Irvine City Council Responds to Homeless Plan Near Great Park
Unanimous vote begins effort to sue the county over Board of Supervisors’ effort
IRVINE, CA (March 20, 2018) – 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.
Mayor Donald P. Wagner called a Special Meeting tonight about 24 hours after the Board of Supervisors voted to move hundreds of homeless citizens to three Orange County cities, including Irvine. A tent area on 100 acres of county-owned land adjacent to the Great Park was chosen on Monday by the supervisors as a location that could be opened within the week.
Nineteen community members spoke during public comment, before the City Council went into closed session, and most strongly oppose the county’s effort.
“How does this solve the problem (of countywide homelessness)?” Mayor Wagner asked.
“Let’s not lose track that … we want to help people. But you can’t do it this way; it’s plain wrong,” said the night’s first speaker, Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who opposes the county plan.
For more information and the locator map of the 100 acres, visit cityofirvine.org.
# # #
Over the course of their political careers, Irvine Mayor Don Wagner and Irvine Mayor Pro Tem Christina Shea have made a big deal out of being Christian. Wagner’s used it to defend Concordia University; Shea used it to stop pro-LGBTQ policies in Irvine in the 90s. I’m not sure what copy of the Bible they have, but I’ll point to Matthew 25:34-45 and ask how their decision to sue the Orange County Board of Supervisors over their decision to relocate about 200 homeless to a spot on 100 acres of county-owned land just south of the Great Park is “Christian.”
From that passage: “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘LORD, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 44“They also will answer, ‘LORD, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
Instead, in announcing the decision to sue the county over this, Wagner said: “We’re not going to just let you recreate the riverbed and the Santa Ana Courthouse flag plaza in Irvine. Not acceptable.”
The 100 acres of county-owned land is not near homes. Did I mention it’s county-owned? The argument used by some points to a lack of running water, bathroom facilities, lack of transportation options, and it’s far from county services. And all of that is true and all of that is a solvable problem for the county to handle as it sits on millions of dollars in federal aid for the homeless. How hard is it to bring in porta-potties and a water truck? The homeless will be housed in tents — unheated and not air-conditioned. Hardly comfortable.
Wagner’s argument that all 33 cities in the county ought to be doing their part is hollow because he won’t let Irvine do its part. Last night’s council meetings in Irvine, Laguna Nigel and Huntington Beach showed that these Republican (and presumably Christian-led) city councils don’t want the homeless in their backyards. Thy name is NIMBY.
In a Facebook post last night, homeless advocate Mohammed Aly went after Democratic council member Melissa Fox for her decision to vote to sue the county. He posted this Tuesday: I wrote this post this morning, predicting correctly that Council Member Melissa Fox, who said “of course” she supported opening a shelter on a parcel of land in Irvine, would vote to sue the County of Orange over opening a shelter on that parcel of land. This hypocrisy must be condemned by every advocate, every Democrat, and every person that believes poor people deserve shelter.
The exchange got testy and Fox, has she has done with many who disagree with her, blocked Aly on Facebook. I’m beginning to think Fox’s skin isn’t as thick as I thought it was.
What’s distasteful here is Fox seems to seek support against Irvine’s slow growth referendum issue in exchange a positive vote on moving the homeless to Irvine. The two are not connected. As a city council member, I thought Fox would have been … tougher; but it seems any criticism on social media leads to being blocked. A Fox blocking is not uncommon in Irvine.
Fox posted this statement in her defense of her vote on Facebook:
I voted tonight with my colleagues on the Irvine City Council to oppose the County’s announced plan to put 200-400 homeless people in tents on County-owned land adjacent to the Great Park.
I am firmly committed to housing and assistance programs for people who are housing insecure or homeless and would not object to the County providing such housing and services on County land in Irvine. However, I do not support simply moving people from one tent to another, in an area totally without services or transportation.
Rather, I agree with the well thought-out statement made to the Irvine City Council tonight by my Community Services Commissioner, Lauren Johnson Norris, who has spent many years working as a lawyer fighting for people who are homeless, food insecure, without resources, disabled, and who have experienced traumas that have led to psychological issues that require mental and physical health services, compassion, and love:
“Irvine should serve as a community partner with the county and neighboring cities to address this regional crisis. We can do that because we are fiscally smart and offer our residents an extraordinary quality of life. I like to think we lead in part by example.
In contrast, the county has hoarded close to $190 million dollars designated for this population and the result has been the dangerous and uninhabitable conditions of homeless camps. Now the county says the solution is to erect shelter on land in Irvine. But what does that mean?
My fear is that the motive is simply to move these people away from the county seat and out of site, without a regard for their needs. At the county’s 100 acres, they will be far away from resources, without access to travel through ingress and egress, without access to public transportation, in an area without running water or sanitation services, and without the health care, mental health, substance abuse, and other services this population accesses in central OC.
I lack trust in the county’s ability to execute this plan in cooperation with our city and its residents and to provide adequate shelter for this population, including those subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Since the federal court ruled, the county has already gone back on its promise to provide 48 hour notice to individuals who would be evicted from motels. They don’t have a good track record in solving homelessness. I’m concerned that the county has no long-term plan.
The long-term plan has to be housing and that means more affordable housing in Orange County. Let us not operate always in crisis but plan for the long-term well-being of the residents of this city and the region, as good neighbors. Tents are not a permanent solution, housing is.”
So my takeaway from this statement is two-fold: a promotion of her city commissioner Lauren Johnson Norris for commenting on a policy designed to get her elected to city council as the FivePoint designated Democrat and that a tent city along the Santa Ana Riverbed is preferable to a tent city in Irvine. One can make much the same argument about a lack of transportation options, access to county services, and running water/sanitation at the Riverbed site as well. The Irvine City Council majority has done precious little to move on affordable housing, preferring instead to move quickly on things that are pay for play at the Great Park (a water park, amphitheater, sponsored scoreboards promoting FivePoint, and a golf course). Affordable housing in Irvine takes a back seat to the newest mini mansion developments from FivePoint that start at $1 million on up (read the coverage in the Orange County Business Journal). In fact, affordable housing in Irvine isn’t in the back seat; it’s in a trailer towed behind the car driven by developers. But keep those checks to council campaigns coming.
Instead of suing the county, the Irvine city council ought to use that taxpayer money to create a safe place for those who are homeless so they have access to water, shelter, food services, medical attention, substance abuse prevention, mental health treatment and employment services. There’s still considerable agriculture at the Great Park; perhaps a program could be created to provide jobs for the homeless on site. This won’t work for everyone who is homeless, but it will help some to earn money that can make it easy to transition into a home.
This is the progressive thing to do. And this is the Christian thing to do. Bring the Mountain to Mohammed so to speak. The county has plenty of money to spend on the homeless; time they did so. And for my Irvine neighbors, this encampment is far from your neighborhood parks and schools. It isn’t a crime to be homeless. It’s a stretch to think homeless in our city will decrease your home values or make us less safe as there are already homeless in the city.
Lastly, Supervisor Todd Spitzer is having a stroke over this BoS vote; he represents Irvine on the BoS and is running for DA. A pillar of his campaign is “solving homelessness” when as a member of the BoS, he’s not been proactive spending federal money earmarked for homeless services. This BoS vote simply exposes Spitzer’s poor record on this issue. Spitzer was silent on spending this money as the BoS squirreled it away.
Thanks to Federal Judge David O. Carter for forcing our government to actually govern on this issue.