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The Anaheim City Council has decided not to take any action on placing portable restrooms for homeless people near Angel Stadium after over five hours of public comment and council discussion.

Following the public remarks, Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait disclosed the council received a letter a few hours prior to the Aug. 29 meeting notifying it Anaheim does not have the authority to place restrooms in the proposed area near the Santa Ana riverbed.

In addition, Anaheim city staff advised the council that allowing the portable restrooms could be dangerous because they would be close to a helicopter landing area used by the Anaheim Police Department and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. The council directed staff to work with the county, which has jurisdiction over part of the riverbed, to find an alternative place for the portable restrooms.

The portable toilets were purchased by Mohammed Aly and his nonprofit organization, the Orange County Poverty Alleviation Coalition.

The Aug. 29 council meeting saw an unusually high turnout as the council room and two lobbies in the city building were packed with attendees, most interested in the restroom issue. During the public comment section 64 public speakers registered to speak, though some did not participate when called.

Several held up signs in support of the restrooms including “NO SANITATION = HEALTH HAZARD” and “Bathrooms are a Human Right” and some homeless residents of the riverbed were also present to support the restrooms.

Homeless advocate Lou Noble asked council members to “close your bathroom doors for a day or two” and “get a bag and a bucket,” holding up a bag of what appeared to be feces and asking, “What do you do with this on a daily basis?”

Homeowners spoke in opposition to the lavatories.

Michelle Mayorga said she was a third-generation Anaheim resident whose family has lived in the city for over 100 years.Putting in toilets for the homeless would be “enabling them” and supporting their “drug use, prostitution, theft and vandalism,”she said.

After three and a half hours of public remarks, Councilwoman Kris Murray attempted to provide the details for her “Operation Homesafe,” which she described as a new approach to homelessness in Anaheim.

She said her plan began by declaring a state of emergency, but she was gaveled out of order by Tait for using an incorrect part of the meeting to talk about her plan.

“You’re out of order,” both said to each other.

The dispute lasted several minutes with Tait consulting the city attorney on the council’s policy on comments by council members following the public’s comments.

Following the quarrel, staff mentioned that prior to the meeting, the council received a letter from the North Net Fire Training Authority’s lawyers stating it was “questioning” Anaheim’s authority to place the restrooms near the riverbed without checking in with them, as they have control of the area where the council planned to place the toilets.

Reading from the letter, Tait said Anaheim did not have the authority to place the toilets on the North Net Fire Training Authority’s land because “the training facility is to be maintained and operated by the authority pursuant to this agreement for the use and benefit of all members.”

“The proposed location of the portable toilets is on North Net property and it does not appear that Anaheim acting as a single member has the ability to bind the authority,” Tait read.

He said “maybe I should have said that before” allowing hours of public speakers but he “wanted to hear from the public” regardless.

The council decided not to take any action on the toilets and directed staff to continue ongoing discussions with the county to see if there is a better place to put them.

But Supervisor Todd Spitzer said in late May, “there is not a board majority at this time to support issuing an encroachment permit [to put restrooms near the riverbed].”

Murray requested an agenda item for the next council meeting agenda to discuss declaring a state of emergency regarding homelessness to focus more resources on getting people into housing.

If the restroom agenda item had been approved, it would have authorized and directed staff to work with Aly, whose nonprofit purchased the portable restrooms, to place the toilets and waive the application fee for the conditional license.

The licensing agreement would contain many requirements that would need to be met consistently or the license would be revoked. The toilets would also need to be installed in such a way that they would not cause problems with helicopters landing nearby.

Aly opposed the council’s decision to take no action on the item and tried to speak in spite of multiple attempts by Tait to gavel him down.

“There are alternative locations [for the portable restrooms],” Aly said in between Tait’s calls for him to take a seat.

Councilwoman Lucille Kring opposed placing restrooms on the riverbank and agreed with Councilwoman Denise Barnes, saying Susan Price, the woman who oversees the county’s homeless services as the director of care coordination, has plans to take care of the issue of homelessness in Orange County and they did not want to “step on her toes.”

Anaheim spokesman Mike Lyster said Wednesday the county now is seeing a “much higher level of coordination” on the issue of homelessness and that the county is taking the lead on the issue, citing the services it began to provide on the riverbed as part of a $750,000 contract with City Net.

During the public comment part of the meeting some residents also claimed there was a lack of representation of Anaheim’s District 5, an area that is directly adjacent to the riverbank where many homeless residents reside, in the Homeless Policy Working Group led by Councilman Jose F. Moreno.

According to the district map on the city’s website, parts of the riverbank are within District 5 but not all of the area is within the city limits represented by Councilman Stephen Faessel.

Kevin George, an 18-year resident and Anaheim homeowner, said Moreno’s working group lacks “legitimacy” without a representative from District 5.

“What’s the point of putting effort into something if it’s not credible for everybody involved?” George asked.

George also opposed placing temporary restrooms on the riverbank and pointed to a petition he started with his neighbors demanding homeless encampments along the riverbed be removed. The petition had received nearly 12,644 electronic signatures as of  about 8 p.m. Monday. George said the goal is 15,000.

Jose Ochoa is a Voice of OC intern. Contact him at joseochoa.voc@gmail.com

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