The residents of Laguna Woods Village, a 55-and-over community, say their senior citizen population is very vulnerable to the virus and they are concerned about putting homeless patients in their midst. The retirement community makes up most of the city of Laguna Woods.
"The average age is 76 years old. We have the most vulnerable population in California and they put this COVID facility right in the middle of Laguna Woods," said Greg Lerman, a local resident.
Residents have been standing in front of the hotel holding signs and honking car horns as they drive by to express their outrage.
The hotel is leasing the 138-bed property to the county to become a temporary housing and medical facility for homeless people who have already contracted COVID-19 or are at high risk.
Lisa Bartlett, a member of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, said the decision was made by the county's emergency operations center in response to Gov. Gavin Newsom's calls for sheltering the homeless amid the crisis.
"I completely understand the concerns and the fears of the residents in Laguna Woods," Bartlett said. "The board had absolutely no part in the decision-making for any of the locations throughout the county."
She noted that it is far safer for the community to have infected homeless people isolated in a medical facility rather than wandering the streets where they can come into contact with others.
She said the facility will have strict protocols, not allowing patients to come and go, while health-care workers are expected to leave the area after work and not shop in local stores.
A statement from Ayres Hotel says, "We weighed the decision very thoughtfully and decided our community would be better served by Ayres providing our buildings to help Orange County mitigate this current health crisis."
The hotel says the month-to-month lease began April 1. Laguna Woods Village says it was never included in the discussions.
So far, Bartlett says no homeless people in the county have tested positive and none have been housed at the hotel.