Proposed "tent village" in Irvine
The Irvine City Council unanimously voted tonight to direct its legal counsel to immediately commence litigation against the county for its many violations of law and to take all available steps to stop a proposal by the Board of Supervisors to create a homeless shelter near the Orange County Great Park
The council listened to nearly two hours of impassioned testimony about the potential impact of the county's decision less than 24 hours earlier to spend, in part, $70.5 million on a homeless camp on county land along Marine Way and similar facilities in Laguna Niguel and Huntington Beach. The supervisors' strategy to construct the new encampments is the latest twist to the spreading county social crisis.
The Irvine site is on 100 acres between Marine Way and a major rail line, and only a mile or two from newly built homes, schools and other amenities.
Public safety and health concerns were mentioned by opponents to the homeless camp that would become home to an undetermined number of tent structures that Supervisor Todd Spitzer said would have small generators and some sort of plumbing for bathing. Many told the council they had just learned earlier in the day about the county's new plan and decided at the last minute to appear and urge the council to take whatever measures necessary to stop the county from moving forward.
While most expressed empathy for those living on the street, they told similar stories of moving to Irvine, sometimes at great expense and hardship, to live in America's safest city. Locating a homeless camp so close to their homes and families would change all of that overnight, they said.
Only one speaker challenged the council and those who spoke against the homeless camp. He encouraged the audience to be more compassionate and prodded city leaders to do their "fair share" to help those struggling to find shelter and services.
Mayor Don Wagner responded a short time later by saying "this city has shown great heart," before proudly naming nearly 10 longstanding Irvine-based nonprofits that are serving the disadvantaged with meals, clothing, training, housing and health services. He even pointed out the city's commitment to spend almost $30 million in state redevelopment money on future affordable housing in the city.
"This city cares big time," Wagner said. "Any suggestion that it doesn't is just wrong."
Wagner labeled the county's plan as "nothing more than what we have seen in the (Santa Ana) Civic Center and the (Santa Ana) River bed. How does this solve the problem? It doesn't. It simply redistributes the problem elsewhere."
Supervisor Spitzer, who spent several years in law enforcement, opened the special hearing by pointing out a motivation of Supervisor Shawn Nelson, charging that his colleague is attempting to "leverage" the city into approving the county's plan for a major mixed use development plan on the 100 acres where the homeless camp would be located. Irvine has filed a lawsuit to block the plan and Spitzer contends Nelson is now firing back by threatening to build the homeless camp on the site.
"This is reckless, irresponsible and disrespectful," said Spitzer. "It's just wrong."
After hearing from concerned residents, the council went into closed session with its attorney to discuss options.
Tuesday night's emergency council session, and a similar meeting in Laguna Niguel, was in response to action Monday in which the county identified three cities as sites for the temporary housing.
Irvine, Huntington Beach and Laguna Niguel have been identified as sites where the shelters could be located. As happened in Irvine, opposition from city leaders in Laguna Niguel and Huntington Beach has been swift, with councils in both cities also holding special meetings to discuss options.
According to Spitzer, county funds totaling $185 million earmarked for mental health services were discovered Monday and determined to be unspent funds from 2016-2017. The supervisors determined Monday in their meeting that they would allocate $70.5 million for temporary homeless shelters in the county.
"I'm embarrassed because I've been led to believe until today that we were doing everything in our power to money on the streets," Spitzer said. "Now we find out today, and it was confirmed, that we have $185 million from 2016-17 that we didn't spend. Every one of these board members had the same information I had, that up until today we didn't know those dollars were available."
If the county had spent those available funds, "we wouldn't be here today, so now we're saying we're going to put up tents," Spitzer said.
The transients, who were recently relocated from the Santa Ana Riverbed to local motels for one month–paid for by vouchers–will soon have to find new shelter. If there are not enough beds in local shelters, the tents erected in Irvine, Huntington Beach and Laguna Niguel will be made available.
Irvine, which has a capacity for some 200 tents will be accessed first, with overflow directed to Huntington Beach and then Laguna Niguel.