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Orange County plans crackdown on homeless camps on Santa Ana River, fearing the area is becoming ‘skid row’

Linda O'Reilly, 54, places a cover over her tent Oct. 31 along the Santa Ana River Trail in Fountain Valley.
Linda O’Reilly, 54, places a cover over her tent Oct. 31 along the Santa Ana River Trail in Fountain Valley.
(Kevin Chang | Staff Photographer)

Orange County will begin enforcing public access hours Friday on a stretch of the Santa Ana River trail between Huntington Beach and Anaheim, a move that is expected to displace a large population of homeless people who have set up camp along the river, including in Fountain Valley.

The plan, which county officials announced Monday, also calls for permanently closing the west side of the flood control channel between 17th Street in Santa Ana and Adams Avenue in Huntington Beach beginning Nov. 10. The east side of the channel will remain open during public hours, which are 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. beginning Wednesday.

Beginning Friday, people on the Santa Ana River trail outside the posted hours will be considered in violation of state trespassing laws and will be cited, officials said.

“The enforcement of public hours will enable the county to ensure the safety and security of the recreational users of the trail while simultaneously protecting the integrity of the flood control channel for its intended purpose,” Khalid Bazmi, chief engineer of the Orange County Flood Control District, wrote in a memo to the Board of Supervisors.

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The county also is expected to begin installing gates at all public entrances this year. The gates will be locked daily at closing time.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer commended the county’s action, calling it a “progressive next step” to combat homelessness compassionately while ensuring the safety of nearby residents.

He wrote in a statement Monday that homeowners and local businesses have complained in recent months about property crimes and safety issues related to homeless encampments, prompting the county to act.

“I will not allow the Santa Ana River trail to become Orange County’s skid row,” he said. “People living in the encampments have every opportunity to accept a pathway out of homelessness. There should be no excuse, and people not accepting assistance will have no choice but to leave the riverbed.”

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Fry writes for Times Community News.


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