On Monday, Nov. 5, a federal court judge granted final approval of an agreement reached by the city of Laguna Beach in June to settle a 2015 federal class action lawsuit filed by the Americans Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of homeless individuals. No money changed hands as a result of the settlement agreement, which also prevents members of the class from filing a multitude of potential similar future claims against the city.
“Though we are pleased with the outcome, the money and time we’ve spent over the last three years defending ourselves against the unfounded allegations in this lawsuit would have been better spent elsewhere,” said Laguna Beach City Manager John Pietig. “We are ready to move on and put this behind us.”
Since August 2015, the city has defended itself against the ACLU’s claims relating to city programs, services and facilities that benefit homeless individuals. City officials said in a statement that most of the lawsuit’s initial claims have all but vanished. The ACLU dropped its demand that the city fund, construct and operate permanent supportive housing for homeless persons. In addition, the court denied the ACLU’s request for an injunction to prevent Laguna Beach Police from enforcing laws prohibiting lodging and camping on public property.
“The agreement outlines that the city will continue certain policies, programs, and services already in place and will take certain additional actions with regard to homeless individuals, particularly with reference to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the operation of the Alternative Sleeping Location (ASL),” said City Attorney Phil Kohn.
Since 2009, the Friendship Shelter has operated the ASL under a contract with the city. As the only year-round emergency shelter program of its kind in southern Orange County, the Laguna Beach ASL provides a place for up to 45 people to sleep each night, offering showers, hot meals, clean laundry facilities, sleeping mats, warm blankets, and a case worker to connect homeless individuals with services and resources. It currently costs the city $400,000 to operate the facility each year with a small portion of the operating costs covered by a Community Development Block Grant. To date, the city has provided over 139,230 bed nights to homeless in need. The city has also been successful in reuniting homeless individuals with their families and, with the assistance of the Friendship Shelter, has facilitated the placement of numerous others in transitional and permanent supportive housing.
“The city pioneered its own homeless program in 2007 because of the number of homeless camping and sleeping in Heisler Park and on Main Beach, many using picnic tables as beds and building tents in public places,” said Laguna Beach Mayor Kelly Boyd. “We took action to aid the homeless and help them in locating more stable housing arrangements.”
As part of the settlement agreement, the city and the Friendship Shelter are also creating a pilot program at the shelter for day-time services and a streamlined enrollment process that gives priority to Laguna Beach locals and those homeless who are the most vulnerable. Those who qualify for enrollment may be granted a bed at the ASL for a period of up to 30 days, which is expected to enhance efforts to secure transitional and permanent supportive housing. Currently, there are more than 85 formerly homeless men and women participating in the program who have been placed in housing throughout South Orange County.
“If you look at any city in Orange County, Laguna Beach stands out as a leader in providing shelter and services to homeless individuals,” Boyd said. “Anyone who says different is simply looking for either money or headlines, or both.”