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Huntington Beach praises ‘courageous’ county decision to scrap plan for emergency homeless shelters

Huntington Beach praises ‘courageous’ county decision to scrap plan for emergency homeless shelters
Residents of Irvine, Huntington Beach and Laguna Niguel protest Tuesday outside the Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting as the board discussed placing temporary homeless shelters in those communities. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Huntington Beach leaders expressed thanks to the Orange County Board of Supervisors for its vote Tuesday to scrap a plan to have county staff study moving hundreds of homeless people to temporary shelters in Huntington, Laguna Niguel and Irvine after receiving pushback from those communities.

In its 4-0 vote, the board opted to come up with a new plan under the watchful eye of a federal judge overseeing a civil-rights lawsuit by seven homeless people and their advocates over the county's recent clearing of encampments along the Santa Ana River trail.

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It isn't clear what the new plan will include.

Huntington Beach Mayor Mike Posey on Tuesday thanked Supervisors Michelle Steel and Lisa Bartlett for rescinding their support for the previous plan, a move he called "courageous."

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On March 19, the board directed staff to study relocating homeless people who recently were moved from the Santa Ana River trail into motels for 30 days. They would have been housed in temporary shelters on county land, first in Irvine near the Great Park, then at a former landfill in Huntington Beach and eventually near City Hall in Laguna Niguel.

The plan prompted significant backlash, with the Huntington Beach City Council authorizing the city attorney to take any necessary legal action to stop it. Huntington Beach officials said the 33-acre former landfill on Gothard Street, which the county operated from 1947 to 1982, is contaminated with methane and isn't safe for a shelter.

The Irvine and Laguna Niguel city councils voted to sue the county over the plans for their cities.

In an interview Wednesday, Posey pointed to the city's homeless task force, created in 2015 to connect the homeless population with housing and other services, as an example of how Huntington Beach is working to solve homelessness. He said the city remains opposed to creation of a local "tent city."

"We're doing our fair share," he said.

More than 1,000 people attended Tuesday's supervisors meeting to protest the shelter plans. Some said they shouldn't have to worry about where to put the homeless.

Angela Liu of Irvine said she didn't know where the homeless should go but it shouldn't be her city.

"They need to put them somewhere, maybe somewhere else in California," said Liu, who owns a legal services company. "I really don't know where they can go. But Irvine is beautiful and we don't want it to get destroyed."

Others suggested the government should do nothing. U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) criticized "the spectacle of county-financed homeless compounds setting up shop in our local communities."

"As a parent who owns a modest home in an Orange County neighborhood, I join the outrage that we are assuming responsibility for homeless people, taking care of their basic needs and elongating their agony by removing the necessity to make fundamental decisions about the way they live their lives," Rohrabacher said in a statement.

The political drama began in January when Orange County officials began clearing the sprawling river encampments in response to complaints from nearby residents about crime and blight. But the county's existing homeless shelters are already at capacity, and U.S. District Judge David Carter has ordered local governments to find places for the evicted people to live.

According to county Supervisor Shawn Nelson, "we were not given time to go on a tour to talk to cities" about where temporary shelters would be located.

"Of course, you're criticized on having created a plan but with limitations," Nelson said. "We did the best we could."

Nelson said county and city officials will meet with Carter on Tuesday. Nelson said he expects the judge to "push a lot of cities to see if we can come up with a host of emergency shelter beds."

Fry is a Daily Pilot staff writer. Do and Carcamo write for the Los Angeles Times.

Twitter: @HannahFryTCN

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