The Santa Ana City Council voted unanimously Friday to seek legal options for the city to sue Orange County and force additional action by other communities to help hundreds of homeless people in the city.
The move comes three days after the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted to cancel a plan to erect large tents in Irvine, Huntington Beach and Laguna Niguel to temporarily house transients from Santa Ana. The decision was made as a result of vehement opposition from the three cities.
“Santa Ana has been the epicenter of Orange County’s homelessness problem for decades. Shielded from passersby on our busy freeways, the homeless population in the city’s Plaza of the Flags has been a concern for several years, yet no action has been taken,” Mayor Pro Tem Michelle Martinez said.
“Within several hundred yards of City Hall and the county Hall of Administration, there are now over 600 sheltered and unsheltered homeless. What more must Santa Ana do? Legal action seems to be one of the few remaining options.”
The 6-0 vote with one member not voting directs the city attorney to report back on Tuesday with legal options that would forcibly spread the responsibility of homeless solutions across the county.
In a separate motion, the council voted to conduct an updated point-in-time count of the homeless population, release the city’s draft Homeless Plan for public comment and develop a cost estimate for tripling the size of the Quality of Life Team.
“The city of Santa Ana is standing up for our city and calling on every community in Orange County to do their part as well,” Councilman Vicente Sarmiento said. “Everyone has a lot of work to do and no one knows this better than Santa Ana. Let’s go solve this crisis.”
The homelessness situation in Orange County has escalated into a crisis in recent weeks since the city cleared hundreds of homeless people from encampments in the riverbed. The plan to erect tents in Irvine, Huntington Beach and Laguna Niguel came after a March 17 court hearing presided over by U.S. District Judge David O. Carter.
Carter is overseeing a lawsuit that led to a settlement in which transients were recently moved out of encampments along the riverbed and into motels. Those motel stays were expected to be completed earlier this week, with all of the transients wishing further services housed elsewhere.
Carter has since turned his attention to clearing out the encampments in Santa Ana’s civic center area next to the courthouse, but the question of where they will be housed remains open.
The Costa Mesa City Council voted Wednesday to “strongly oppose” any proposal to house some of the area’s homeless in the state-operated Fairview Developmental Center for the developmentally disabled.
“The Board of Supervisors is trying to shirk their own responsibility by putting the burden on the cities that are already doing more than their fair share on homelessness in Orange County,” Costa Mesa Councilwoman Katrina Foley said.
At the meeting, Supervisor Shawn Nelson said Costa Mesa officials’ worries about the Fairview site were premature, though he acknowledged that he asked Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, to ask state officials if it was possible to house transients there. State officials have plans to close the facility by 2020.
Nelson also complained that any suggestion of operating emergency shelters anywhere in the county is met immediately with opposition from “NIMBYs.”
“Everyone thinks we should do something about the homeless, but no one wants the beds,” Nelson said. “Meanwhile, Santa Ana and Anaheim have been shouldering this for years. It’s unfortunate, but you get this visceral reaction which makes it really difficult to have a conversation because the entire conversation is spent defusing false narratives.”