In November, 2017 the Plaza of Flags was full of homeless at the Civic Center in Santa Ana. (Photo by Ken Steinhardt, Orange County Register/SCNG)
SANTA ANA — Santa Ana officials said they will be filing a lawsuit against Orange County and three cities – Huntington Beach, Irvine and Laguna Niguel – that have opposed potential emergency homeless shelter sites within their boundaries.
Fed up with what they see as inaction on homelessness by the rest of the county, the Santa Ana City Council voted Tuesday, April 17, to file the lawsuit, which had not been filed as of Thursday, said Jorge Garcia, assistant to the city manager.
Officials with the county and the cities on Thursday questioned whether the suit would result in meaningful cooperation among Orange County governments.
Since Santa Ana is already part of an existing lawsuit on the homeless issue, Orange County First District Supervisor Andrew Do said, “Naming the county as a cross-defendant, I don’t see they gain much more than they already have in the case.
“What I find most curious,” he said, “is that they don’t see the need to bring in other cities” beyond the three named.
Santa Ana has borne a significant share of the local impacts of homelessness, officials said, as home to the county’s only large emergency shelter and, until earlier this month, a large tent encampment in the Civic Center.
City leaders floated the possibility of a lawsuit a few weeks ago to get other cities to step up and help, and they appear ready to make good on their threat.
“Every city in the county has an obligation to take on their fair share, and I would have preferred we motivated all cities to join in the effort. This, however, is a necessary start, and it is my hope that we can move from legal wrangling to solutions as soon as possible,” Councilwoman Michele Martinez said in a city news release.
But Do questioned why Santa Ana only included three cities when a recent survey of more than 100 people living in its Civic Center found they’d come from 17 other cities.
“We all know that cities will come to the table only when they feel like they need to,” Do said.
Laguna Niguel Mayor Elaine Gennawey said she was surprised her city was the only one in south Orange County to be named in the lawsuit.
“It’s a crisis, something we’re working collaboratively on. Laguna Niguel has always been proactive in preventing homelessness,” she said. “I hope Santa Ana sits back and recognizes this may not be the most effective way to address this.”
South Orange County mayors have been meeting to consider how their cities can pitch in. If a city doesn’t have a site for a shelter, there may be other ways to participate, Gennawey said.