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Judge: Calif. Gov. Newsom Can Commandeer 76-Room Hotel to House Coronavirus-Infected Homeless

By Craig Bannister | April 22, 2020 | 2:35pm EDT
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Despite a lawsuit by the city and local property owners, a California judge has ruled that Orange County can turn the 76-room Laguna Hills Inn into a shelter for coronavirus-infected homeless people.

On Monday, Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Delaney denied the city’s request for a temporary restraining order until the case for a preliminary injunction is heard on April 30, because Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom has emergency authority to control private property, The Epoch Times reports:

“The judge noted in his ruling that governor can ‘commander (sic) or utilize’ property in an emergency.”

The judge ruled that Orange County has the authority to impose its will on the City of Laguna Hills because it’s acting as an agent of the state. But, an attorney for the city and property owners calls the decision “a judicial takeaway of important property rights,” The Orange County Register reports:

“Delaney said California’s declaration of emergency gives the county, as an agent for the state, the ability to commandeer a private property to address a public health crisis.

“The city and other property owners located in Plaza Pointe with the hotel argued the conversion of the Laguna Hills Inn violates the rules for uses in the plaza previously set by the property owners.

“My clients are in a horrible position of potentially having a judicial takeaway of important property rights,” attorney Kelly Richardson, who represents the city and other property owners, told the judge at Monday’s hearing.”

At issue is Gov. Newsom’s “Project Roomkey,” which the governor says “will target hotels in counties with significant homeless populations that are also experiencing high concentrations of COVID-19 transmission” – and “receive up to 75 percent cost-share reimbursement from FEMA for hotel and motel rooms, including wraparound supports such as meals, security, and custodial services.”

Under the lease agreement signed on April 7, the county will reportedly pay $250,000 a month in rent for a minimum of 90 days.

“Essential behavioral health and health care services will also be provided by the local governments and community partners, as needed,” the governor’s Project Roomkey website says.

In addition to health care, laundry and custodial services, the inn’s homeless residents will also be provided three meals a day, courtesy of Chef José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen:

“Every hotel/motel within Project Roomkey will include essential wraparound services, such as custodial, laundry, security and support staff. The Governor also announced a partnership with Chef José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen, which will provide three meals a day to select Project Roomkey hotels through a statewide contract to support local efforts as needed.”

Local news station KTLA reports that the Laguna Hills Inn will also house elderly homeless who do not have coronavirus, but are at risk of contracting it:

“The county brokered an agreement this month with Elite Hospitality Inc. to lease the Laguna Hills Inn for at least 90 days to shelter homeless individuals who are over 65, have underlying health conditions, are showing symptoms of COVID-19 or who have tested positive for the coronavirus.”

County officials say the Laguna Hills Inn has been fenced in and the homeless residents not supposed to leave the shelter.

According the City of Laguna Hills website, city officials were never consulted, warned or given any advance notice by the county that it planned to convert the inn into “a shelter for COVID-19 infected transients”:

“The agreement was negotiated, made, and entered into by the County of Orange and Elite Hospitality, Inc. without any advance notice, warning, or consultation with either City staff or the City Council. The City of Laguna Hills was not consulted, is not a party to this action, and has not given approvals of any kind for this use. The initial term of the lease is ninety (90) days.

On April 14th, the City of Laguna Hills filed suit against the County of Orange and the Laguna Hills Inn, seeking to halt the conversion of that 76-room hotel to a shelter for COVID-19 infected transients.”

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