SANTA ANA (CBSLA) – A portion of the Santa Ana River Trail reopened Saturday after being closed for several months following the removal of hundreds of homeless people.
Orange County officials announced that an approximately two-mile stretch of the trail between Memory Lane in Santa Ana, north to Taft Avenue in Orange, was reopening this weekend after being closed since Jan. 22.
The trail will be open to the public daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Hours will be enforced by the O.C. County Sheriff’s deputies.
In February, hundreds of homeless people were cleared from a two-mile stretch of the Santa Ana riverbed – from Santa Ana to Anaheim — after months of wrangling between homeless advocates and county and city officials.
In March, the O.C. County Public Works Department said that 404 tons of debris, 13,950 needles and 5,279 pounds of waste were removed from the homeless encampment where more than 700 people lived.
During the controversial removal of the homeless from the riverbed, the Orange County Catholic Worker group and several homeless people filed a federal lawsuit against the county, in addition the cities of Anaheim, Orange and Costa Mesa, claiming that removing the homeless from the riverbed violated a broad range of constitutional protections. OCCW argued that evicting the transients would disperse them to the surrounding cities, where they will be cited for trespassing, loitering and anti-camping laws.
The lawsuit resulted in a deal between the advocates and municipal officials in which the homeless would be removed from the riverbed and then be given 30-day motel vouchers while the county looks for more permanent solutions.
Those vouchers have run out, however. The issue in federal court has shifted to the long-term housing of those transients, as well as moving the homeless living in tents in the Plaza of the Flags area next to the Santa Ana courthouse. Yet another hearing took place Tuesday in federal court over how to move forward with the homeless crisis that has gripped the region.
Orange County supervisors decided last week to abandon a controversial plan to erect large tents in Irvine, Huntington Beach and Laguna Niguel to temporarily house the homeless. O.C. Supervisors were forced to abandon the plan after fervent demonstrations from residents and city officials, along with threats of lawsuits. A second proposal — to house the homeless in the state-owned and soon-to-be-shuttered Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa — was also met with strong opposition from residents.
Santa Ana officials have responded with threats of lawsuits of their own, saying other cities need to shoulder more of the burden of providing emergency shelter space.
The O.C. homeless crisis came to the forefront last September, when the Anaheim City Council declared a state of emergency for the more than 400 people who have been living in a tent city in the shadow of Angel Stadium.
That same month, the Santa Ana City Council also declared the homeless issue around the Santa Ana Civic Center a public health and safety crisis, while the O.C. Board of Supervisors approved a plan to increase law enforcement along the riverbed from Santa Ana to Anaheim.
In November, Orange County permanently closed the west side of the flood control channel between Santa Ana and Fountain Valley. During the process, authorities reportedly found about 1,000 bikes hidden in a tunnel system under a concrete flood control channel. Deputies also began strictly enforcing public access hours along the Santa Ana River Trail. Access is only allowed between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Deputies began slowly clearing the encampments in January, when they began going tent to tent along the Santa Ana River telling people the area will be closed and they need to move. The area was completely cleared out in February.
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