SANTA ANA (CNS) - The Orange County Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a settlement of two federal lawsuits stemming from attempts to clear the Santa Ana riverbed of a homeless encampment.
The agreement will allow the county to enforce nuisance laws on county property by creating two zones -- one in which transients can be arrested immediately and another that requires that law enforcement first do outreach and try to move the transients into shelters, Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do said.
The restricted areas allowing for immediate arrest include John Wayne Airport, flood control channels and high-risk wilderness areas, Do said. In other areas, officials will send social workers to engage with transients, but if they refuse services, they could be taken to jail, he said.
"If it seems obvious that a patient has a medical condition then they will be transported to a county clinic for assessment" before an appropriate shelter is determined, Do said.
A procedure built into the agreement will allow U.S. District Judge David O. Carter to resolve grievances, Do said.
The settlement also prevents the Orange County Sheriff's Department from enforcing anti-camping laws in its contract cities unless those cities have shown they have provided adequate shelter for their homeless population, Do said.
Last month, a dozen northern Orange County cities approved a settlement in the federal litigation, agreeing to build two shelters in Buena Park and Placentia. Those two "navigation centers" will provide a variety of services to the homeless aimed at getting them into permanent housing.
Cities in south Orange County, however, are still embroiled in federal litigation. U.S. District Judge James Selna recently ruled that Carter had made some comments during the case that could be viewed as prejudicial, so the case was sent to a federal judge in Los Angeles County.
The Santa Ana-based homeless activist organization Orange County Catholic Worker sued in January of last year to stop a move to clear out hundreds of transients camped out on the riverbed near Angel Stadium.
"The settlement is in itself very simple, but the ramifications are profound on many levels," Do said. "This nails down the shelter and wraparound service component of our system of care. You couple this with the Be Well OC program and the mental health structure and the housing trust components, and that completes our system of care."
The last remaining piece is mental health services in the jails, Do said. "Truly, our county has a completely well-defined and built-out system of care, and hopefully through that system we won't have gaps and people won't fall through those gaps," Do said. "I'm excited. In the life of a normal case a year and a half is not really that long, but given the enormity of the issues involved and the problems we were trying to address in society this is huge. We are so much further ahead than any other county in the United States that I know of. I don't think any county our size or smaller has come nearly as far."
Attorney Brooke Weitzman, who represents some of the plaintiffs in the federal suit, said the settlement is "a great step" that will lead to "solutions" to the issues that led to the lawsuits. The dispute resolution before Carter will be available for three years, Weitzman said. That will give both sides time to iron out bugs in the process, she added.
"We certainly anticipate it will be a positive result for everyone," Weitzman said.