Santa Ana and Anaheim officials committed Friday to opening a total of 400 new homeless shelter beds by the end of December, as the federal judge overseeing a civil rights lawsuit pressed cities to open new shelters before the winter rainy season.
And south Orange County is set to be brought into the law suit, with lawyers for homeless people saying they will update the suit to bring in south county cities, as U.S. District Judge David O. Carter expressed frustration at the lack of a south county shelter site.
The actions came days after a federal appeals court – in a decision federal judges in California are now required to follow – declared local governments cannot prosecute homeless people for sleeping on public property when no realistic shelter option is available.
“That’s the law of the land now,” Carter said of the decision in Martin v. City of Boise, which was decided unanimously by the three justices who heard the case.
The shelter commitments were outlined during a court hearing about the countywide shortage, as Carter continued to urge city and county officials to create more shelter capacity for people willing to accept services.
If officials don’t create enough shelter, Carter has repeatedly warned he would move the lawsuit into formal litigation where he’d put into effect appeals court rulings that limit cities from enforcing anti-camping laws against homeless people when shelter is not available.
“I think we’re moving at [a] molasses pace,” Carter said in the opening minutes of the all-day hearing.
“I’m concerned about the weather. I’m concerned about rain coming,” and homeless people coming into parks and neighborhoods, Carter said.
The new shelter commitments – which would create a 200-bed shelter in Anaheim and another in Santa Ana – were the first time in the lawsuit that officials have made a firm commitment to open that many shelter beds by a specific deadline.
Anaheim plans to open the 200-bed shelter by December, in an industrial area midway between the city’s downtown and Angel Stadium, city spokesman Mike Lyster said in a break during the hearing. The shelter would be run by the Salvation Army in temporary structures next to the Adult Rehabilitation Center at 1300 S. Lewis Street.
Santa Ana officials declined to identify the location of their proposed 200-bed shelter, but said it would be open 60 to 90 days after an operator is chosen. The latest the operator would be brought to the City Council is Oct. 2, which would put the opening date at early December to Dec. 31.
A longer-term 600-bed Santa Ana shelter, which is tentatively planned for 3100 and 3120 W. Central Ave, would open in 18 to 24 months, Santa Ana officials said Friday. The property owner, however, has privately and publicly said they will not sell or lease the land for a homeless shelter under any circumstance, leaving that location in question.
Officials are also “very close” to an additional 200-plus shelter beds in other north OC cities, split between two properties, Orange City Manager Rick Otto said at the hearing. Their locations were not publicly identified – other than not being in the cities of Orange, Anaheim, or Santa Ana – and no timeline was provided. But escrow is underway to purchase one of the properties and the only step left to buy the other site is opening escrow, Otto said.
Carter asked for, and received, commitments for the 600 north and central county beds – as well as hundreds more beds in north and central county by 2020 – to be memorialized into legally binding agreements he would oversee for three years, in the form of lawsuit settlements.
Lawyers on both sides agreed Friday to bring the settlement agreements to Carter within 45 days, which would be Monday, Oct. 22.
“The court will stay involved,” Carter said at the hearing. If problems develop after the settlements are reached, a court hearing would be convened within 24 to 48 hours, he said.
After months of pointing out that north and central county have taken on most of the homeless services burden, Carter warned the county government is headed to “litigation time” if it doesn’t move to select a site for a shelter that’s centrally located in south county for law enforcement in those cities to take homeless people for health assessments.
The county’s lack of “a site in south county…causes a disproportionate share to go to another part of the county, and you’ve known that from the beginning,” Carter told top county officials, including Andrew Do, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors.
Carter said the county Board of Supervisors can vote for a south county site.
Apparently referring to pushback he’s gotten that south county city council members are concerned about the November local elections, Carter said, “We’re not gonna work on [an] election cycle. Constitutional issues don’t work on an election cycle.”
Do didn’t return a phone and text message asking if he is pursuing a south county shelter location.
Carter also told the county’s chief executive, CEO Frank Kim, he was central to ensuring the supervisors follow through on commitments they make – an apparent reference to supervisors backing off a three-shelter commitment they made in March.
“Frank you’re the key,” Carter told Kim. “You represent five members of the board. If the board is at one time going to give me a vote, and then retract that vote,” and you can’t give me a guarantee, then “it’s time for litigation,” Carter said.
The only cities currently part of the lawsuit are Anaheim, Santa Ana, Orange, and Costa Mesa – though Carter began to shift focus back to south county.
During Friday’s hearing, Costa Mesa officials also committed to moving quickly to create 50 shelter beds, in addition to a 12-bed mental health crisis stabilization unit.
At the start of Friday’s hearing, Carter noted the new ruling on homeless shelters by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals he had been warning officials about for months.
The Martin v. Boise ruling “came from both the liberal and the conservative sides of the court,” Carter said. The conservative justice is former prosecutor, he added, “so it’s a pretty balanced court.”
In the first part of Friday’s hearing, Carter effusively praised county and city officials for moving to create shelter capacity, as well as lawyers for homeless people for working toward solutions. Later in the hearing, he pressed local officials to meet with the homeless people’s attorneys and work towards mutually-agreeable, court-enforceable agreements to expand shelter capacity and ensure due process for homeless people seeking shelter.
In addition to the 200 beds that would open by the end of this year, Anaheim also committed to a larger, 400-bed shelter on the same Salvation Army property that would open in late 2020, after a new building is built on the property to accommodate it. The 400-bed shelter would replace the proposed 200-bed temporary structure, according to Lyster, the city spokesman.
Anaheim has an “obligation to our brothers and sisters,” Mayor Tom Tait told Carter during the hearing, referring to homeless people. “Our people should not be sleeping out in the open, and need shelter.”
By the end of the hearing Friday, the lead attorneys for homeless people – Carol Sobel, Brooke Weitzman, and Lily Graham – agreed to meet with the county on settlement terms on Sept. 14 and hold a court hearing on Sept. 19 to go over the draft settlement.
Do, the supervisors’ chairman, joined in praising city officials’ commitments and efforts to expand shelters, saying the county has an “obligation to assist” cities with getting it done.
“I believe Orange County is creating a template for many jurisdictions across the country to emulate,” Do said.
But he noted, “All of this is talking until we have people…in beds.”
Contact Nick Gerda at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @nicholasgerda.