Sheriff to Step Up Patrols of Riverbed Homeless Camp, But Say They Will Not Clear It Out

JEFF ANTENORE, Voice of OC contributing photographer

Hundreds of tents, makeshift shelters and other belongings of the homeless community line the bike trail along the Santa Ana Riverbed near Angel Stadium in Anaheim on Wednesday, May 17, 2017.

Orange County’s largest homeless encampment – along the Santa Ana River near Angel Stadium – will see stepped up law enforcement patrols by the Sheriff’s Department, under a plan approved Tuesday by county supervisors, but officials say they will not be clearing out the area.

The expanded patrols by sheriff’s deputies are scheduled to begin Friday, according to a Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman.

“The focus for [the Sheriff’s Department] right now is victim-based crime, not enforcing code violations/camping ordinances/etc to clear out the riverbed,” said Jaimee Lynn Fletcher, the spokeswoman, in a statement Tuesday afternoon. She said she didn’t know how many extra deputies would be patrolling.

The current plan is to expand the sheriff’s staffing at the riverbed from three deputies to 18 deputies total, across various shifts.

The sheriff’s Homeless Outreach Team would be expanded from three deputies to six. And an additional 12 deputies would be assigned to an enhanced patrol team at the riverbed, with the number potentially changing based on what officials determine is appropriate.

Homeless advocates and campers, as well as bike riders along the trail, have complained about drug use and fighting by some within the riverbed camps.

A county spokeswoman and Supervisor Todd Spitzer also said there’s no timeline for clearing out the riverbed, although Spitzer unsuccessfully sought to establish a time frame for moving them out.

“Ultimately the goal is to transition everyone from the riverbed and this is the next incremental step,” said Fletcher. She said she didn’t know how many extra deputies would be patrolling.

With a severe shortage of shelter and housing beds in Orange County – over 2,500 people sleep on the streets countywide while shelters are full – and cities enforcing anti-camping laws, the riverbed has become home to hundreds of homeless people.

A recent survey by a county contractor found 422 homeless people living along the riverbed’s main encampment area, between Chapman Avenue and Ball Road in the cities of Anaheim and Orange. More camps extend south into Santa Ana and Fountain Valley.

The county has a 10-year plan to end homelessness by September 2020, but it is far behind in its main goal for 2015 through 2020 of creating of affordable permanent housing options for all homeless people.

The move to step up enforcement came in response to longstanding complaints about the encampment from nearby businesses and residents. Additionally, cyclists say they feel unsafe on one of the region’s main bike baths, which now runs through the encampment.

And residents have complained a sense of lawlessness has developed as city police in Anaheim and Orange consider the riverbed under the Sheriff’s Department jurisdiction, while the sheriff considers it a city jurisdiction.

The Sheriff’s Department may seek a budget increase to cover additional costs for the extra enforcement, according to a written report by county CEO Frank Kim.

Decisions on increasing the sheriff’s budget rest with county supervisors, who also oversee the riverbed property. At their regular meeting Tuesday, supervisors unanimously passed a resolution asking the Sheriff’s Department to “dedicate additional resources” to the riverbed to address “illegal criminal activities on and adjacent to” the riverbed encampments, including in areas within incorporated cities.

The approved resolution also asks the Sheriff’s Department to “convene local law enforcement agencies to develop a comprehensive county-wide public safety response plan to criminal activities and public concerns in the Channels.”

Spitzer declared in a TV interview aired Monday that the county would be clearing out the riverbed.

“We made it unequivocally clear we’re closing the riverbed and not allowing people to habitate there,” Spitzer told KCBS-TV.

“We’re not going to allow the riverbed to become Orange County’s skid row… So, we’re going to clear everybody out of there, but we’re going to be humane about it.”

But the next day, at Tuesday’s meeting, he didn’t gain enough support from other supervisors to define a timeline to actually clear out the riverbed.

In a message to a Voice of OC reporter after the meeting, Spitzer noted the annual winter opening of armories that house 400 homeless countywide will begin in October, a few weeks earlier than usual. The cold-weather armory program runs through spring, and Spitzer said 20 percent of the riverbed population “will leave just because the [deputies] are coming.”

Advocates for homeless people expressed concern the increased patrols would lead to enforcement of minor nuisance issues, that would require homeless people to pay for tickets they can’t afford, and go to jail and lose their property.

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

  • David Zenger

    “Spitzer declared in a TV interview aired Monday that the county would be clearing out the riverbed.”

    Todd ain’t kidding. And he’s got a gun and a pair of handcuffs in his fannypack to prove it.

  • LFOldTimer

    I see old Todd is back in campaign standup mode. lol. Why is he taking the lead at being the county’s spokeshole? Isn’t Michelle Steel the board chair? Let her talk. She should be interfacing with the media. Not Spitzer. I’m so tired of listening to his BS. If he wasn’t running for DA he’d be quiet as a church mouse.

    • verifiedsane

      The homeless issue has now become a political side show and deflection away from the greater problems OC faces due to the lack of government leadership ….We all know how self adsorbed DA candidate BoS Toad Spitter is. Toad would never miss an opportunity to grand stand on an issue that he and the BoS have ignored for years…but alas…it’s election season folks…let the propaganda machine churn out the same old empty rhetoric for the apathetic citizenry’s consumption…

      • LFOldTimer

        You notice Andy Do has taken a backseat on the homeless issue now. Remember when he slept with the homeless at the old bus depot during his campaign season? lol. Has he visited the homeless at the river bed even once? Nah. Of course his election campaign is over now. Now it’s Todd’s turn to be a homeless advocate with a pending DA election on the horizon. These people are phonier than $3 bills. I’m amazed that the lemmings continue to fall for the same crap.

  • Thomas Anthony Gordon

    Not one person has even brought up the huge number (591 postable offenders) of transient/homeless individuals in Santa Ana on the Megan’s Law website. Should someone convicted of PC 288/Lewd or lascivious acts with a child 14 years of age and rated 6 or greater (high risk) with an extremely high risk of recidivism be allowed to be homeless and unsupervised in the river bed, along a bike path or where young girls and boys walk to school or in a park?

    • verifiedsane

      Ask the DA? 🙂

  • Paul Lucas

    One thing for sure os that running them out of the river bed is counter productive as the homeless will simply be pushed into neighborhoods and shopping centers and industrial areas along the river making the problem worse by spreading it around.For all of Todds saber rattling on this issue one has to question the BoS on their unwillingness tyo use funds available for mental health treatment which is one of the main causes of this epidemic of homelessness in OC.