Orange County Judge OKs Laguna Hills Motel for Homeless People as Virus Continues to Spread [April 20 Coronavirus Update]

SPENCER CUSTODIO, Voice of OC

A homeless camp on April 10, 2019 on the Union Pacific railroad in near Cerritos Avenue and Anaheim Boulevard in Anaheim.

The County of Orange will finally get homeless people housed in a South County hotel after an OC Superior Court Judge denied Laguna Hills’ attempt to block the move during the novel coronavirus pandemic. 


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Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Delaney is allowing the County’s plan for symptomatic homeless people to stay at the Laguna Hills Inn during the pandemic. 

The virus is steadily spreading throughout the county and has killed 33 people out of 1,676 confirmed cases as of Monday morning. There’s also 128 people hospitalized, including 42 in intensive care units. Nearly 18,800 people have been tested for the virus so far. 

So far, three homeless people have tested positive for the virus, but County officials won’t disclose details beyond that. 

The County’s efforts to put homeless people in motel rooms is part of a larger plan from Gov. Gavin Newsom, known as “Project Roomkey.” 

Laguna Hills filed a lawsuit last Tuesday to block the County’s efforts to house homeless people at Laguna Hills Inn. City attorneys argued the move needlessly endangers residents and violates land use restrictions on nearby properties. 

But Delaney didn’t buy the city’s arguments. 

“Defendant County has produced sufficient evidence that it is acting as an agent for the State in contracting with Defendant Elite Hospitality to shelter homeless individuals who are Covid-19 positive or symptomatic,” reads the tentative ruling. 

Delaney’s tentative ruling states the land use restrictions don’t apply in a state of emergency. 

“The County is acting consistent with the Governor’s orders in the context of this state of emergency. The [land use restrictions] must temporarily yield to the government’s limited use of its police powers during this state of emergency. Accordingly, the request for a temporary restraining order on the claim for breach of [land use restrictions] is denied,” reads the ruling. 

Delaney’s decision comes on the heels of a hotel roadblock earlier this month when the Ayres Hotel in Laguna Woods pulled out of a contract for homeless beds after residents protested the site. 

And California Attorney General Xavier Becerra stepped in with his opinion Sunday, supporting the County’s hotel attempt. 

“This extraordinary pandemic calls for swift and decisive action using the limited tools available to curb the disease’s spread,” reads Becerra’s filing. 

“For various reasons, homeless individuals often have particularly great risk of being exposed to and contracting COVID-19, yet they do not have homes in which to self-isolate, increasing the risk of the disease spreading. That is why addressing the homelessness crisis is a critical element of California’s strategy to stop the spread of COVID-19,” 

But Laguna Hills attorneys argue County officials and the Illumination Foundation, the nonprofit charged with running the hotel program, haven’t done enough to address safety and medical concerns. The city’s filing also notes there’s a dialysis center nearby and those patients face a higher risk than healthy people due to weakened immune systems. 

“It is anticipated that the defendants will argue that the facility is ‘closed,’ and that security staff will ensure residents do not mingle with the surrounding community. However, that is disingenuous, since the County well knows that transients have civil rights and that they cannot force the patients to stay on the grounds of the Hotel,” reads Laguna Hills’ filing.

Although Delaney didn’t address the city’s concerns in her ruling, County attorneys contend there’s no risk to the nearby community. 

“There is absolutely no clinical indication that the health of the community in Laguna Hills would be jeopardized by isolating and treating the subject population at [the hotel},” reads the County’s filing. 

“The potential risk of transmission to the community in Laguna Hills from housing the subject population at [the hotel] is almost non-existent, as the [Laguna Hills Inn] location during this time will be supervised and managed by the Illumination Foundation, and the individuals isolated there would be completely restricted from interacting with the surrounding community.” 

Here’s the latest on the virus numbers across Orange County: 

Correction: An earlier version of this story listed the judge as Deborah Servino. We regret the error. 

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.

Digital Editor Sonya Quick contributed to this story. You can reach her at squick@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @sonyanews.