Supervisor Nelson: County To Phase Homeless People Out of Santa Ana Riverbed

JEFF ANTENORE, Voice of OC Contributing Photographer

Orange County Sheriff's Deputies question residents of the Santa Ana Riverbed homeless encampment during the first day of stepped-up patrols on Friday, September 15, 2017.

Supervisor Shawn Nelson says the county likely will try to move people out of Orange County’s largest homeless camp in phases, and “push” many of the hundreds of homeless people who live along the Santa Ana River into the city of Anaheim.

“I think you’re gonna start seeing, probably further south [on the riverbed], an effort to start getting people out of the river, removing locations that are…sort of an invitation to camp,” Nelson said during a presentation he gave last week to an Anaheim Republican community meeting.

“[You will] probably see more areas getting fenced off, smaller groups being relocated at a time,” he added, according to a video of his presentation. Several hundred people live in the homeless camps next to the concrete river banks in sections that extend roughly from Angel Stadium to Fountain Valley.

Nelson said the effort to move out homeless people would later go north to the main camps near Angel Stadium sometime after the new year begins. He warned that under the current situation, with few available shelter beds for riverbed dwellers, homeless people would be pushed out into Anaheim.

“Unfortunately, the status that we’re in right now, if you push people out you will end up dealing with it in the city,” Nelson said.

For months he has supported temporarily relocating homeless people to empty county land, including 100 acres in Irvine. But Nelson said a majority of his colleagues on the five-member Board of Supervisors don’t want to do it.

Regarding riverbed evictions, Nelson said: “Probably we’ll learn some hard lessons there. We’ll probably struggle through some lawsuits, and hopefully figure out what is or isn’t gonna be allowed, and that process will work its way up north.”

Southern parts of the riverbed, like the section in Fountain Valley, are home to smaller homeless camps, while the largest region is centered around the riverbed area near Angel Stadium, on the border of Anaheim and Orange.

This process will be done “by segment” and likely will get to the Anaheim and Orange sections of the riverbed “after the first of the year,” Nelson said.

He was speaking Wednesday, Oct. 18, to a community meeting about homelessness organized by the Anaheim Republican Assembly.

County spokeswoman Carrie Braun declined to comment on Nelson’s remarks, other than saying: “A flood control [channel] is not a safe place to live, and the county is doing everything we can to coordinate resources to engage the individuals who are encamped in the area with available housing and resource opportunities.”

She wouldn’t confirm or deny if Nelson was accurately describing the county’s plans. None of the other four county supervisors returned phone messages seeking comment.

Nelson strongly suggested the plans are not what he wants, telling audience members, “don’t think that what the county’s about to do is my prescription for how to do it.” But he said he believes it is “likely to happen,” given the will of a majority of the Board of Supervisors, who ultimately decide county policy.

Nelson said his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors could provide an alternative, organized place for those living along the riverbed, but that most of the other supervisors have blocked such efforts.

“We actually could get the people that want to be off the river – we could get ‘em off. We should. But we don’t want to,” Nelson said.

“It’s not comfortable saying that, but the reality is, the county has an inventory of property that they’ve had long before I had anything to say about it,” he continued.

“If there was a massive earthquake or a hurricane, do you think we’d take two years looking for a place to set up tents? Of course not. We would deal with it immediately.”

Nelson reiterated his call for the county to use some of its 100 acres in Irvine, near the Great Park, for emergency temporary homeless beds.

“We have 100 acres in [Irvine] that has been pre-approved for homeless facilities. It’s flat, and the neighbors are Second Harvest Food Bank, an OCTA bus base,” and property that someday might be used to store trains, he said.

“That’s probably not the best permanent facility. But if we had an emergency – which some might argue we do – it would be available. If that fire that just went through [part of Anaheim Hills and Orange Park Acres] had burned the homes to the level that it’s burned ‘em in Northern California, I don’t think that there’d be any hesitation to immediately deal with the issue there.”

“We could deal with this. I’ve asked my colleagues to deal with this, and there’s no takers…there’s no appetite to do that.”

Nelson’s idea of using county-owned land for emergency shelters also has met significant pushback from cities like Irvine.

County government is the lead public agency that receives funding to address Orange County’s homelessness, mental health, and drug addiction issues. It takes three supervisors – a majority – to either approve or reject any policy directions, such as setting up emergency shelters on county land or ordering the riverbed cleared.

County officials have emphasized they need support from local cities to establish facilities, like temporary shelters. In the case of the county’s 100 acres in Irvine, the land is already zoned to allow emergency shelters under city code.

Additionally, 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.

Nelson called on his fellow supervisors, and the public, to support locations for temporary shelter beds.

“We need to deal with the urgency of people being on the street and not having a place to go,” Nelson said. “If we can find an address the world will tolerate, that my board will support – that’s where the focus is, and that’s, in my opinion, where the immediate need is.”

Click on the video below, or this link, to watch Nelson’s presentation.

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

  • Ed Romero

    The Board of Supervisor’s could get rid of all those Drug Dealing, Marijuana Smoking, Cocaine Snorting Racist Lesbians that ran Orange County for years, they were led by that former Chairperson of the Orange County GOP, former Judge, former Chief Probation Officer and finally former Director of Health for the County of Orange, she was awarded all this positions and she had a HIGH SCHOOL EDUCATION. She smoked so much Marijuana at her residence in the City of Anaheim that her neighbors would call our Probation Records Unit complaining about all the Marijuana Fumes floating over to their houses. There was that Asst. Chief Probation Officer that also Smoked so much Marijuana while on duty that my co-workers gave her the AKA/Marijuana Nancy, she was nothing but a CORRUPT CONVICTED CRIMINAL but the Board of Supervisor’s didn’t do anything to the Chief or that Asst. Chief Probation Officer because the last thing any one on the Board of Supervisor’s or in Law Enforcement was a call from Nancy Reagan.

  • frustrated

    “Cops are liars and violate the laws and rights of the citizens while they are on duty”.

    Why are you accusing mental illness when no mental illness has been diagnosed?
    The mentally ill people here are the Sheriff’s Department and the Santa Ana City Council because they think that they are your authority figures.

    “Cops are liars and violate the laws and rights of the citizens while they are on duty”.

  • frustrated

    173+ applications (and counting) filled out and still unemployed.
    Why have I not been hired?

  • frustrated

    I was evicted from the apartment by bullying neighbors and am now on the streets and the authority figures did not help they exacerbated the problems and refused to stop the bullying.

    • Holly Walsh

      Why aren’t you at a homes shelter?

  • frustrated

    Putting people in jail for being homeless is a crime. You cannot fine people for being homeless when it is not their fault, it can happen to anyone. There is not insanity plea to be given for such a thing, if they are in jail and fined then they cannot find a job because they do not have the resources in order to find a job, I myself have been turned down by employers for jobs that I am qualified for so why have I been rejected when I gave the proper answers according to me, myself and I? There is no job structures or housing structures in Orange County California. The city councils are the insane ones because they are already rich, why do you think that the people are protesting in the first place against the people that are on the city councils and they’re making monies at the taxpayers expense. The rents and property values are insane.

    • Holly Walsh

      People aren’t jailed for being homeless. They are jailed if they are trespassing, stealing, exposing themselves in public, deficating in public, being a public nuisance, screaming or causing a disturbance to others…

  • Holly Walsh

    Nelson has the wrong thinking. I live near the homeless and I can tell you they are not down on their luck individuals who need help to get back on their feet. They like living in the tents. They make a good amount of money panhandling and they have formed their own society. They want to live if the community without contributing to the community. They want free shelter, water, electricity by tapping into the city’s resources without having to pay like the rest of society. Simply giving them a place to easily reside only makes a city of homeless that will never disperse and get smaller, only larger.

  • frustrated

    “Cops are liars and violate the laws and rights of the citizens while they are on duty”.

    Why are you accusing mental illness when no mental illness has been diagnosed?
    The mentally ill people here are the Sheriff’s Department and the Santa Ana City Council because they think that they are you authority figures,

    “Cops are liars and violate the laws and rights of the citizens while they are on duty”.

    • Holly Walsh

      Are you insane? Put them in your backyard and see how you like having messy, unsanitary people who don’t want homeless shelters because there are rules to abide by, living next to you!

      • frustrated

        You’re GREEDY and got what you got that’s why. What kind of car do you drive? That might explain a lot. Do you live in a house or apartment?
        Uh, Do you think that you are over or above me? If you do then you are a hypocrite.

        • Holly Walsh

          I work hard. I contribute to society. I don’t take without giving back time, goods, or services. I will help those who want to do the same but not those who think they deserve something, for nothing.

          • Bill421

            Some people don’t work hard or contribute much or have the same drive, education or living standards that you have. They still need affordable housing and the sad thing is it is available but is denied by city , county and state.

  • frustrated

    Has the Orange County Sheriff’s Department now become Nazi’s?

  • verifiedsane

    For how long have the BoS been talking, grand standing, and putting off any real substantive action related to this ongoing and growing problem…and yet little has actually been done…when we actually see some action and results…then just maybe the citizenry will start believing some of this hollow political rhetoric that is constantly being spewed. I woundn’t hold your breath…

  • Bill421

    This problem never goes away untill truly affordable housing is made available and untill the laws and housing standards are changed to include the poor and mentally ill. Pushing county problems onto cities and vice versa does nothing to solve the problems and squanders what little resources there are on administrative costs. If a 9×5 room is good enough for prisoners it’s good enough for the homeless.

    • Holly Walsh

      Many – many of the people on that trail are not mentally ill or poor. They choose to live their. I see many able bodied men and women in their 20s and 30s with Vans shoes and are not good people. They are gypsies living by taking and not contributing to society.

      • Bill421

        How do you know they are not mentally ill or poor ? Because they have Vans shoes ? Able bodied does does not mean mentally sound. They have lower standards and if they don’t want to conform to the norm, they can live as free as they want. Unless you are with them 24/7 you have no proof of what they take or contribute. They still need an affordable place to live and there are businesses that can provide this service if the laws are changed to allow people rent small spaces. Enforce the vagrancy/ loitering and illegal camping and make truly affordable housing available and treat the mentally ill or this never goes away.

  • LFOldTimer

    As I’ve stated before, Nelson is the only supe thinking with a clear head on the homeless problem. There is unused county property in Santa Ana, Huntington and Irvine that could be used to temporarily accommodate the homeless tent dwellers until other better and more permanent arrangements are found. But it’s not politically expedient for his 4 colleagues who are afraid of losing votes. In the meantime the problem continues to fester out of control.

    Nelson is right. Just throwing the homeless out of the riverbed is going to result in costly lawsuits for the county, as the courts have already ruled that unless suitable shelter is available for the homeless that the county can’t force them to move. The City of Anaheim should be up in arms about this. If the homeless are tossed out of the riverbed they’ll become Anaheim’s problem.

    Grandstander Spitzer stood before the Anaheim Council a couple months ago and shot his big mouth off claiming the county had hundreds of millions of dollars to fix the homeless problem and that he was determined to take the lead. hah. Since that time he hasn’t done diddly squat. Typical. Spitzer is just a bag of hot air.

    Nobody wants to address the root cause of the problem. We have over 300,000 illegals living in OC who stole jobs and resources from our homeless citizens. Then we have idiots like the Santa Ana council who want to throw our homeless citizens in jail for camping at the civic center (where else are they going to go?) while at the same time declaring official sanctuary for thousands of indigent illiterate illegal foreign aliens shielding them from the law of the land, protecting them from going to jail and being deported. This anti-American sentiment is causing massive disruptions in the operation of our social system. If the illegals were removed it would open up thousands of new jobs and housing for our homeless citizens. Our elected officials need to start adhering to the sworn oaths they took when they entered public office. How’s that for a concept?

    • chubbers

      best move I have heard. The counties need to flex their responsibility to relocate to Irvine.
      The homeless come from all cities and maybe some of those planned development residents who hire illegals to cook, clean babysit and do their lawn will be happier to know their workers do not have to travel far.

      In addition the homeless children can go to decent schools.

    • I am not sure I agree with you on all points. but about Nelson, yes, I think he is the rational one on the BOS in this case. I will guess homeless do not line the pockets of the rest of the board. I am curious what happened to the “Hundreds of Millions of Dollars” Spitzer mentioned? Maybe it was spent upgrading the county communications infrastructure likely with Indians here on H1 Visas.
      I do not believe the illegals are as big a drain on jobs especially not good paying jobs such as in the technology sector, but they do have a number of non-union construction jobs. Many employers advertising for Spanish speaking employees. The Technology jobs were outsourced mostly to India & Communist China by the corporate interests (where according to an article I read CEO’s pockets were filled under the table by companies from India) what jobs were not outsourced, (such as the techs at Disney Orlando or welders at Allied Signal Shipbuilders Louisiana) were replaced by Indians here on H1 Visas. I have written my MC Alan Lowenthol & Senator Harris. asking the H1 Visa regulations be enforced as written, specifically no local workers are to be replaced with foreign workers. Then the foreign workers be temporary and not given permanent resident status, PLUS for every foreign worker applied for, 3 American workers must be trained to perform that job.

      • LFOldTimer

        We have our own underclass in California, Dweeze.

        Did you know that a THIRD of Californians get their medical care through MediCal – the free government program?

        Did you know that California accounts for about 12% of the US population but we have a THIRD of the nation’s welfare recipients?

        Those folks compete directly with the illegal aliens that come across the border and steal their jobs. In the construction, manufacturing, food service, hospitality, landscaping and transportation industries. Plus, most undercut the working living wage which suppresses the incomes for our working poor citizens.

        In addition – the illegals saturate the housing market and help drive the price of rents upward, making housing unaffordable for our working poor citizens.

        The census bureau estimates we have over 300,000 illegals living in OC. And you can be certain that’s a lowball figure.

        Maybe I’m old fashioned, Dweeze. But I’m an America and I support my fellow American citizens. I cannot, in good conscience, turn a blind eye when foreigners rob our own citizens of jobs and resources.

        With regard to tech jobs – H1B working visas should be issued ONLY when the employer cannot find a US citizen to work a job at a competitive wage.

  • David Zenger

    Well, then there’s an obvious leadership failure.

    • Holly Walsh

      I don’t think that’s obvious at all unless the only bit of information you have is from this one-sided, obviously pro-Nelson article. Where are the comments from the Anaheim Republic who forced the meeting because the problem is so bad?

      • David Zenger

        I was referring to Nelson who has been on that Board for 7 years – longer than anyone else – and still can’t get anyone to go along with him. That’s leadership failure.

        • Holly Walsh

          With that, I agree!