A homeless camp at Plaza of the Flags next to the Orange County Superior Courthouse in Santa Ana. (Los Angeles Times)
Last week, the mayors of 12 cities in South Orange County had the opportunity to cut the Gordian knot that is homelessness. They met at the behest of U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter, who'd issued them a warning: Step up and help solve this problem, or I'm striking down the HOA-approved hedge of laws you think guard your perimeter.
In an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times newspaper, Gustavo Arellano writes that for decades cops and sheriff's deputies in South County have picked up the destitute and then dropped them off in blue-collar North County towns including Costa Mesa and Anaheim, but especially Santa Ana, which just happens to be the most Mexican city in Orange County.
It was class warfare at its NIMBYest. Homelessness metastasized in North O.C., most notably along the Santa Ana riverbed that numbered more than 1,000 people at its height. But South County simply shrugged, because it had the political power and wealth to do so.
The issue came to a head in February, when advocates for the homeless filed a lawsuit against the county's plan to clear 1,000 people out of the riverbed tent city. The case landed with Judge Carter. In front of a stunned courtroom during a rare weekend session on March 17, he told cities and the county to figure out something, and fast.
Then he went further. He mocked those "communities that are pristine and virtuous" that had long shirked any responsibility. Everyone knew he was pointing at South O.C. If they ever dumped homeless persons in other cities again, he vowed, he would sic the U.S. attorney general's office on them. And finally, this: If county officials and South County towns didn't come up with a humane solution, he would to lift all the anti-camping ordinances in O.C. that are designed to criminalize homelessness.