In Fighting Homeless Camp, Irvine’s Asians Win, but at a Cost

Anh Do, Los Angeles Times, April 1, 2018

One by one, the buses pulled up to the Orange County Hall of Administration last week carrying posters with messages such as “No Tent City” and “No Homeless in Irvine.”

Many of the hundreds on board were immigrants, and this would be their first experience joining a political protest.

A week earlier, county officials announced that they were considering placing emergency homeless shelters in Irvine as well as in Laguna Niguel and in Huntington Beach. All three cities immediately fought the plan, but the opposition was most fierce in Irvine.

Many of the loudest voices in the movement to block the shelter plan were Chinese Americans who came together through social media apps and various community groups. They were joined by immigrants from South Korea, India, Mexico and the Middle East, along with some whites.

They rallied to protect their community from what they see as the ills of homeless camps, which many argued don’t belong in their famously clean, safe, family-oriented planned community. Their protests helped persuade the Orange County Board of Supervisors to overturn the shelter proposal, leaving the county without a homeless plan at a time when the population is growing and officials are shutting down tent cities along the Santa Ana River.

It was a big political victory for the diverse opposition from Irvine. But it also came at a price, with some accusing the residents of intolerance and simply wanting to keep the homeless out of their own cities without offering an alternative solution.

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Most protesters arrived in 24 buses chartered from Southern California travel agencies, the culmination of eight days of organizing in Irvine by residents.

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Chunzhu Yu, a dentist with offices in Irvine and Orange, said he paid about $5,000 to sponsor seven buses, taking half a day off from seeing patients to air his views.

“We had to go to defense mode to keep trouble away,” Yu said.

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Parrisa Yazdani, an Irvine mother of two of Japanese and Iranian descent, launched a Facebook page called “Irvine Tent City Protest” that ballooned to more than 5,000 members in a few days.

“People who I never knew were calling me night and day and asking to do whatever they could to help. It’s really proof that we are a community dedicated to a mission, like never before,” she said, partnering with Lu and Wu to navigate the flow of information.

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Irvine is an affluent, fast-growing and ethnically diverse city, so it’s no surprise that the protesters would be diverse as well. Asians make up 45.7% of Irvine’s 258,000 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, while whites and Latinos make up 38.2% and 7%, respectively. Among its residents, 65% are college graduates. Irvine boasts a median home value of $740,000.

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“They need to put them somewhere, maybe somewhere else in California,” resident Angela Liu, who owns a legal services company, told the Board of Supervisors. “I really don’t know where they can go. But Irvine is beautiful, and we don’t want it to get destroyed.”

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