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Judge orders Bell Gardens not to interfere with county

LOS ANGELES — A judge issued a temporary restraining order May 5 directing the city of Bell Gardens to not interfere with state and Los Angeles County efforts to temporarily place homeless people showing symptoms of the coronavirus in a specified motel.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Samantha Jessner said that despite the city’s objections to having more homeless residents at the Quality Inn in the 7300 block of Eastern Avenue, the state and county are granted powers to act as they did given the unique circumstances brought about by the pandemic.

In a separate ruling, the judge denied a temporary restraining order sought by the city against the Quality Inn owners that would have prevented the motel from accepting any new residents. The city was not trying to evict those already there, but maintained the building was obligated under a lease agreement to be used as a motel and not a homeless shelter.

The judge scheduled a July 2 hearing on whether the county should be granted a preliminary injunction against the city. That hearing will be before Judge James Chalfant, when the court is expected to have returned to normal operations.

Jessner issued a similar temporary restraining order April 30 involving the city of Norwalk, which a week earlier directed a participating hotel taking part in a joint county and state program, Project Roomkey, to withdraw its contract with the county.

Project Roomkey was created to save California’s most vulnerable residents and protect others from infection, and Gov. Gavin Newsom has directed counties to secure emergency temporary housing for individuals experiencing homelessness who are at risk of contracting COVID-19 in private hotels and motels.

The city of Norwalk also threatened to take immediate action to revoke the motel’s permits, business licenses and other municipal entitlements, according to the county’s court papers. At an emergency meeting of the Norwalk City Council April 30, the city enacted an ordinance asserting local control over land use and related activities during the current state of emergency, according to the county’s court papers.

Unlike the Norwalk case, however, the homeless were already residing in the Bell Gardens motel. They also were people who currently show symptoms of the virus or are otherwise likely to have it.

In a sworn statement opposing the county’s temporary restraining order application, Bell Gardens Mayor Alejandra Cortez stated that the motel owners did not notify the city before they made a deal with the county to house the homeless. She further said county officials said they intended to use the Quality Inn as a “top quality medical quarantine facility” and not as a homeless shelter.

In a sworn declaration in favor of the city’s argument for the temporary restraining order against the motel owners, Bell Gardens Police Chief Scott B. Fairfield said he saw security problems during an April 13 visit to the Quality Inn.

“I noted the facility did not have security to monitor the entrances and exits,” Fairfield said. “I noted the open walkways were visible throughout the property and exhibited patients outside in clear view of the community.”

Fairfield said he drove by the motel many times and saw one or two residents “out on the exposed walkways.” He further said that vehicles were causing traffic safety problems by stopping along the red curb on Eastern Avenue.

Fairfield also said he learned that someone attempted to jump from the motel’s third-floor walkway and that the person was later found injured at the nearby Bicycle Hotel & Casino.

But Louis “Skip” Miller, on behalf of Los Angeles County, said he was “offended” by the chief’s remarks, suggesting Fairfield could have done more about the problems he was identifying.“My response is, ‘Do your job,’” Miller said.

Wave Wire Services