Hundreds protest North Beach homeless encampment during impromptu San Clemente town hall
At least 200 San Clemente residents – who planned to protest at a City Council meeting the lack of transparency on progress to create an emergency homeless shelter – vented their frustrations instead during an impromptu town hall.
The town hall on Tuesday, May 7, was called by council members Dan Bane and Laura Ferguson after the council meeting schedule that night was canceled midday because not enough council members would be in attendance.
Residents, angered by a growing homeless encampment at North Beach, used social media and two Change.org petitions to gather thousands of signatures as a call to action demanding a response from the City Council during the meeting. Residents say they have pressured City Hall and met with local law enforcement to find solutions, but have been offered no help.
“We knew there was going to be a huge turnout and we knew we had to be here,” Bane said of organizing the last-minute town hall. “It was unorthodox and unplanned.”
Bane and Ferguson, speaking through a bull horn to the overflowing council chambers, announced that a special meeting has been called for Monday, May 13, to address the North Beach concerns. Bane said he was hopeful he and others could provide information during that meeting on what has been done thus far during closed sessions to move forward with an emergency homeless shelter.
“After Monday, we hope there will be much more discussion,” Bane said. “We’ve met with council members from San Juan Capistrano and Dana Point. We’re doing everything we can by law.”
Dane and Ferguson expressed support for the residents’ concerns and promised accountability, action and a deadline by which an emergency shelter could be opened.
A recent court ruling found that cities are not allowed to force homeless people off of the streets if they have nowhere to go but a city sidewalk, park or other public space.
Resident after resident spoke at the town hall about growing problems at North Beach. They said the encampment is blocking wheelchair access and voiced concern about public health issues such as feces, urine and blood on sidewalks, on the Beach Trail and on the beach. They described assaults and violent behavior by people in the encampment.
“Saturday, I was attacked while riding my bike along the Beach Trail,” said Stacey Richards, a 62-year-old grandmother. “The guy grabbed me and called me all kinds of names. I called the cops, they took a report and the guy still hasn’t been apprehended.
“My friends are telling me, ‘Don’t go to North Beach anymore,’” she said. “North Beach is my happy place.”
Shortly after Richards told her story and Bane reminded residents to say something if they see something, the man whose photo Richards posted on the Facebook page San Clemente Life, appeared at the back of the City Council Chambers.
Orange County Sheriff’s Deputies instantly surrounded him and escorted him outside. Richards asked that deputies arrest the man, but no action was taken by law enforcement at the meeting.
“We need more patrol deputies,” resident Jessica Johnson said. “Park benches, bathrooms need to be bleached. Other cities are doing that. The Beach Trail restrooms at North Beach – we pay $500 a week for our kids to attend surf camp. They will be in bathrooms with HIV and other diseases. We need answers now.”