Orange County Officials Head to Court to Use Laguna Hills Hotel to House Homeless

SPENCER CUSTODIO, Voice of OC

The homeless camp on the corner of Gilbert Street and Valencia Avenue in Fullerton. Residents have been voicing their concerns about the camp to the City Councils for months. The city cleared the camp in December. Oct. 9, 2019.

County of Orange officials are heading to court today against the City of Laguna Hills in their latest effort to put homeless people in hotels and motels throughout the county during the novel coronavirus pandemic. 


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“Defendants (OC Officials) have failed to address significant concerns regarding the danger the COVID-19 facility would impose on the surrounding community and the unsuitability of this particular location,” reads the lawsuit. 

The motels are part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “Project Roomkey” initiative to house homeless people during the pandemic and thin out the shelters to slow the spread of the virus. 

“The County’s decision to temporarily house COVID-19 positive or presumed positive individuals in a repurposed hotel poses a direct threat to the health and safety of the surrounding community. The Agreement will ultimately result in importing into the community a large group of sick and at-risk persons, when the City of Laguna Hills has thus far only had minimal occurrences of the virus,” states the filing. 

But County officials said they have been speaking with cities like Laguna Hills, Stanton and Orange about the hotel plans. 

“Before we publicly announce the locations where we’ll be providing medical assistance and other things to the homeless population, we want to make sure we address all the questions from the cities,” County CEO Frank Kim said at an April 13 news conference. 

County officials also said there’s satisfactory safety measures. 

“With appropriate community safeguards and security protections in place, the County of Orange is implementing Governor Newsom’s Project Roomkey to lease hotel and motel rooms in order to protect vulnerable individuals experiencing homelessness who are high-risk for developing serious illness from COVID-19. As such, the County will be opposing the efforts of the City of Laguna Hills to obtain an injunction,” reads a statement provided by the county’s Emergency Operations Center.

County officials ran into a roadblock earlier this month when the Ayres Hotel in Laguna Woods pulled out of a contract for homeless beds after residents protested the site. 

Kim, during the April 13 news conference, said officials approached Laguna Hills hotel after the Ayres Hotel fell apart. 

“The Laguna Hills hotel that was one of the hotels that was on the state’s list,” Kim said. “We went to the next available hotel for the southern part of the county … so the motels and other resources that we make available should be provided regionally.”  

At last week’s Supervisors meeting, the County’s homeless services director, Jason Austin, said there are 545 hotel and motel beds secured. 

He also said Joplin, a former youth detention camp in Trabuco Canyon, was slated to be ready by last Wednesday. 

As of Friday, 37 homeless people were housed in the motel program — 19 medically vulnerable people at the Stanton Hotel and 18 people who show virus symptoms at the Orange hotel, according to Austin. 

Two people in OC’s homeless population have tested positive, but officials won’t say where they are. 

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