The Orange County Transportation Authority’s bus depot is the scene of a growing homeless encampment that has become a focal point for community focus and frustration.
Many people — including our City Council — are concerned that the property and surrounding area is deteriorating, and the site is becoming difficult to use. It is important for the public to know we are frustrated and what we are doing.
County social workers, our Newport Beach Police Department, OCTA staff, Irvine Company security, and our City’s contracted social services provider (CityNet) are there regularly, if not daily, to convince people to seek myriad resources that include roofs over their heads.
Despite these efforts, the deterioration of this private property is unacceptable. We believe, though, that the site will soon turn the corner. OCTA, who owns the property, has informed the City it is out to bid to hire a contractor to install fencing around the property.
Fencing would require everyone to vacate the property prior to the gates being locked after the last scheduled bus leaves the depot. Closing the site from 11:15 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. is important because OCTA has experienced active interference with OCTA’s personnel and contractors who are attempting to work and perform much needed maintenance at the property at night.
Also, we just learned that OCTA has a beautification project planned for the OCTA bus depot, which will require them to close the area between the bus depot and San Joaquin Hills Road to install additional landscaping.
Our understanding is that OCTA is actively moving forward with this beautification project and we should see these improvements in the near future. OCTA is currently out to bid to hire a contractor to install fencing around the property. Fencing would require vacating the property prior to locking the gates after the last scheduled bus each night. These two improvements will make a significant difference in the area.
To get the site ready for the beautification project and to prevent people from interfering with OCTA personnel, the OCTA will be coordinating with the Newport Beach Police Department to ensure people are not trespassing on the property and the site is closed from 11:15 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. OCTA has informed us they want all laws enforced on the site and we are working with OCTA to receive authorization to act as OCTA’s agent and enforce the trespassing laws at the transit center.
We have long had a good partnership with OCTA on transportation projects and look forward to continuing this partnership in this humanitarian crisis. We view all these actions by the OCTA to beautify and secure the bus depot as positive steps that will make a meaningful difference in this area.
Some residents have questioned whether this is a dereliction of our police to enforce laws, including the anti-camping ordinances, around the bus depot. Newport Beach Police actively patrol all areas of the City and have made over two dozen arrests on or around the bus depot this year for criminal conduct. While the bus depot is private property, which means the City’s anti-camping ordinance does not apply to the property, it appears OCTA is headed in the right direction to rehabilitate and secure this property.
While the City’s anti-camping ordinance doesn’t apply to private property, camping on public property is regulated by the City and the City prohibits camping on public property. However, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a decision titled Martin v. Boise has added a lot of uncertainty as to what is required before a city can enforce its anti-camping laws.
The City of Boise has asked the United States Supreme Court to review the decision and, in a news release, Boise Mayor David Bieter stated that Boise is bringing the case forward because it “must have tools to respond to the public health and safety dilemmas created by encampments.” Newport Beach will be joining a broad coalition of cities asking the Supreme Court to review the case as well.
In the meantime, though, we are exploring every option for a temporary shelter inside our City or partnering with neighboring Cities in our Central Service Planning Area.
Homelessness is not unique to Newport Beach. It is a nationwide crisis without geographical or jurisdictional boundaries. It is an issue that has the full attention of the City Council and City staff. However, it is also a balancing act of navigating federal court rulings, providing and identifying resources and much needed funding, and developing strategic short-term and long-term solutions.
Given the demographics of our homeless residents, permanent supportive housing is likely the right course, but it takes a long time to develop. We need a bridge to get there.
Our City Council created the Homeless Task Force because we recognized the need for greater expertise. The Task Force is fortunate to have citizen leaders who serve or have served as directors of Jamboree Housing, Second Harvest, Hoag, SPIN, Riverside University Health System, St. James Episcopal Church, and the author of the 2017 OC United Way/Jamboree Housing/UCI report on the costs of homelessness. This group also includes Mayor Pro Tem Will O’Neill and Council members Brad Avery and Joy Brenner. They are working diligently on finding community-wide solutions, developing strategies and services to address homelessness, improving our network of resources and community partners, considering solutions for providing temporary housing, developing metrics to monitor reductions in homelessness, and collaborating with our neighboring public agencies.
We will also be discussing a proposal at our next City Council meeting to place signs at specific intersections around the City encouraging people to stop giving money directly to panhandlers and instead donate to charities organized to help people experiencing homelessness exit the streets.
Homelessness is a highly complex issue; it is one of the most challenging issues facing local government entities. The City has, and will continue to, commit resources and funding toward solving the homeless crisis in Newport Beach. It is not an easy, or a quick, fix.
We invite you to be part of the solution. This can include calling our police when you see crime occurring, volunteering with charities, attending a Homeless Task Force meeting with recommended action, or any number of things. Clearly status quo is unacceptable.
Thank you for caring about our community.
Mayor, Council Member
Diane Dixon joined Newport Beach City Council in 2014. This is her second tenure as mayor, first stepping into the role in 2016. Reach her at [email protected]