At 7 p.m. on Monday night, March 27, the San Clemente City Council will consider a resolution to set in motion plans to contract a private security company to help address illegal activity concerning the city’s homeless population.
Councilmember Gene James is spearheading the effort to work with Oceanside-based Gatekeepers Security Services, with Councilmember Victor Cabral behind James.
“I think the time is now for action, and less talk,” he said.
The council voted unanimously at its meeting on Tuesday, March 21, to hold Monday’s special meeting, during which they will discuss Gatekeepers’ proposal in addition to other agenda items.
Talks within the city to utilize private security began with the council’s March 7 direction for city staff to work to ensure people don’t camp on city beaches at night.
Since then, Gatekeepers has submitted a proposal to the city for it to use at least four personnel and four marked security vehicles to work the city 24/7 on a 60-day trial basis, according to the city’s agenda report.
“The City Council will need to provide direction of whether to allow the Gatekeepers to issue administrative citations, or if all elevated calls should be addressed by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department,” the city said in the report. “Protocols will also need to be established to maintain effective communication and coordination with law enforcement.”
James has taken a proactive stance on the homelessness issue following council discussions of emergency actions to aid unsheltered persons in inclement weather and a public meeting organized by the North Beach Community Association (NBCA) for residents to speak on the matter.
“There’s a group that’s landed on our beaches, and they’re not victims, they’re victims of their own doing,” he said. “The city has failed—as far as I’m concerned, the sheriff has failed—as it relates to homelessness.”
James called for officeholders to stop “hiding behind” Martin v. City of Boise, and referred to homeless people populating North Beach as “criminals” and “vagrants” who are required to live by the same laws as other San Clemente residents.
He then motioned for the special meeting, during which the council would discuss solutions to vagrancy in town. Cabral provided the second to the motion. After the council addressed other agenda items, it came back to James’ motion, to which Cabral gave a positive review of the potential contract with Gatekeepers.
Cabral said that through visits with the company and its owner, a San Clemente resident, he learned that Gatekeepers is “extraordinary” and operates professionally.
Earlier during the meeting, Councilmember Mark Enmeier presented his own update on homelessness in San Clemente following the February update.
He referenced the 2022 Point in Time Count and a roundtable discussion that occurred roughly two weeks ago with Cabral, his Homeless Subcommittee colleague present, along with representatives from various local government and independent organizations.
In his presentation, he differentiated all the types of homeless people, such as newly or chronically homeless, or those responsive to service in comparison to service-adverse people, as well as the numerous causes of homelessness.
“The point of this is to say there is no silver bullet to solve homelessness,” Enmeier said.
The city needs to research what has and what hasn’t worked in other cities by using data, understand its objectives and know its limits, he added.
Capt. Jay Christian, San Clemente’s chief of Police Services, confirmed Cabral’s conjecture that deputies could still enforce ordinances that prohibit camping in tents, drug use, and smoking, among others, without violating the ruling of Martin v. Boise.
Martin v. Boise is the landmark case thatstates unhoused persons can’t be punished for sleeping on public property without adequate alternative options.
“As long as we’re enforcing those laws amongst all populations, we’re not segregating out the homeless, per se,” Christian said.
During the roundtable, an Orange County representative said the county “would love to create” a regional homeless center in South County, according to Enmeier’s retelling of the discussion. No city has stepped up to host one, however.
In that same vein, Enmeier added that Fifth District Board Supervisor Katrina Foley has reached out in hopes of hosting councilmembers from Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano, and San Clemente for a meeting on the subject.
Future roundtable discussions will include the topics of enforcement, outreach, compliance with Martin v. Boise, wrap-around services and housing.
Enmeier also provided his fellow councilmembers on the homelessness meeting hosted by the NBCA on March 15.
North Beach residents had voiced complaints about not feeling safe at night and vandalism, in addition to other problems, and suggested numerous remedies under the umbrella of regulations and changes in the approach to enforcement and organization.
Enmeier proposed a motion to direct city staff to create a comprehensive plan of action to address homelessness in San Clemente with short- and long-term goals. Mayor Chris Duncan advised that the council should table such proposal until later in the meeting.
Once the discussion resumed, Cabral said he was surprised by Enmeier’s motion, questioning whether their subcommittee had accomplished enough to move forward.
“I’d rather move along with our scheduled meetings and gather the information that we need,” said Cabral, adding, “I think the two-fold approach that we’re talking about right now would work best if we discuss it at a committee level.”
James weighed in with the opinion that the subcommittee should provide a full, co-sponsored report to the council before providing direction to city staff.
Responding to Duncan’s question of why Enmeier wanted to direct staff early on in the subcommittee’s existence, Enmeier said he was worried a contract with a private security company would be too narrow to address other issues concerning homelessness in town.
“Mr. Mayor, it’s not the city’s role to solve homelessness, it’s the city’s role to protect the citizens of this community,” James said.
James wanted to prioritize public safety and quality of life, he added. Mayor Pro Tem Steve Knoblock said that he couldn’t support Enmeier’s motion as he felt the timing was improper, and issued a substitute motion to table Enmeier’s proposal until the subcommittee’s work was finished.
Knoblock’s motion prevailed with a 3-2 vote, as Duncan and Enmeier dissented.
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