Santa Ana River Trail Belongs To The Taxpayers

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[This was originally published in the OC Register on September 3, 2017]

By Carolyn Cavecche

Every few years a public policy issue grows so immense and overarching that it becomes the issue that a leader is judged by. For local elected officials it is usually something that so impacts their constituents, it taints everything they do in office. The taking of public property along the Santa Ana River Trail by homeless encampments is such an issue for leaders in Central Orange County, specifically the Orange County Board of Supervisors and city councils of Anaheim and Orange.

When completed, the Santa Ana River Trail will be about 100 miles long, and will connect the Pacific Ocean to the San Bernardino Mountains. The trail will be one of the longest urban recreation parkways in the United States. Tens of millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent to build this trail. Proposition 84, passed by voters in 2006, alone allocates $30 million to the trail with $10 million coming directly to Orange County. The city of Anaheim has received and spent millions of federal, state and county grant dollars on the trail within their borders.

Sadly, the taxpayers who own and paid for this trail have had their access denied due to legitimate safety concerns. This out-of-control situation is tantamount to a taking of property from a property owner, in this case the taxpayer, and those in charge need to step up and provide some leadership.

We all understand that homelessness is a huge issue with a lot of moving parts such as lack of affordable housing, early releases from prison, drug addiction, mental health issues and unemployment. Providing leadership can be hard. Actually, providing good leadership is always hard; but the constituents that voted our elected officials into office are tired of watching and waiting. We expect action.

On a positive note, the county of Orange has recently opened two shelters; one in a former bus terminal in downtown Santa Ana, the second in Anaheim that will eventually serve 200 men and women. However, more is needed; individual cities also need to step up.

Senate Bill 2, voted into law a decade ago, requires cities to identify in their housing element a zone or zones where emergency shelters are allowed as a permitted use without a conditional use permit or other discretionary permit. Every city in Orange County was required to do this. Every city in Orange County has an area where an emergency shelter can be built. Almost 10 years later, the city of Orange has just opened what is believed to be the first homeless shelter of any type established under SB2 in Orange County. Where are the others?

Central Orange County has a public safety and public health crisis on their hands. The encampments are growing and those that live there appear to be settling in for the long haul. At a recent Anaheim City Council meeting residents from both Anaheim and Orange who live along the trail spoke of increased crime in their neighborhoods and how unsafe they felt. A local resident’s group, O.C. Residents United, has started an online petition to “take back the Santa Ana River Trail,” and has collected approximately 11,000 signatures to date. At that same City Council meeting, Anaheim Councilwoman Kris Murray proposed that Anaheim declare a state of emergency. Her action plan is to provide assistance to those who want to find permanent shelter, give fair warning to those who do not that they will not be allowed to stay, and have law enforcement end the criminal activity in the riverbed. This would be a great start.

I don’t know anyone that is unwilling to reach out and help someone in need. Every resource possible should be used to support and uplift those who ask for or who need our help. But public safety and compassion are not mutually exclusive. The county and the impacted cities need to stop pointing jurisdictional fingers at each other and work together to clean out the criminal activity and remove those who refuse services. Those who are truly homeless should expect our best efforts and protection. Those who chose a home-free lifestyle cannot be allowed to take over public property paid for by the taxpayers.

Carolyn Cavecche is president and CEO of the Orange County Taxpayers Association and a former mayor of Orange.


  1. It was well said in the Register and well said here. Time for action and clear the river trail

  2. Total state of emergency….don’t wait till hepatitis breaks out like it has in other camps. Or worse.

  3. And speaking of hepatitis….why doesn’t the City of Anaheim’s “Homeless Census – November 2016” not contain the answers to ALL of the questions that were asked? The second to last questions asks of Anaheim Homeless, “Have you ever been diagnosed with HIV/ AIDS?” The report contains nearly all of the answers to questions asked – but does not include the answer to this question. Why not provide all of the information? Is this a smoking gun that the city doesn’t want exposed?

    And everyone should see this report, because the last question asks the Anaheim Homeless population, “Have you ever been convicted of a sex offense?” Look at this report and see for yourself what percentage of the homeless self-identify as sex offenders!

  4. I have lived in orang county for 17 years. What a waist of money on this project. I have seen more homeless Americans use it than as you call it tax payers. The still remains what do we do to help those Americans. Some are vets some made bad choices ECT. I have walked by and know the smell. Why not up in porta pottys out there.

  5. This is a crisis manufactured by Orange County’s corrupt and incompetent political establishment. The wedge issue is designed to sideline well-meaning reformers through appeals to baser instincts.

    Nevertheless, I am quite optimistic. The people are increasingly taking a post-modern perspective on political theatre. That is to say, they are learning to pay attention to both content and production. Given the discrepancy between those two elements, this will lead to a political realignment: Elitists seeking to subvert the political system and Democratic-Republicans dedicated to our constitutional system.

    There is an arch to the grand narrative of history that leads me to believe that Democracy will prevail, along with the better angels of our nature.

    At the very least, more attention on political shenanigans will hem in the bad guys and open up a new front in favor of the good guys, and girls.

    • Matthew Cunningham

      Really. So this “establishment” moved hundreds of homeless people to the Santa Ana River Trail?

      You’re delusional.

      • His comments are so ambiguous that he could literally copy and paste them into the comments section of any Orange County political blog article.

        Problems in the River Trail –
        – This crisis is manufactured blah… blah… blah..

        Problems with the OC Sheriff’s Office
        – This crisis is manufactured blah… blah… blah..

        Housing shortage
        – This crisis is manufactured blah… blah… blah..

        Low student test scores
        – This crisis is manufactured blah… blah… blah..

        Skyrocketing number of DUI incidents
        – This crisis is manufactured blah… blah… blah..

      • To say nothing of the general problem of homelessness that has worsened unchecked in the county for a generation, I suspect the problem was allowed to develop into the current crisis. I think that is a fair suspicion given the how, what, when and why of this ordeal. So yes, this is a manufactured crisis. For the sake of being reasonable, I’ll say it might be attributable to mere negligence. Please share your take on the origins of the problem. Please include: where the people are coming from, other areas where the homeless have gathered in Orange County, what attracts people to their present location and government/police practices that could have nipped the problem in the bud.

      • They are not homelesss! They live in tent homes. They got the idea from Sheriff Joe Arpaio!

    • JB – Pass the Grey Poupon Sir who are you kidding. The cities, especially Anaheim, allowed this to happen be cause it was on the river bed tucked away. It has grown because it has been allowed to grow. Forget about all those living around the river bed or those not able to use it rather make those there more comfortable so they stay there. The only reason it has been given “State of Emergency” attention is because those individuals that are affected by the encampment have pushed it into the glaring light of public scrutiny. Call it straight out and force our elected officials into dealing with their creation.
      The Tom Tait Trail.

  6. Rename it, Tom Tait Riverbed Trail Lots! An infamous recognition well deserved.

  7. I took the nephews today to HOOTERS on Katella, for the opening of the NFL season. Nothing like HOT WINGS and HOT SERVERS for teenage boys. NOTE: This establishment was entirely professional, clean, kind and at the end a bargain. This was a good joint.

    Now, to my point, I met up with a guy, my aged (50) who has a hobby collecting and restoring classic bikes. So when he learned of the river encampment he thought what better place to source parts (obviously stolen), but hard to find. He said he didn’t make it past the sixthe tent before being accosted, threatened and nearly beaten. A gun was pulled on him, a toothless prostitute told him “GIVE ME FIFTY BUCKS OR WE ARE STEALING YOUR CELL PHONE AND CALLING YOUR WIFE” allthewhile holding a tire iron.

    I told him he was lucky, and it just ain’t worth it.

    He said, no, one of the barkers told him to come back on Tuesday AM, follow the new OCSD patrol and cut his deals under the protection of the OC Sherriffs department and he’d get 2 or 3 80″s Spitfires.


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