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Support for Costa Mesa’s legal action to block coronavirus quarantine site grows among local agencies

Coronavirus protest
Protesters gather Monday outside the federal courthouse in Santa Ana before a hearing on the possibility of sending people infected with coronavirus to Costa Mesa.
(Faith E. Pinho)

Local government and business officials are throwing their weight behind Costa Mesa’s legal action aimed at barring state and federal authorities from using the Fairview Developmental Center as a coronavirus quarantine site.

The cities of Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach as well as Orange County, the Ocean View School District and Orange County Business Council have filed or plan to file court documents supporting the city’s action.

In a special closed meeting Thursday, Huntington Beach City Council members voted to authorize the city attorney to file an amicus brief in connection with the case. Such a brief is filed by nonlitigants who want to share information that the court may want to consider.

The “plan to relocate individuals infected with or exposed to the highly contagious COVID-19 novel coronavirus to Costa Mesa presents a significant risk of disease and potentially even death, which extend beyond the city limits of Costa Mesa,” according to Huntington’s brief, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana.

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“Huntington Beach finds this to be a very important issue that has a regional impact, and the amicus brief sends a signal to the community in Huntington Beach that the mayor and City Council take this issue seriously and want to respond,” City Attorney Michael Gates said Friday. He added that the city has received numerous comments from residents about the issue.

“The two cities share major thoroughfares, roadways and attractions that are seamlessly traveled by shared commuters, residents and visitors. Huntington Beach has substantial concerns that defendants’ hasty attempt to relocate into Costa Mesa, only a few miles from the borders of Huntington Beach, without proper evaluations, preparations and consultation with local officials will result in an unnecessary risk of the spread of infection to residents of Huntington Beach,” the brief stated.

In documents filed Feb. 21 in District Court, Costa Mesa argued that various federal and state agencies “have not sought to include local officials and emergency personnel in the planning and execution of their efforts” to use the state-owned Fairview Developmental Center at 2501 Harbor Blvd. to house and quarantine people with the coronavirus.

The illness has been confirmed in more than 84,000 cases in dozens of countries, with more than 2,800 deaths.

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District Judge Josephine Staton granted Costa Mesa’s request for a temporary restraining order preventing the transportation of anyone infected with or exposed to the coronavirus to Costa Mesa.

Staton extended the order at a hearing Monday while directing federal, state and local officials to meet and sort out information about the potential use of Fairview. Another court hearing is scheduled for 2 p.m. next Monday.

The Huntington Beach-based Ocean View School District filed an amicus brief Monday, describing the threat that Fairview’s proximity to district facilities and other public spaces might pose to the community.

“Fairview is located within a couple of miles of [Ocean View School District’s] boundaries in Huntington Beach and dozens of other schools, parks, athletic fields, shopping centers and restaurants used by OVSD students, teachers and staff. If there is an outbreak of a communicable disease in the Costa Mesa/Huntington Beach area, OVSD will be impacted by it,” the document stated.

The brief pointed to facilities that are “well-positioned to receive, treat and suppress the spread of the coronavirus,” including Kaiser Oakland Medical Center, Kaiser South Medical Center in Sacramento, UC San Francisco Medical Center and UC Davis Medical Center.

“OVSD and its students, teachers and administrators are at risk of being infected by the coronavirus, which is spread as easily as the common cold and flu,” the brief stated. “An outbreak would cause OVSD to suffer irreparable harm, including possible school closures and loss of faculty and staff.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the virus is spread through person-to-person contact “via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes … [that] can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.”

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In a response filed in court to Costa Mesa’s action, federal agencies argued that “fear of COVID-19 does not justify such unprecedented intrusion into federal quarantine decisions by the specialized agencies responsible for this area.”

The state’s response called the potential for transmission of the virus to the community around Fairview “negligible” and said patients would not be able to interact with the community from the secured site.

Laguna Beach gave notice Thursday of its intent to file its own amicus brief.

“At issue is a highly communicable and deadly worldwide medical phenomenon — not yet but soon likely to be designated as a pandemic — that is not confined to and does not respect any political, geographic or physical boundaries,” according to the planned brief.

The brief indicated the city isn’t expressing a view on the legal issue of whether the federal or state governments have the right to transfer people diagnosed with or exposed to the virus to the Fairview Developmental Center over objections from local jurisdictions. Rather, the brief states, Laguna is asking the court to be transparent in its deliberations and insist on complete, accurate information in regard to questions about the proposal.

According to the federal defendants’ court filing, “there is an urgent need to house evacuees who test positive for COVID-19. Using such a site would be better for public health than the alternatives, which consist of using hospitals or home isolation. Home isolation does not provide the same level of monitoring and care.”

In a brief filed Sunday, Newport Beach emphasized the health and welfare of its residents and the potential economic consequences of coronavirus patients staying nearby.

Newport Beach draws more than 7 million people a year to its beaches, harbor, hotels and high-end shopping, the city said.

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“Even the hint that coronavirus is nearby could have significant economic ramifications clearly not considered by the state or federal government in their decision-making processes,” according to the brief.

Orange County officials, who have filed two amicus briefs supporting Costa Mesa, declared a local health emergency Wednesday in response to the coronavirus.

“This will allow the county to ensure all means are available to us to protect the public,” Michelle Steel, chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors, said in a statement.

Orange County has had one confirmed case of COVID-19, a middle-aged patient who has recovered, but has no current cases and “no evidence of person-to-person transmission occurring here,” according to the county Health Care Agency website.

The Orange County Business Council also weighed in to support Costa Mesa, filing an amicus brief Thursday.

The brief said the city’s and county’s population density and the high flow of people related to business and tourism make Fairview ill-suited for the proposed use.

“There are plenty of alternative low-density locations throughout the United States,” according to the brief. “It seems unlikely that ... coronavirus patients would have been moved, en masse, to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., or another cosmopolitan center precisely based on concerns linked to population density. Orange County is no different.”

Daily Pilot staff writer Lilly Nguyen contributed to this report.

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