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Santa Ana to sue the other 33 Orange County cities over homelessness burden

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Tents in the Plaza of the Flags area next to the Orange County Superior Courthouse.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Santa Ana officials moved Wednesday to take legal action against all 33 other Orange County cities, stepping up pressure on their leaders to help resolve homelessness across O.C.

The City Council’s unanimous vote may clear the way for a federal judge to follow through on his threat to ban enforcement of anti-camping ordinances in the county, if elected officials — especially those in South Orange County — don’t start doing their part to provide temporary housing for a swelling homeless population.

In early April, U.S. District Judge David O. Carter warned city representatives that they needed to join forces to find shelter for people removed from the Santa Ana River trail, the county’s largest homeless encampment. Santa Ana, he said, had done more than its share in housing “desperate and vulnerable” populations.

Santa Ana’s mayor said his city long has sacrificed to help the homeless while continuing to carry burdens.

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“We are taking this action in order to allow the court to facilitate a countywide solution to a countywide problem,” Mayor Miguel Pulido said in a statement. “Legal action may be the catalyst that helps us all find solutions for the county.”

The Santa Ana vote was 6 to 0, not including Councilman Sal Tinajero, who was absent. Lawyers for the city plan to file a lawsuit by the end of the week.

The council’s decision followed a Tuesday vote by the Orange County Board of Supervisors to unanimously reject a proposal from south O.C. mayors — who pitched opening a shelter at the former Silverado Elementary School in a remote canyon.

As officials scramble for shelter solutions for the former river-trail population, they also need to find options for about 150 people recently removed from an illegal tent city at Santa Ana’s Civic Center.

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A recent study by workers from the Orange County Health Care Agency showed that the Civic Center population included homeless who had migrated from 17 other cities. During the March “point in time” count across Santa Ana, statistics show that 52% of the 1,030 people interviewed reported their last permanent residence was outside the city.

Santa Ana officials say they’ve tried again and again to reach out to neighboring cities to find ways to help the homeless. In October 2016, workers contacted leaders in the county’s other 33 cities to meet to find solutions. When the group finally gathered in June 2017, only 12 other Orange County cities sent representatives.

“Santa Ana has been a leader in addressing homelessness in Orange County. We are willing to continue being a leader in these efforts, but we need the county and our fellow cities to be good partners,” said Councilman Juan Villegas. “There need to be more ideas, fewer roadblocks, and more of us asking: ‘How can we collectively move forward?’ Those without homes demand better of their cities. We demand better of our neighbors.”


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