‘We’re going to clean up this city,’ judge vows
By LB Indy staff
Laguna Beach entered a federal civil rights lawsuit over homeless issues this week only to settle it, joining a novel settlement that gives a judge power over the city for the next four years.
The deal allows the city to continue enforcing anti-camping and loitering laws and establishes an alternative to new lawsuits that sends disputes over homeless issues to U.S. District Judge David O. Carter, instead of new litigation.
“We’re going to clean up this city,” Carter said during a hearing Monday, Sept. 23, at the Ronald Reagan Federal Building and Courthouse. “These 10 percent who need shelter or are just helpless, let’s get them shelter.
“For those who decide that they’re not going to seek the shelter that you already have, they’re going to jail,” the judge continued. A longtime Laguna Beach resident, Carter is overseeing a lawsuit that’s helped establish a growing social services network in north Orange County through similar agreements with cities such as Santa Ana, Orange and Fullerton.
The settlement is expanding to Los Angeles County as well, with the recent addition of the city of Bellflower.
He praised Laguna Beach on Monday as “the model city.”
“Laguna Beach, historically, was that balanced community—the conservative, liberal, different viewpoints—that came together,” Carter said.
City Attorney Phil Kohn said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting he expects “few if any” disputes over the next four years because of the “amicable nature of the settlement.”
Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow said Tuesday the settlement is part of efforts to protect the public better against “repeat offenders” and “transient criminals” in town.
He referenced an incident last weekend in which a transient attacked a Laguna Beach shuttle bus driver, “and another transient criminal joined in.”
“Violent attacks are simply occurring and maybe occurring more frequently, so we need better protection,” Dicetrow said.
Dicetrow said he and Councilman Peter Blake have met with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, “and now we have Judge Carter, who’s had a very bold vision for not just the county, but for the region.”
Carter “has basically given us a blueprint, particularly for our police department, how they can vigorously enforce our rules to better protect us,” Dicterow said.
“This is not the end. This might not even be the beginning of the end of this process, but it is something that we are proactively working towards,” he concluded.
Dicterow and Kohn were joined in court Monday by City Manager John Pietig, police Chief Laura Farinella, police Capt. Jeff Calvert and city Senior Administrative Analyst Jeremy Frimond.
Carter pledged to join city officials for an early morning enforcement effort in the next few weeks, but nothing had been scheduled as of press time.
The settlement calls for the city to first warn a person and give he or she “an opportunity to immediately leave the location before engaging in citation and/or arrest.”
“If the individual fails to relocate to another location as directed, then the individual may be issued a citation or…placed under custodial arrest of the violation,” according to the settlement.
It also acknowledges the Friendship Shelter is operating subject to a class settlement in a disability rights lawsuit filed by the American with Civil Liberties Union. That case was not decided by Carter, who’s said he would have thrown it out because it sought to punish the one city in Orange County that’s for years had a shelter.
The city has long been enforcing its anti-camping ordinances with the assistance of the 45-bed shelter. Five beds stay open every night to allow for it. That’s to comply with a federal appeals court ruling that requires cities have shelter beds available to enforce anti-camping ordinances, which has been the basis for much of the litigation in Orange County.
New shelters have opened in north county, and south county cities were sued by the same attorneys, Brooke Weitzman and Carol Sobel, to try to force action. But Aliso Viejo, San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente successfully moved to recuse Carter, arguing he was an advocate for homeless people, and now only San Clemente remains a defendant. Still, homeless problems in those cities persist: Laguna’s shelter is filled with people from other cities, Carter said Monday. He highlighted statistics that put Aliso Viejo’s homeless population at 27 in 2017, then down to one in 2018.
“What happened to the other 26 homeless people from Aliso Viejo?…They went to the Laguna Beach shelter,” Carter said. The judge vowed that the dumping of homeless people from other cities into Laguna Beach “will stop immediately,” and he urged city officials to pressure neighboring south cities to build shelters.
Pietig told the Independent he hopes other cities will work with the county “to come up with their own programs and shelters and services so hopefully homeless from other areas do not come to Laguna Beach.”