The Anaheim City Council shelved District 3 Councilman Jose F. Moreno’s proposal to allow homeless advocates to install porta-potties in the Santa Ana River Trail homeless camp in District 5, while Councilwoman Kris Murray outlined an ambitious plan to declare a citywide state of emergency and tackle the explosion of homeless camps through a combination of assistance and enforcement she dubbed Operation Home Safe.
Moreno Withdraws Porta-Potties Proposal
At the request of radical homeless advocate Mohammed Aly, Moreno asked the city to give Aly permission to install the three porta-potties he had illegally placed next to the North Net Training Center. The city confiscated the illegally-placed portable toilets back in May.
Moreno’s request sparked an outcry from fed-up Anaheim residents who saw Moreno’s proposal as further enablement of the homeless encampments, de-coupled from enforcement or any attempt or plan to clear out the sprawling encampments, which have become nests for criminal activity. Anaheim resident Kevin George launched an online petition demanding an end to the Santa Ana River encampment, which garnered more than 10,000 signatures in a week.
George organized a large number of Anaheim residents to come to the council meeting – many of them for the first time – and speak in opposition to Moreno’s proposal. The voiced their frustration with local government inaction in the face of increased crime and harassment they endure at the hands of criminal elements in the encampments. One homeowner pointed out how they are allowed to live illegally on the river bed without fear of law enforcement, but she gets ticketed by the city if her trash cans are out too long.
Homeless advocates paid for Uber rides to transport homeless individuals from the Santa Ana River Trail (SART) camps to come to the council meeting and speak in favor of Moreno’s proposal – although some of those speakers failed to disclose they had already been placed in permanent supportive housing and no longer lived on the river trail, according to knowledgeable sources.
Moreno defended his proposal as “temporary,” and suggested to permit be made renewable every two weeks and revoked if Aly failed to comply with the terms. The District 3 councilman didn’t fill in the blanks about how much city staff time and resources would be necessary for such an intensive inspection schedule targeted at three porta-potties.
Councilmembers Kris Murray and Lucille Kring quizzed Moreno as to what constituted “temporary,” but Moreno was unable to provide a finite time-period for allowing the porta-potties to be in place.
Moreno also noted concerns he received from emergency response helicopters that train using the heli-pad at the North Net Training Center; pilots said their choppers generated enough force to blow the porta-potties down, prompting Moreno to request the proposed permitting include a requirement for Aly appropriately secure the porta-potties.
Moreno’s proposal never came to an actual vote, however. The general counsel to the North Net Joint Powers Authority – which consists of the cities of Anaheim, Orange and Garden Grove – e-mailed a letter to the city about 90 minutes prior to the council meeting, pointing out the proposed site of the portable toilets belonged to the JPA. Therefore, the letter stated, the Anaheim City Council lacked the authority to approve the request by Moreno and Aly.
Mayor Tom Tait said he was torn on the matter, but stated the JPA letter seemed to settle it as far as council action was concerned and asked Moreno to withdraw the motion.
Moreno acknowledged the proposed porta-potty site was unsuitable and raised the possibility of finding city-owned property next to the SART encampments where Aly’s porta-potties could be installed. District 5 Councilman Steve Faessel emphatically stated his constituents were adamantly opposed to the idea and he would under no circumstance support allowing homeless porta-potties to be installed on City of Anaheim-owned property.
Councilman Moreno attempted to amend his motion to direct staff to look for such city-owned sites. His motion hung in the air for several awkward seconds of silence, without the second Moreno customarily receives from his council allies. Finally, Mayor Pro Tem James Vanderbilt asked the city attorney if they could discuss Moreno’s motion without providing a second, at which point Tait seconded Moreno’s motion.
Finally, after tendentiously grilling Police Chief Raul Quezada and Assistant City Manager Kristine Ridge regarding the frequency of city-wide complaints of homeless defecation and who cleaned it up – which provoked an irritated Vanderbilt to criticize Moreno’s line of questioning – Moreno finally, formally withdrew his motion.
Meanwhile, Mohammed Aly periodically disrupted the council discussion after the close of public comments. If a councilmember said something with which he disagreed, Aly would take to the podium to interrupt, persisting even as Tait tried to gavel, cajole and threaten him into ceasing his disruptions.
Murray Unveils Ambitious Plan To Tackle Homeless Crisis
In the course of deliberations on Moreno’s porta-potties proposal, Murray announced an ambitious plan she dubbed Operation Home Safe to tackle the homelessness crisis on the SART and throughout Anaheim. It entailed declaring a city state of emergency to clear aside red tape, empower CityNet, activate the Red Cross and faith-based charities, and work with the County of Orange and neighboring cities in a focused campaign to remove the homeless encampments and combat their attendant public health and criminal impacts through a combination of outreach, assistance and enforcement.
Murray’s explained her plan is premised on the following principles:
• Those who want help will get it;
• Those who refuse help must leave;
• Our laws will be enforced;
• The health and safety of all our residents will be protected.
As she stated in an e-mail this morning:
“It is not compassionate to enable this way of life – we should be working together to find housing and services for those who seek it. And it is past time to end the crime and drug-use in our parks and trails. Together, we can practice courageous leadership to serve the vulnerable and give our parks and public spaces back to the people of Anaheim.”
According to Murray, Operation Home Safe would operate as follows:
Support: Build on successful collaboration with County of Orange, CityNet, neighboring city partners, and all social service agencies, local volunteers, faith-based, non-profit, and business groups to provide comprehensive assistance and shelter to those living in the riverbed or in the public right-of-way.
Aid: Provide notice to individuals camped illegally, indicating that aid will be provided for those who desire assistance with the goal of helping every homeless individual find permanent housing or shelter and ongoing service assistance depending on their individual needs.
Fair warning: Upon the noticed deadline, City will enforce an immediate cease and desist order with the support of county and city law enforcement agencies to ensure the safety and security of the riverbed and public spaces for all residents.
Enforcement: Lastly, the City of Anaheim, working collaboratively with county and neighboring city officials, will take jurisdiction and assist with the expense and enforcement to end criminal activity in the riverbed and open spaces that border the city.
The initial response from her council colleagues was highly positive. Murray asked for Operation Home Safe to be considered for adoption at the September 12 city council meeting.
Miscellaneous and Related Remarks from the Council Dias
Public comments and council considertion of the porta-potties proposal, and the broader issue of resolving the homeless encampment issue, consumed 5 hours and elicited a number of comments and disclosures from councilmembers and staff. A sampling:
In response to progressive homeless advocates who demand the immediate increase in the affordable stock, Councilwoman Lucille Kring advised them to make their case to the state legislature and demand a roll-back of the plethora of advocates to lobby Sacramento to ease state laws and regulations that both stifle home-building and drive up the cost of what does get built.
Interim City Manager Linda Andal assured the council that city staff were not idle in the face of the homeless crisis, and said the County of Orange will be ramping up enforcement on the SART. She also noted that on August 1 the County had re-opened brick-and-mortar bathroom on the OC Parks-governed section of the SART known as The Corral homeless village; it was open 24/7 with private security present from 8:00 p.m to 6:00 a.m. The County would also be bringing mobile showers to the encampments in the near future.
Mayor Pro Tem James Vanderbilt discussed possibly contracting with the OC Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) to patrol the SART encampments. Or, if the County does begin patrolling the SART camps, consider contributing city funding in order to increase those patrols.
Anaheim Police Chief Raul Quezada informed the council that his next meeting with the OCSD and the Orange Police Department regarding riverbed enforcement would be on September 5, and he would update the council accordingly.