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South OC Cities Sued to Provide More Homeless Shelter

Homeless advocates who sued Orange County to prevent enforcement of anti-camping ordinances have filed another federal lawsuit naming several south county cities that they say have done nothing to solve homelessness or have stood in the way of solutions.

The cities included in the latest lawsuit are Irvine, San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano, Dana Point and Aliso Viejo. But other south county cities such as Laguna Niguel, and even some north county cities such as Huntington Beach, could face exposure if they cannot provide proof of adequate shelter for transients, said plaintiffs' attorney Brooke Weitzman.

"In south county it's really glaring," Weitzman said of the lack of shelter space for transients. Laguna Beach was not named in the litigation because it has a shelter that came out of settlement of a prior lawsuit.

U.S. District Judge David O. Carter has been overseeing litigation that was initially filed to halt the county from breaking up an encampment on the Santa Ana riverbed in the Anaheim area, and later extended to clearing out the Civic Center area in downtown Santa Ana and other encampments in various cities. It's unclear if the most recent suit filed Wednesday night also will be assigned to him.

Carter has prodded north county cities to reach settlements so he does not have to issue restraining orders preventing the enforcement of the anti- camping ordinances, which could lead to years of expensive litigation.

Under current federal law, municipalities cannot enforce the anti-camping ordinances unless they can show they have enough shelter for the homeless in their jurisdiction. Settlements have been reached with the cities of Orange and Tustin so far. Santa Ana volunteered to join the case, so it was never sued.

"We continue to talk with Costa Mesa, Anaheim and the county" about settling, Weitzman said. The lawsuit says the cities are required by state law to zone for homeless shelters and then follow through, but in some cases have not provided the shelter.


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In Irvine, the city zoned property near the Orange County Great Park and then resisted letting the county set up an emergency shelter there. Irvine Mayor Don Wagner, who is running for Orange County supervisor in next month's special election, said he hadn't received a copy of the lawsuit yet so he couldn't comment on it in detail.

"I would just say, though, I was thinking progress was being made," Wagner said. "I'm a little disappointed we're back into another round of litigation, but I'll know more after I read the lawsuit."

A representative of Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett said her office was consulting with the county counsel's office before crafting a response.

But Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do, who pushed to include the south county cities in the litigation when he was chairman of the board last year, said the latest legal action "is simply a follow-thru on their stated intention" to do just that.

"Cities have land use authority over 90 percent of the county," Do said. "Homelessness is a regional issue that cannot be addressed without city involvement. Plaintiffs' counsel has indicated brining in additional cities into the lawsuit since summer last year."

The newest litigation details multiple issues related to providing shelter for the homeless in south county, including a lack of public transportation to north county shelters.

For instance, it can be a mile walk from train stations, which is especially difficult for the disabled, the lawsuit says. The shelter in Laguna Beach "is a very small shelter, with a capacity of 45 beds in trailers, open only at night," according to the lawsuit.

"Only 11 percent of the guests reported a last known address" in Laguna Beach, the lawsuit says."

Aliso Viejo topped the list of other Orange County cities with 28 individuals, totaling seven percent of the population at the (Laguna Beach shelter)." Mission Viejo had 13 guests, followed by San Clemente with 10, according to the complaint.

In other shelters, transients must participate in religious services such as at Salvation Army facilities, the lawsuit says. The lawsuit also aims to prevent cities from developing property zoned for the homeless if it is not truly earmarked to shelter transients.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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