ACLU and County in Settlement Talks on Riverbed Homeless Suit

County officials and the American Civil Liberties Union have entered into settlement talks regarding a lawsuit alleging that the county illegally trapped homeless people in the Santa Ana riverbed.

The federal suit, filed late last week by the ACLU of Southern California, alleges that the county fenced in and effectively “imprisoned” at least 75 homeless people who live along the river. The county disputes that claim, with Supervisor Shawn Nelson calling it “dishonest” and “ridiculous.”

U.S. District Judge David O. Carter was slated to decide at a Thursday morning hearing whether to approve the ACLU’s request for a restraining order against the county. But after both sides talked about the case Wednesday, they agreed to cancel the hearing.

“The county and the ACLU sat down and had a discussion today,” county spokeswoman Carrie Braun said Wednesday evening. The two sides, she said, “have not reached an agreement officially, but the county felt like the conversation was progressing and that there wasn’t a need for the hearing tomorrow.”

Brendan Hamme, one of the ACLU’s lead attorneys in the case, indicated that the talk was constructive. “We were heartened by today’s discussion and look forward to further discussions with the county,” Hamme said.

The development came the day after county attorneys were slated to get direction from the Board of Supervisors on how to proceed in the case.

Advocates have been protesting the county’s actions to evict people from the riverbed as part of a project to replace a homeless encampment with boulders and sand for public works projects.

In its lawsuit, the ACLU claimed that fencing put up by the county has “not only illegally restricted the liberty of the homeless people living in the encampment, but it has also cut them off from access to food, water, and medical care thus threatening their health and well-being.”

County officials dispute this characterization, saying there have been four “access points” in the fencing for people to enter and exit. And they say the camp needs to be cleared so officials can store sand and boulders to prevent flooding and replenish beaches.

Homeless advocates, meanwhile, say the new fencing requires disabled homeless people to walk up to a mile to get to the nearest exit. And they claim that the public works project is really just a ruse to evict homeless people from the area.

Angry residents showed up to the county Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday to demand that supervisors stop the evictions until housing options are available. Supervisors didn’t respond, other than to scold them for clapping.

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at

  • Sisu54

    Nick Gerda marked my comments as spam because I pointed out the county had reached agreement with the ACLU before he wrote his story about it.

    So much for a free press and freedom of speech. Nick unblock my comments.

  • Sisu54

    ACLU and the county have cut a deal to remove the homeless from the Santa Ana River. They are concerned the Feds will step in and stop all grant funding for OC because they are violating Federal environmental protection regulations by allowing the non permitted development in the river, floodplain and floodway!

  • Sisu54

    ACLU usually sues the government to clean up the rivers, floodplains and floodways in Michigan, NY, the South and the Rust Belt. In the OC ACLU sues the government to allow the point and non point source pollution to continue and also create a hazard for flood control, emergency services folks and the public.
    The non permitted developments on the Santa Ana River violate local, state and federal rules, regulations and laws including EPA Clean Water laws, EPA point and non point source pollution, Obama and Carter FEMA flood control executive orders, US Army Corp of Engineers/ OC DPW flood control maintenance agreements, Coastal Commission Rules, Regulations and Laws, local trespass laws in the cities abutting the River. The OC DPW cant have the county sheriff patrol the river because the local police unions and county sheriff unions will file time claims if the other patrols the river.
    This is a mess. Governor Brown wants to protect the environment yet he tells the Coastal Commission to not file or tell the county to follow the clean water rule. Yet the Coastal Commission sues and orders the Salvation Army to clean up their encampments on land they own on the same river.
    So Cal ACLU is so concerned with the homeless yet they don’t spend any of the $42 million dollars in assets cash, stocks and real estate they own along with the $350K a year the CEO makes and the $220 the legal director makes to help out the homeless. The ACLU only gets donations if they homeless are visible, so to keep the cash flowing they need to keep the homeless in view on the river.
    I guess the ACLU has decided its better to violate clean water regulations to keep their donations flowing.

  • OCservant_Leader

    The BOS’s high priced “Crisis Managment Consultant” must have convinced them they can’t win this war of public opinion.