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This story has been updated to include comments from the city of Santa Ana
By Shawn Raymundo
In a surprise turn of events on Thursday, Jan. 23, the city of Santa Ana voluntarily moved to dismiss its homelessness-related lawsuit against the cities of Dana Point, San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano, while keeping the County of Orange as the primary defendant.
The move came less than two weeks after Santa Ana had filed its complaint in federal court, accusing the South County cities of transporting their homeless residents to the Orange County Armory Emergency Shelter Program at the National Guard Armory in Santa Ana.
The three cities have disputed that charge, arguing that none of the cities had transported any homeless individual to the Santa Ana Armory. Those assurances, Santa Ana stated in a press release on Friday, Jan. 24, are what led to the cities being dropped from the lawsuit.
“The cities of Dana Point, San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano have assured the City of Santa Ana in writing that they have not transported homeless individuals from their cities to Santa Ana and have no plans to do so,” the press release stated.
San Clemente Mayor Dan Bane previously acknowledged that his city had offered a round-trip transport service to and from the armory; however, not a single homeless person accepted it. And Dana Point City Attorney Patrick Muñoz argued that his city “never transported, or arranged for the transportation of any homeless person to the Armory.”
In a joint press release sent out Friday morning, the three South Orange County cities said they were pleased to learn about the dismissal, noting that each of the three cities “dedicated significant funding to helping people experiencing homelessness.”
“The claims made in this case were legally and factually baseless, and Santa Ana’s action today will avoid further unnecessary expenditure of taxpayer dollars and instead allow the three South County cities to focus their limited resources on actual issues associated with homelessness,” the joint press release stated.
The cities also stated that they will continue to work collaboratively with the County of Orange, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and other local stakeholders, including nonprofit organizations, to come up with “long-term and balanced solutions.”
With the cities being removed from the case, the county now remains as Santa Ana’s primary target in the suit, which accuses the county of establishing “homeless services almost exclusively in Santa Ana, thereby further contributing to the dense concentration of homeless individuals therein.”
Santa Ana’s press release last week claimed that it has shouldered “a greater and inequitable share of the burden of a countywide problem.” It also noted that that the 200-bed armory in the wintertime is supplemental to the county-operated, 450-bed, year-round shelter in downtown Santa Ana, as well as its own 200-bed shelter specifically for the Santa Ana homeless.
In its lawsuit, Santa Ana alleged that the county and the three South County cities have encouraged the establishment of homeless services within its city limits, with the knowledge that Santa Ana’s population of roughly 341,000 is 78% Hispanic and has a median household income that’s near the lowest of all cities in the county.
“This practice has continued unabated for years, as only underscored by the plan by Defendant County to site a replacement shelter for The Courtyard within Santa Ana and the plan by Defendants Dana Point, San Clemente, and San Juan Capistrano Cities . . . to transport their homeless residents to the Santa Ana Armory,” the lawsuit states.
The city of Santa Ana is seeking monetary damages as a reimbursement for the costs associated with providing homeless-related services and resources.
“In recent years, the city of Santa Ana has been compelled to spend millions of dollars from its general fund to address health and safety concerns attributable to the homeless population now living here,” Santa Ana stated in its press release.
A preliminary injunction hearing for the case is scheduled for Feb. 4, at 8 a.m.
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.