents, to utilize in regional parks for some transients who aren’t sick.