City officials remain closed-mouthed about the closed session held May 28 to confer with legal counsel about a significant exposure to litigation regarding camping and sleeping on public property.
State law requires public agencies to conduct the public’s business in public, but the Brown Act, an opening meetings law, permits the discussion of litigation to be conducted behind closed doors.
However, any action taken must be reported to the public. None was reported from the May 28 meeting, and City Manager John Pietig declined to comment, but did respond to questions about activities at the Alternative Sleeping Location established and funded by the city.
“There has always been a certain level of camping out in Laguna, but we have had an increase at the ASL [Alternative Sleeping Location] and we have increased police presence to ensure that doesn’t happen,” Pietig said. “But we have come a long way. The ASL is working. That doesn’t mean that we don’t occasionally have to remind people that the appropriate place to sleep is the ASL.”
There also have been incidents of folks showing up for dinner that cannot be served because the shelter is at capacity, Pietig said.
“Police are aware of it and are responding,” Pietig said. “Warnings have been issued.”
Pietig declined to comment on whether police action was related to the closed session, but did say it was not the consequence of any individual comment.
“If we have a situation of where people sleep — then that we have to address,” Pietig said. “It has happened before and it has continued, but to a much lesser degree.
“This only the second summer we have had the (ASL) program, and as the homeless from other communities come into Laguna Beach we have to deal with them because our program was established to serve local homeless.”
The shelter has admitted non-locals periodically if there was room the city cannot afford to shelter them regularly, Pietig said.
“Summer is coming, and it is only going to get worse,” said Larry Bammer, president of the Police Employees Assn.
“The homeless are already hanging out in Forest Lane by Rocky Mountain (Chocolate Factory), and that is right across the street from Main Beach. Pictures were taken of them smoking marijuana right there in public. That’s not right.”
Bammer said supervision at the shelter should be tightened. Allowing the overflow of people to sleep in the parking lot, or under the bridge, may be kindly meant but is not a good idea, he said.
Nor is admitting people under the influence of alcohol or drugs a wise move, he added.
“We get a lot of drunk calls and medical calls for seizures from alcohol or drug overdoses,” Bammer said. “That takes two officers off the streets.”
Still, the situation is better than it was two years ago, Councilman Kelly Boyd said.
At that time, the business community was up in arms. Residents were complaining they were afraid to walk in parks and were being accosted on street corners.
Boyd initiated a task force, and co-chaired it with Mayor Toni Iseman, that led to the establishment of the Alternate Sleeping Location first at the ACT V parking lot and later to its present site adjacent to the Bark Park.
And at the budget workshop this year, not one word was spoken about the cost of maintaining the shelter, Pietig said.
Community members have reported inappropriate actions by the homeless and nothing more needs to be done at this time, Pietig said.