It’s one thing when thousands of homeless people line up in tents and sleep on cardboard boxes in skid row in downtown Los Angeles. It’s something entirely different when the homeless are shipped off to wealthy communities in ritzy Orange County.
Last week, the largest crowd Laguna Niguel City Hall has ever seen demanded to be heard. In an emergency meeting, hundreds who live in the wealthy the South Orange County city `told the City Council they do not want the property adjacent their library, city hall and a daycare in Laguna Niguel to become a homeless tent city.
The outrage was in response to the County Board of Supervisors who voted to temporarily house hundreds of homeless in Huntington Beach, Irvine and in Laguna Niguel.
The county officials’ plans call for tent camps in Irvine, Laguna Niguel and Huntington Beach on county-owned land. The Irvine City Council voted unanimously late Tuesday to sue the county to stop the proposal. The Board of Supervisors’ vote is part of an effort to wrestle with a growing homeless problem in Orange County.
“How does this solve the problem?” Mayor Donald P. Wagner said during a special meeting he organized to respond to the county.
The Laguna Niguel City Council also voted unanimously Tuesday to initiate litigation against the county, citing the county’s plan to create a homeless encampment just a few steps from a public library, daycare center and elementary school.
I am stunned that anyone at the county thought it was a good idea to place 100 homeless individuals in tents that are adjacent to not only a residential neighborhood of young families, but also a daycare center where innocent children play and just a few hundred yards from an elementary school,” said Laguna Niguel Mayor Elaine Gennawey. “This is a public safety tragedy waiting to happen and we will do everything in our power to prevent this from occurring.”
The homeless relocation began when county officials removed homeless people from encampments near the California Angles stadium. The homeless were given temporary hotel vouchers, but those are now expiring and the county doesn’t have a long term plan in place to deal with the growing problem.
In Laguna Niguel, more than 600 residents stormed City Hall on Tuesday night, filling the council chambers and an overflow room, with excess crowd forced to stand outside. The highly charged meeting was attended by Orange County Supervisors Lisa Bartlett and Todd Spitzer, who both spoke to the community at the start of the meeting.
Spitzer was the lone “no vote” on the relocation, and called his colleagues’ decision “boneheaded.”
Bartlett argued with Spitzer on Tuesday saying she, too, opposed the plan, but that she voted to approve the plan because she knew if she didn’t, the judge would immediately take charge of the situation.
Her comments elicited boos and calls for recall from the crowd.
Laguna Niguel Mayor Elaine Gennawey spoke as well.
“I’m outraged by the Orange County Board of Supervisors poorly thought out decision to move their homeless tents out of the Santa Ana River Trail and move it to three different cities,” Gennawey said. “This does nothing to alleviate the problem of homelessness that has grown due to the Board of Supervisor’s abdication of leadership. It is unclear how moving the homeless into temporary tents in an area that lacks public transportation, is not pedestrian friendly, far from an employment center and far from services will benefit the homeless population in our county.”
In an emergency closed session following the Council’s regular meeting, Laguna Niguel City Council voted 5-0 to authorize litigation against the county with the help of outside counsel.
At the Irvine City Council meeting Tuesday, about 60 showed up to protest the plan to move a tent city to their neighborhood. Most expressed concern about safety and a drop in property value.
Parrisa Yazdani, who has lived in Irvine for three years, said growing up in a town with serious homeless problems motivated her to make sure her children don’t go through such an experience.
“We all have worked extremely hard to move in to this wonderful city,” she told the council. “Please don’t let them ruin it over night.”