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City defends camp policy

Newport Beach bans sleeping in the parks and on the beach. San Clemente doesn’t allow sleeping or waking people in its parks between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Irvine bans sleeping in vehicles parked in the city between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. and no camping overnight in public parks without a permit. Huntington Beach and Dana Point have similar prohibitions. The vast throng of people who flooded Washington D.C. Barack Obama’s inauguration wasn’t allowed to sleep overnight in the National Mall because the nation’s capital allows no camping.

So why is Laguna being sued by the Newport Beach law firm Irell & Manella LLP, the American Civil Liberties Union and UC Irvine’s Erwin Chemerinsky?

“Because I live here,” said 11-year resident Jim Keegan, “I am one of those dreaded people called a liberal and I have had a longtime interest in homeless issues — about 30 years.

“I had done business before with [Irell & Manella]. I became concerned about what I was heard at the Homeless Task Force meetings — this was almost two years ago — and I asked them if they would be interested in attending the meetings pro bono. They are good people and that is what they do.”

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The suit filed in December against the city, the City Council and the Laguna Beach Police Department, charges that they have made it illegal to be homeless in Laguna. The target is the city’s 1950 ordinance prohibiting camping on public property and its execution.

“There weren’t any homeless people in Laguna in 1950; the city ordinance was for everybody,” said Mayor Kelly Boyd, born and raised here. “It is amazing when Laguna has been so progressive — more than any other city in Orange County, than Santa Ana — to be targeted.”

Boyd, Councilwoman Jane Egly, an attorney, City Atty. Philip Kohn and Assistant City Manager John Pietig are scheduled to meet today with attorneys acting for plaintiffs Mark Sipprelle, Helene Ayres, Felipe Ruiz, Robert Carmichael and Paul Ishak.

In another development, Laguna Beach Taxpayers Assn. President Martha Lydick announced Wednesday the formation of a fund to help the city defray the costs of a legal defense. Donations will be accepted.

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Boyd said Keegan appeared with attorneys about the third meeting of the task force, which Boyd organized to address homeless issues and served as vice chairman.

“There was no explanation for their appearance and they declined at first to give their names,” Boyd said. “They did admit to being attorneys when specifically asked by Councilwoman Toni Iseman [a task force member]. They never spoke, they just took notes.”

Kohn said the suit was unexpected.

“When the press conference was called, we had no awareness that a lawsuit was in the works,” Kohn said. “The city’s assumption was that as long as no citations [for sleeping on public property overnight] and a dialogue continued to be carried on with homeless advocates, there would be no legal action.

“There was no written agreement — only our understanding. The suit came as a total surprise.”

Modifications to the city’s ordinance were tabled last year as recommended by the task force. The modifications were based on the Santa Ana ordinance, which was upheld by the California Supreme Court, Boyd said.

Critics of the city’s conduct toward the homeless claim city officials are dragging their feet in carrying out the 14 recommendations to aid the homeless.

An update on the implementation of the recommendations presented at the Jan. 6 council meeting by Pietig was met with skepticism.

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“He was being disingenuous,” city critic Barbara McMurray said.

She said the city was claiming unwarranted credit for some activities, such as the cold weather shelters, operated by local churches with a $15,000 to $20,000 federal grant. However, the city matches the grant in in-kind services.

McMurray dismissed as piddling the $2,500 collected in city-installed meters and donated to the Laguna Beach Relief and Resource Center.

The tipping point for critics appears to be the lack of an oversight committee to push for implementation of the recommendations.

On www.lbhomeless.org, under the headline Real Help for Laguna’s Homeless, the lawsuit is described as a catalyst for action.

“We are just an ad hoc committee who want to hold the city’s feet to the fire,” McMurray said. “The city is not moving as quickly as we had hoped. It has been a year since the report was made and applauded by all.”

Boyd announced at the Jan. 6 council meeting that he would be submitting names at Tuesday’s meeting to serve on a Homeless Oversight Committee.

“I will be proposing Ed Sauls, the Rev. Colin Henderson, Daga Krackowiser, Councilwoman Toni Iseman and myself, all of whom were members of the original task force,” Boyd said.

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He also will submit the names of Planning Commissioner and former School Board member Robert Whalen, Community Clinic physician Corey Jorgeson, Village Laguna founder Arnold Hano, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rose Hancock, Jason Paransky, Housing and Human Affairs Committee members Ashley Frost and Michael Goselin, and downtown business owner Sheila Bushard Jamieson.

“It is a broad cross-section of the community,” Boyd said.

In the most recent Village Laguna newsletter, Hano described the city’s conduct toward the homeless as similar to discriminatory actions taken in the past against Jews, African Americans, gays and hippies, and called for an attack on the causes of homelessness. Bushard-Jamieson has said publicly that merchants, shoppers and residents need protection too. Krackowiser calls for unity of purpose and good intentions.

The oversight committee was just one of recommendations by the task force, un-prioritized except to the first two: the continuation of a Community Outreach officer and a multi-purpose center operated by a nonprofit organization to provide outreach and case management services, mentoring, emergency shelter, lockers and opportunities for homeless people to access available county-provided services such as detoxification, mental health care and transitional housing.

The suit against the city also alleges illegal police enforcement of the ordinance, improper searches and seizures of property and official thwarting of attempts to assist homeless people and denial of a permit for multipurpose center that would provide emergency beds.

City officials have testified that enforcement of the ordinance was discontinued in February and any citations issued for sleeping on public property were rescinded. However, citations continued to be issued for trespassing on private property and for disorderly conduct.

Further, officials also point out that the permit for the multipurpose center was not denied. The hearing was continued until the Relief and Resource Center, which had made the application, pulled out of a deal to buy a building in Laguna Canyon, for which the city had promised a $100,000 down payment.



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