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EDITORIAL: Good deeds punished

“No good deed goes unpunished."

Like other cities that have offered services, provided tolerance and gone above and beyond to help the homeless, Laguna Beach is being raked over the coals in federal court for failing to help enough.

Meanwhile, few other cities in south Orange County offer food and assistance to street-dwellers, preferring to send them on their way "” a lot of the time to Laguna Beach, where they can get meals, fresh clothing, a shower and help to get off the street, if they want it.

The ACLU of Southern California and the glittering new dean of UC Irvine’s new law school, Erwin Chemerinsky, with the help of Newport Beach law firm Irell & Manella, have trained their sites on Laguna Beach in an apparent effort to achieve a high-visibility lawsuit that seems well-intentioned but is a misfire.


It’s not even the first of its kind in the country, as was touted in a well-organized press conference. The city of Portland, Ore., is already being sued in a federal class-action lawsuit filed a week or so before the Orange County action. Portland is being taken to task for enacting an anti-camping ordinance six years ago to deal with the problem of 7,000 people living on public land there.

In fact, most of the cities sued or otherwise challenged over homeless services are ones with reputations for being liberal and tolerant. Portland is known as a liberal bastion. The city of Berkeley has been targeted for trying to get a handle on street-dwellers.

Apparently San Francisco is now trying to limit the number of bags people can carry around in an attempt to get some control over its streets. It sounds absurd, but the problem of homeless people and how to manage them isn’t going away.

Santa Monica years ago faced this issue when homeless people, taking advantage of an official’s refusal to enforce no-camping laws, set up elaborate tent cities in the parks, essentially removing them from public use. After a political overthrow of the administration, laws began to be enforced and the parks were able to be used for their intended purpose: public recreation, not shelter.


The question that needs to be answered, and perhaps will be only through litigation, is when does public land become privatized? When are the public parks no longer public? Do people really have the right to live on public property?

Homelessness is a national embarrassment and a human tragedy. Perhaps Irell & Manella would do better filing a lawsuit against their own city, which, like most in the region, does not provide any local services to homeless people, but instead sends them elsewhere for assistance.

The worst of it is that, by filing a lawsuit against Laguna Beach, the ACLU is putting other smaller cities on notice that doing something to help the homeless will likely lead only to litigation "” and to the city’s spending thousands of dollars on attorney fees instead of assistance for those who need it.