Orange County

Santa Ana Prepares to Sue Orange County for Aid with Homelessness

The rift among Orange County communities and their local governments over response to the homeless crisis has led to preparations for another lawsuit, this one contemplated by the city of Santa Ana against the County of Orange.

The vote by the Santa Ana City Council on Friday to explore "legal options" came as the action hour neared for the homeless encampments in the plaza of the Santa Ana Civic Center. The homeless have been notified that effective Monday overnight camping will no longer be permitted, and enforcement will begin the following day. As many as 200 have been staying there.

Officials say the plan is to have social workers meet with the camp occupants to direct them to services, though the notice makes clear "no motel or food vouchers will be offered."

Motel vouchers were provided last month when hundreds of homeless were moved out of encampments along the banks of the Santa Ana River through the cities of Anaheim and Orange. New challenges loom as those housing vouchers expire.

The homeless census a year ago counted nearly 4,800 homeless in Orange County, and none of its 34 cities has more than Santa Ana, the county seat and home for government agencies and services.

"Our position is that we just want the problem to be fairly shouldered by all 34 cities," said Santa Ana City Councilman Vicente Sarmiento, who authored the motion that could lead to the city suing the county.

Such a suit would not be intended as hostile, Sarmiento said, but as more of a legal maneuver to provide the city greater standing in the federal court of District Judge David O. Carter, who is presiding over a lawsuit filed by homeless against Orange County, and therefore has oversight over response actions.

"More than anything, we want the issues addressed in federal court," Sarmiento said.

Two weeks ago, Orange County Supervisors had approved a plan for homeless shelters to be located on county property in the cities of Irvine, Laguna Niguel, and Huntington Beach. Residents protested, and the city councils of Irvine and Laguna Niguel voted to take legal action.

Tuesday, supervisors rescinded that plan.

Wednesday, Irvine Mayor Don Wagner and County Supervisor Todd Spitzer proposed providing permanent housing specifically for women and veterans on county property in the city of Irvine on Alton Parkway.

The joint announcement said Wagner and Spitzer would share their plan Tuesday with Judge Carter, who has called on all Orange County cities to bring action proposals.

The proposal for the Irvine site is "not a bad step,"  Sarmiento said, then went on to criticize it for not going far enough. "We can't cherry pick and select one element of the population and say we've done our fair share."

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