Laguna Beach, CA– The City of Laguna Beach proactively reached a settlement agreement with Orange County Catholic Worker, thereby avoiding costly and time-consuming litigation. On September 23, 2019, United States District Judge David O. Carter approved the settlement agreement between the parties.
Orange County Catholic Worker, an unincorporated association, is the main plaintiff in a January 2018 federal court lawsuit filed against the County of Orange and the cities of Anaheim, Costa Mesa, and Orange regarding the clearing of homeless encampments along the Santa Ana River Trail. Among other claims, Orange County Catholic Worker and the other plaintiffs challenged the enforcement of municipal ordinances that prohibit camping and lodging in public places on the basis that individuals being cited for violations of those regulations did not have alternative sleeping arrangements available to them. Since then, the issues and the parties involved in the litigation expanded, including the addition of numerous other cities within the county. Under the supervision of Judge Carter, most of the cities in central and north Orange County have reached settlements with Orange County Catholic Worker that provide for the opening and operation of homeless shelters.
“This settlement recognizes the City of Laguna Beach’s efforts over the last decade to address homelessness and confirms that the City can continue operating its shelter without additional requirements,” said City Manager John Pietig. “The City is also able to continue enforcement efforts and avail itself of the prescribed dispute resolution process that is much more effective and less costly than litigation. We commend the plaintiffs in this case for their amicable and pragmatic approach to proactively settling this matter with the City of Laguna Beach.”
Since November of 2009, the City of Laguna Beach has owned, funded, and contracted for the operation of a low barrier, 45-bed emergency shelter within the City commonly known as the Alternative Sleeping Location (ASL). Until recently, the ASL was the only emergency shelter in Orange County owned and funded by a city. Located at 20652 Laguna Canyon Road, the ASL is operated by the Friendship Shelter pursuant to a service provider contract. The ASL has a housing-focused enrollment program, offering 30-day renewable increments of time to homeless individuals actively pursuing a housing plan, with an enrollment preference provided to persons having demonstrated connections and ties to the local community. A separate day pilot program is available, with support staff, County mental health resources, laundry, hygiene amenities, computer/internet access, and connections to community-based services.
“Due to the efforts of the City of Laguna Beach and the Friendship Shelter through the operation of the ASL, over 200 individuals have transitioned to more stable housing arrangements, including reunification with families or friends,” said Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen. “The City of Laguna Beach has been a pioneer within Orange County for this type of program, and this settlement only reinforces our ongoing commitment to provide appropriate support and programs.”
The provisions of the settlement agreement reiterate many policies and practices already in place within the City: that the City work with trained personnel to offer available shelter placement at the ASL if possible, ensure that trained outreach and engagement personnel help assess the needs of individuals with disabilities to determine an appropriate placement with a reasonable accommodation, and ensure the number of beds at the ASL does not fall below 60% of the unsheltered individuals in Laguna Beach as described in the 2019 countywide Point-in-Time Count. Also, the settlement agreement provides the City with the ability to continue to enforce applicable laws under appropriate circumstances.
“We are really pleased with this settlement, and it is consistent with this Council’s approach to matters of this kind,” said Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow. “We want to balance the rights of individuals with the rights of the public to public safety.”
No monetary damages or attorney fees were exchanged as part of the settlement agreement.