Santa Ana Wants County to Shelter Homeless People on Vacant Irvine Land, Considers Suing

JEFF ANTENORE, Voice of OC Contributing Photographer

People on bikes make their way along the Santa Ana Riverbed bike trail through the well-established homeless encampment on Friday, September 15, 2017.

The Santa Ana City Council is calling on the county to use 100 acres of land it owns in Irvine to help house hundreds of homeless people. 

City council members  said they also are considering a lawsuit against the county – and inviting other cities to join – alleging mismanagement of millions of dollars in federal homelessness money the county gets each year.

“I’m pretty fed up with the county,” said Santa Ana Councilman Vicente Sarmiento at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, where he and the other council members created the city’s first staff position dedicated to coordinating homeless services.

Sarmiento noted county officials have “pushed” a large homeless camp to the city’s side of the county Civic Center by closing off the county side for construction work.

Other council members vented frustration at how county officials – who receive over $20 million in federal dollars each year to address homelessness – have handled the situation.

Councilman Jose Solorio noted the county owns 100 acres of largely vacant land in Irvine, near the Great Park, which he said should be used to shelter more than 500 homeless people.

The city ought to “hold [the county] accountable” for that land, said Solorio, who proposed a 21-point plan to address homelessness. Sarmiento agreed the county’s 100 acres presents a strong opportunity to house homeless people.

The most recent census of homeless people in Santa Ana, conducted in January as part of the countywide point-in-time count, found 1,000 homeless people living in the city. Santa Ana has the largest homeless population of any city in the county, according to the city’s staff.

The county has opened two homeless shelters in the past year – totaling 500 beds – which can shelter less than 20 percent of people living on the streets in Orange County, and now are full. The point-in-time count, which didn’t count every homeless person, found a total of 4,792 people in Orange County experiencing homelessness, including people in shelters and on the streets.

And county supervisors are far behind in implementing their own 10-year plan to end homelessness by September 2020, which calls for creating affordable housing opportunities.

The new shelters quickly filled up, with another 2,400-plus people on the streets countywide, according to the point-in-time count. Among them are more than 400 now living in a large encampment along the Santa Ana River.

Meanwhile, a study earlier this year by UC Irvine found it would save taxpayer dollars overall to provide housing and support services to the entire chronically homeless population in Orange County. That’s largely because of the enormous hospital bills the public currently pays, because homeless people end up in the emergency room much more often when they live on the streets.

The average cost of public services when homeless people are in permanent supportive housing is about 50 percent lower than when they’re on the streets ($51,000 versus $100,000), according to the UCI study. The researchers estimated a savings of about $42 million per year if all of Orange County’s chronically homeless people were in permanent supportive housing.

Santa Ana officials say they have helped more than 160 homeless people in their city find housing since July of last year.

If the county dedicated half of its 100 acres in Irvine to such housing, and found funding for it, the land could house over 1,000 people who currently live on the streets, based on a medium density of 25 housing units per acre.

The county does not need city permits or zoning approval to build on its land, because counties are a higher level of government, according to county officials and Santa Ana’s city attorney.

For years, the county has planned on leasing the land for private apartments, hotels, and retail shopping, which would generate revenue to the county.

In May, Supervisor Shawn Nelson proposed a temporary homeless encampment on the Irvine property and two other county properties.

But the homeless camp idea fell flat after pushback from Irvine officials and a lack of support among supervisors. Any new county actions on homelessness, such as creating housing or shelters, must have support from three of the five county supervisors to be approved.

“The problem really is with…the agency that’s vested with this [responsibility]. And that’s the county,” Sarmiento said.

The tens of millions of dollars in federal and state funding to address homelessness and mental health goes to the county, not cities.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Sarmiento directed City Attorney Sonia Carvalho to explore a potential lawsuit against the county over its management of homelessness funds. He said the city of Los Angeles successfully sued LA County over a similar situation years ago.

That lawsuit led to the city of LA having a direct role in deciding how the federal homelessness dollars are spent. That was achieved in 1993 through the creation a joint city-county agency, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, which continues to manage LA’s federal homelessness dollars.

A potential lawsuit by Santa Ana against the county “should be one more of the options that we have, that we need to explore,” Sarmiento said. He asked the city attorney to find out whether other cities, like Anaheim, would join Santa Ana.

None of the other council members opposed Sarmiento’s directive to explore a lawsuit against the county. The city attorney and her staff will research it and bring their findings back to the council for possible action at some point in the future.

Additionally, Solorio’s 21-point plan to address homelessness would make it illegal for hospitals and other cities and to drop homeless people off in Santa Ana, unless there’s a receiving agency in Santa Ana that agrees to it.

Another of Solorio’s proposals would classify the entire Civic Center area as a park, to allow the city to enforce a closing time.

Mayor Miguel Pulido said the mayor of Tustin has mentioned the possibility of using three acres the city has at the former Marine Corps air station there to address homelessness.

Pulido said he’s lived in Santa Ana for a long time, and has “never seen the homeless problem this bad.”

People are sneaking into yards and spending the night there, and then in morning they refuse to leave, he said.

The Anaheim City Council last week declared a state of emergency related to homeless camps along the Santa Ana River, and county supervisors created a new Sheriff’s Department patrol force for the area.

The Santa Ana City Council Tuesday approved creation of a city staff position for coordinating homeless services across city departments, as well as nonprofit groups and other government agencies.

City staff now have to recruit candidates for the position and hire someone, which took the county six months for its homeless services coordinator.

Santa Ana officials declined to give a time estimate for when their position will be filled. 

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

  • Angel Aguilar

    I have a few questions,

    first the County has voted to create affordable housing by 2020, well guess what its 2017 and you still cannot find a decent apartment for less than 1.8k. next would be the looming earthquakes that require all buildings to be up to code which is expensive. I can guarantee you Orange County will not pull a Russian Olympics and build everything in 2 weeks.

    Second would be the obvious dumping of homeless in santa ana, it has been happening for years and now it’s a problem the city should have called out other citys and threatened legal action when the evidence was there?

    Third Anaheim can afford to use the land by the park to building more or less a homeless community. If you haven’t notice people on Santa ana, Irvine, and Costa mesa people are building up and into yards because of the lack of space. Those snobs can kick and scream all they want that land is to address the homeless not create extra revenue for property values.

    Fourth all that land by the old air force in Anaheim is contaminated and will give you cancer if you walk on it. Instead the county sold it to housing development and I can guarantee they are going to be million dollar property’s on no mans land. Put the homeless there!

  • 6eaie2

    Pushing the homeless to an isolated area like the Great Park or vacant land in south OC may decrease the density of those people in central OC, but it also isolates them from needed services. If they don’t receive those services, their potential for self-sufficiency decreases and the burden on society will remain unchanged.

    • dc matthews

      Irvine not having services for homeless seniors or disabled or veterans ( has one small healthy family shelter) needs correction any way. Isn’t there bus service to great park area? Why aren’t all cities having to handle some of the problem?

    • PIFA123

      Plus they will not go or stay there. No people to harass for money. Nothing to rob. Who are you fooling. Dump them where they hail from. Hey came from Delaware here is your ticket, from LA here is your ticket, from Mexico here is ICE. Let them take care of their own.

  • Dan Clifford

    Yeah – sue the county – that will solve the problem – it will just make the lawyers richer….

    Also – pointing to LA as an example of how to handle homelessness is great – like they don’t have a problem with homeless people…

    Why not look at the cities that don’t have a homeless problem and see what they are doing? Irvine or Mission Viejo for example – you don’t see homeless people camped out in their parks – why not? Is it because the city and their police force enforce their existing laws that prevent this situation? Maybe if Santa Ana was not a “sanctuary” city they would not have the issues they are currently facing. When the city publicly states that they will not enforce certain laws that they don’t agree with that sends a message – go to Santa Ana – the police won’t harass you there….

    What percentage of the homeless people are suffering from some mental illness? Maybe we should try to get them help – even if they don’t want it – maybe they need to be someplace where they can be taken care of instead of living on the streets.

    • PIFA123

      Build a big mental hospital- It will create jobs get them committed and the state will pay. Call ICE get those illegal out. Jail the wanted ones. Now most of the problem is gone. Foisting them on all cities is making the whole county a dump.

  • Don McLaren

    Seems to me that each and every city in Orange County from Newport Beach to Santa Ana needs to provide for their per capita homeless population. Surrounding Counties will need to do the same so Orange County does not become a dumping ground.

    • 6eaie2

      Per capita funding city-by-city is not necessarily equitable. Homeless rates per capita are distorted by establishment of drug treatment shelters in residential neighborhoods. Those shelters are protected by Calif law, so cities’ efforts to regulate them are limited. Substance abusers are imported from other regions, even other states, to receive treatment; then when insurance payments are exhausted, profiteering treatment companies are NOT required to return patients to their home jurisdictions. So, addicts hit the streets wherever they receive treatment; they have no job or money for return transportation; they also don’t have a local address. Homeless populations swell disproportionately to established residents. The drug treatment industry and residential homeowners leasing properties to them both rake in the dough–sometimes tens of thousands of dollars monthly per property. The solution might be to require drug treatment businesses to return their patients to their home jurisdiction. OC cities and the county should pursue such legislation at the state level.

  • Huh

    Yeah right – dump the homeless in Irvine??? Are you kidding??? Santa Ana is already a pit – leave beautiful Irvine alone!!!!!

    • verifiedsane

      Are you getting nervous that Irvine’s homelessness political immunity clause is being threatened…:)

      • Huh

        It’s the same old attempt at ruining Irvine. First it was the airport, now the homeless. We don’t take kindly to outsiders trying to put their filth in our city.

        • Cynthia Ward

          And you believe there are no homeless people in Irvine, is that it?

          • Huh

            Don’t care – push them all to Santa Ana, AnaCrime, or Garbage Grove.

          • dc matthews

            Irvine’s small families only shelter does not welcome single disabled adults seniors, even veterans. There is little low income accessible housing mixed in for greatest as was the original plan, and a few units accessible for specific disability types. Most of OC’s homeless programs are geared for quicky sober up and get to work, not the long term disabled and seniors. Any homeless people in Irvine or Newport are usually quickly dispatched. Driving through these and some other cities in older cars gets a license run almost every time.

          • Huh

            As it should be. There are plenty of areas in OC that the homeless can go, but Irvine isn’t one of them.

        • verifiedsane

          From your ignorant and judgemental responses here…it appears Irvine is already ruined, as well as morally bankrupt….

          • Huh

            It is not ignorance to loathe the homeless. Judgmental perhaps, but who the hell are you to judge me? Morally bankrupt? Ha. Tell you what, YOU let them live in your backyard, or in the park closest to you, or in your nearest school playground.
            Irvine is doing just fine. We only discriminate on basis of economic standing – as we are allowed to do.

          • Michelle Rust

            Wow , money doesn”t make you better then anyone else . Nobody likes a snob who speaks and thinks without any intelligence either. What you said in your post was based your opinion and makes you look a idiot. I hope someday you fall on hard times and get a taste of your own unintelligent medicine.

          • dc matthews

            You do not seem to be a nice or caring human being. Sure wish you had the courage to post your name at least.

          • Huh

            Courage? I have the intelligence not to. I am a caring human being to those that try to help themselves. I would even donate money that would be used for transporting them to Barstow

    • dc matthews

      NIMBY? Yes, sure continue to leave people like me a homeless disabled veteran out cause Irvine was able to some years back, I believe when Beth Krom was mayor, lower their requirements for affordable housing by about 10,000 units or some such giant number, and did no real homeless prevention. Fascism and elitism doesn’t look pretty, even in OC’s upper income islands.

      • Huh

        Homeless like you, with the ability to post on this blog – doesn’t sound like you are doing too badly. Krom is as left as one can get. Eff her.

      • PIFA123

        If you are a vet you get benefits. Use them and stop living like a hobo. Guess u use the money for alcohol or drugs. Not our problem.