Federal Judge David O. Carter halted the county’s Santa Ana riverbed homeless evictions late Tuesday night when he ordered the County of Orange and Anaheim, Orange and Costa Mesa to stop enforcing anti-camping and trespass laws along the riverbed.
“The Court ENJOINS Defendants from enforcement of any infraction or misdemeanor anti-loitering, trespassing, or camping ordinances or statutes at the Riverbed, in light of these laws not having been enforced for the last year,” Carter’s order reads.
The temporary injunction came within hours of attorney Carol Sobel filing an emergency request to Carter Tuesday night asking to halt the Santa Ana Riverbed homeless evictions, because the county planned to step up citations and arrests. Sobel, along with attorney Brooke Weitzman filed a lawsuit against the county Jan. 29 and said the lack of shelter beds for homeless in the county forces them onto the streets, where they will be ticketed or arrested. At least 500 people were camped along the riverbed before the evictions began.
“Plaintiffs file this Emergency Stay Request to block the County from citing and arresting Plaintiffs and others in the riverbed beginning tomorrow (Wednesday) morning,” Sobel wrote. “Despite the County’s prior representations to the Court that there were no imminent plans to cite or arrest the hundreds of unhoused persons in the Riverbed, the County has now decided to do so.
“In response to a query from Plaintiffs counsel, following reports that Sheriff’s Deputies and other County workers started telling people today (Feb. 6) that arrests were imminent, the County has now confirmed that it intends to cite and arrest people starting tomorrow (Wednesday) morning …,” she wrote. “Because irreparable harm will occur in just a few hours, the Court’s immediate intervention is critical.”
Senior Assistant County Counsel Marianne Van Riper told Weitzman, via email, Tuesday evening that sheriff’s deputies and public works employees “have observed that the rate of voluntary compliance with the District’s direction to leave the Project area have effectively stalled out, for whatever reason.
“Consequently, beginning tomorrow morning (Feb. 7), OCSD (sheriff’s) personnel will begin advising people remaining on the District Santa Ana Riverbed property that they must vacate or may be cited and/or arrested for trespassing,” reads Van Riper’s email.
"The County and the District hope that citations and/or arrests will not be necessary and that people will voluntarily leave the Project area; however, people who refuse to comply with the direction to leave within the allotted time will be subject to citation for PC 602 (trespassing),” her email continued. “Any person who continues to remain after being cited for trespass will be arrested and booked into custody.”
While Carter said, in his order, that probation and parole enforcement are still allowed on the riverbed, he wants to ensure that all parties can present their findings at the Feb. 13 hearing, including evidence of the homeless people’s situation, the county’s process for clearing the riverbed, number of homeless on the riverbed and how many shelter beds are available in the county.
“The Court will allow police presence and will allow arrests for any probation or parole violations and any felonious conduct, to protect the homeless and the residents in the area. The Court will not allow haphazard, hurried enforcement action in an effort to clear the population, in contravention of the fundamental issues that the Court raised in its February 4, 2018 Order…”
Undersheriff Don Barnes issued a statement Wednesday that said “the Sheriff’s Department will continue to address criminal activity along the entirety of the Flood Control Channel and will retain a presence in the project area. Our inability to cite individuals encamped along the Flood Control Channel for trespassing due to a temporary restraining order issued by the federal court will not inhibit the Sheriff’s Department’s dedication to maintaining public safety.”
Barnes is a candidate this year for sheriff, replacing Sheriff Sandra Hutchins, who is retiring and has endorsed him.
Sheriff’s deputies began the eviction and walked tent-to-tent Jan. 22 telling everyone they needed to start packing up their camps and leaving, but gave no deadline. One deputy that day said he expected it to take several weeks before the area is clear. The department had been using a “voluntary compliance” approach -- meaning, deputies weren’t citing or arresting anybody for being there, as long as they were making progress on leaving.
The riverbed was slated to be closed for over three miles, from Ball Road/Taft Avenue, bordering Anaheim and Orange, to Memory Lane, bordering Garden Grove and Santa Ana. County officials said the closure was for a maintenance project along the riverbed.
Enforcement efforts kicked up Feb. 1 when officers from the probation and parole departments accompanied sheriff’s deputies and started doing parole and probation checks, along with warrant checks on the homeless still living in the riverbed.
Weitzman claimed the increased enforcement was because she requested a court hearing to halt the eviction, which she informed the county she was going to do a day before.
“When faced with the possibility that we would be filing today (Feb. 1) for a temporary restraining order,” Weitzman told Voice of OC Feb. 1, “the county’s response was to increase the criminalization of our county’s most vulnerable population.”
On Sunday night, Carter set a hearing on the issue for Feb. 13.
However, sheriff’s spokeswoman Carrie Braun said Feb. 2 the increased enforcement efforts were unrelated.
“Our action in bringing probation and parole yesterday was completely unrelated to the filing of the TRO (temporary restraining order). In prior engagements … we’ve had probation and parole with us numerous times before … it’s just the first time they’ve been down there since … Jan. 22 (when the trail was closed).”
Since the eviction began, many of the homeless said they don't know where to go Late last week, some people said they were waiting on the results of the upcoming Feb. 13 court hearing to see if they had to move.
There have been 50 arrests made on the riverbed since Jan. 22, according to information provided by Braun that spans Jan. 22 to Feb. 2. Most of those arrests, 33 have been made since Feb. 1.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC reporter who covers south Orange County and Fullerton. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.