Laguna Hills has filed a lawsuit to block the county’s plan to use the 76-room Laguna Hills Inn for homeless people with coronavirus, saying it “poses a direct threat to the health and safety of the surrounding community.”
The city filed the lawsuit on Tuesday, April 14, jointly with the owners of four buildings adjacent to the hotel. The owner of the hotel is also named in the suit.
“This suit was filed to try to protect our small city from a major importation of COVID-19 infection. Laguna Hills has had only 13 reported cases of COVID-19,” City Manager Don White said in the release, referring to the number of cases in the city reported by the Orange County Health Care Agency as of Tuesday. “This would increase that number by at least 600%.”
The county has been trying to meet the state’s goal to move at least 15,000 homeless people across California into facilities such as hotel rooms during the coronavirus pandemic. Under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “Project Roomkey,” the facilities will be used for homeless people to safely self-isolate if they have COVID-19 or are at the high risk of contracting the virus.
“If they show up to an ER and get tested, there’s no place for people to release them back home” as they wait for test results, said Paul Leon, CEO of the nonprofit Illumination Foundation, which would manage the Laguna Hills facility. “You don’t want them walking around the streets.”
Eight people who are homeless have already moved into the ALO Hotel in Orange near UC Irvine Medical Center, Leon said. The county is also activating hotels in Stanton, Anaheim and an another city that hasn’t been announced for this purpose, Orange County CEO Frank Kim said during a regularly scheduled Monday, April 13, press conference on various coronavirus-related topics.
After a plan to house homeless people in the Ayres Hotel in Laguna Woods fell through because of community protests, the county signed an agreement to use the Laguna Hills Inn on April 7.
Mayor Janine Heft said in the city’s press release there are too many seniors who live in Laguna Hills and nearby Laguna Woods to let the county go forward with its plan.
“Our city took this extreme action because we have been put in an extreme position by this project,” Heft said. “We could not stand by and watch this happen.”
Kelly Richardson, an attorney representing the city and building owners, said there is a concern the facility can’t be secured. “If they want to walk out onto the streets, they have the civil rights to do so, just like the rest of us.”
And people are still visiting nearby businesses such as a chiropractic center, he said. “They are going to be mingling with other passersby and residents of Laguna Hills.”
Laguna Hills Inn on Avenida De La Carlota is near the city’s border with Irvine. Leon noted the hotel is close to the 5 Freeway, but not near homes.
Leon said all services such as food will be provided on site, and those staying will need to sign a consent form not to leave the facility. “Right now, there’s nowhere for them to go anyway.”
The county also said in a statement that “appropriate community safeguards and security protections” will be put in place.
The lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court asks a judge to issue a temporary restraining order to block the county’s plan. The hearing, which will be held by teleconference, is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Thursday, April 16.