Santana: Civic Center Shows What Politicization of County Board Brings

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I was stunned earlier this month when I learned that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors actually wants to be in charge of county government and voted to give themselves direct control over department heads.

Yet maybe that is the answer.

Here in Orange County, given the dysfunction of our county government, many have spent the last year advocating things like an ethics commission and police review models with the aim of introducing some discipline and accountability to county government.

Now we see LA County is headed the other way, seemingly embracing politicization.

Getting rid of the CEO slot altogether does allow these elected leaders to fully implement whatever mandate they receive from voters and eliminates muddling through the bureaucracy to get things done.

There’s no CEO to hide behind when things don’t go well.

Yet looking at the demise over the past decade of the Orange County Board of Supervisors leaves me wondering whether LA is headed toward a disaster.

What we’ve found in Orange County is that when you put a bunch of politicians truly in charge, what you get are lots of ribbon cutting ceremonies – Ronald Reagan statues, victims’ memorials, violent video game conferences, Superior Court judge recalls and aging summits.

You go light on policy. Department heads don’t know what to do. And they are a nervous bunch.

In short, you’ll see every one of your agencies turn into a promotion machine for the latest politician, vying for the next higher elective office. In the meantime, you’ll watch as every single job slot gets transformed into a campaign payback for political appointees.

Looking at Orange County, the result is animal shelters that are falling apart. IT systems that are expensive and don’t work. Homeless policies that go nowhere while the streets pile up with lost folks.

You’ll see a Hall of Administration choc full of politics but bereft of any work, much less any progress on tough issues.

At the same time, in Orange County we pay about $1 million each year for each county supervisor and their staff.

If you want to see what this buys, you don’t have to walk far.

Just step out onto the Santa Ana Civic Center grounds.

Meet Ana Reyes, she’s a 47-year old grandmother you won’t meet at this month’s upbeat Senior Summit in South County where Supervisor Lisa Bartlett will officially pick up the bullshit baton from State Senator (former County Supervisor) Pat Bates to talk about the “State of Aging in Orange County” to hundreds of seniors, who happen to be high-propensity voters.

Reyes is the state of aging in Orange County for far too many.

During one of my latest walks through the favela that holds the remnants of our county civic center, I ran into Reyes sitting with her two grandchildren.

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Grandchildren always make grandparents feel happy, even when visits to grandma are on the street, where she lives.

On this recent day, Ana sits on a bench with her belongings, next to her mentally-ill son who is sleeping nearby next to a tree.

Her daughter, Janet, 24, is trying to finish her high school diploma but has two young toddlers and has no idea how to get affordable housing or much of anything else.

This family spends their days out on the Civic Center grounds.

Ana bounces her youngest grandson, year-old Elian, on her lap. Two-year old Salvador sleeps in a stroller nearby.

By nightfall, they’ll head to a local motel – mainly because taxpayers who walk by offer donations after the shock of seeing a young family existing like this.

The grandkids will soon get to hug grandma and pray for her while she sleeps on the streets at night. They’ll hope to see her again in the morning.

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When I ask the mother and daughter about the myriad of government programs that are supposed to help (county supervisors insist there are no families living at the civic center), they both say they don’t know anything about government programs because they’ve never seen a government social worker.

Even though they live at the Civic Center.

Social Service Agency officials acknowledge they never walk the beat in their own backyard.

When I asked the SSA top dogs why these families living at the civic center never see an eligibility worker – someone who can assess a person in need and try to match them with existing government programs designed to help – the answer sounded like it came from Nurse Ratchet from the film, “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest.”

“The Orange County Social Services Agency (SSA) is committed to delivering quality services that are accessible and responsive to the community’s needs,” responded SSA Director Mike Ryan in an email.

Here’s the real answer, buried in the midst of jargon.

“SSA does not have the capacity to conduct initial assessments in the field at this time,” Ryan wrote.

Although he does note, “accommodations are available for individuals who are unable to get to one of the regional offices to apply for specific services.”

Ryan then adds, “community outreach is a priority for the agency.”

Ryan concluded noting “staff are out-stationed at the county’s many Family Resource Centers throughout the community, to reach out and provide information to individuals in need of assistance. Upon application for services, individuals are assessed for eligibility for multiple assistance programs in order to streamline the process for them and ensure they receive the help they need.”

Yet social service workers are nowhere to be found at the Civic Center, where the most desperate are living.

That’s because the supervisors don’t provide the resources to do that.

If you talk to Jennifer Muir with the Orange County Employees Association, she’ll remind you of this budget reality, how supervisors have twisted the notion of public safety.

Sandra Fox, who represents eligibility workers at SSA with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), will tell you the county violates the law consistently by keeping staff short, leaving them to deal with the stress of confronting a human wave of need by themselves.

“Addressing issues of homelessness, poverty and public health aren’t just moral imperatives, they should be considered public safety and fiscal priorities,” Muir told me.

“It costs less – in lives and resources – to address the underlying issues of homelessness than to simply police those who are living in the ever growing encampments throughout our communities,” Muir continued. “Keeping homeless healthy stops the spread of dangerous communicable disease that can endanger all Orange County residents. Providing adequate access to mental health services for the homeless reduces crime and puts homeless residents on a path toward getting off the streets. Identifying and supporting affordable housing gives veterans and families hope that when they work hard, they will be able to afford a place to sleep and keep their families safe. The county must do better in all these areas.”

Yet look at this year’s budget process. The little extra money that appeared in the budget all went to law enforcement.

It came down to a series of easy votes that translate into campaign cash from the law enforcement community to county supervisors.

Meanwhile, an outstanding budget request from SSA waits to the next quarterly budget adjustment a few months down the road.

At the same time, an abandoned bus center sits nearby within a hundred yards, empty. This is a place where such assessments, maybe even a temporary bed, could help.

But in the meantime, this $3 billion bureaucracy funded through your tax dollars just leaves a pair of health care agency nurses to try to walk the civic center grounds and patch up broken lives with medicine or suggestions.

As usual, this group of supervisors just lets the county workers figure it out. And then complains about the rising costs of their pensions.

Then, these so-called conservatives will blame Sacramento for lack of tax resources and go home, or to fancy summits to talk about aging, or crime victims, or video violence, or recalls of Superior Court judges.

Anything but confront the tough job right outside their window.

  • octaxpayer

    If they create any policies they know they would be accountable. If you look at the web you see all kinds of process and governance from the CIO. it all looks good but its just a bunch of nonsense and BS.

  • Lyanna Lyns

    Ryan is lying. SSA has the staff and the resources. He just doesn’t care. End of story.

    • OCservant_Leader

      You are right. He is lying.

      If he can’t figure out how to help a few hundred people with close to a Billion dollar budget? ….someone should be fired. End of Story.

  • OCservant_Leader

    Can someone explain why my posts are deleted if I reference the former OC CEO Thomas Mauk?

    He was a public servant who was paid (and probably still is) paid by tax dollars.

    I hear he has turned up again in another LA city. The public has a right to know what he did in the OC.

    • Hi, Thy Vo here, acting as moderator. Not sure why your post disappears but sometimes our system will put comments in a moderation bin (meaning they disappear off the page temporarily until someone on our staff gets around to approving it) if another user flags it or if the system finds profanities…not sure why yours disappeared. Our system also makes us approve comments made by people who haven’t posted before or who don’t have working emails — not sure if either of those apply to you. If you or anyone faces this problem again, I apologize, but it may simply take us a few days since we don’t have a staffer who moderates and monitors new comments actively.

      • OCservant_Leader

        Thank you for explanation. An upvote to VofOC!

  • David Zenger

    Norberto, Building 16 stands empty, too – right next to the homeless encampment.

    • OCservant_Leader

      IMO – the Government Buildings represent the OC “slum lord” mentality. I think the public would be surprised to find who those monthly checks go to…public works employees in charge of managing them? A tight little group called the Band of Brothers who forced the BOS to put them as CEO?

      The political web of the real estate corruption is what blew up the Bustamonte scandal. He was the City of Santa Ana key. They started to jump ship and lawyer up because the whole house of cards could come crashing down.

      Mr. Z – you were sniffing around the Public Works Real Estate puzzle when you were relieved of your services…is this just a coincidence?

      • David Zenger

        No.

        • OCservant_Leader

          Interesting. Yea – I put it together when you referenced earlier how you couldn’t even get a “list” of the County’s real estate portfolio, especially around the civic center.

          Only the Band of Brothers have that list which includes who owns the buildings..(hint: they do) and as long as they keep on the OC payroll as “retirees getting their 40 quarters” they can keep manipulating and make sure that stays in their hands.

          When I heard about that scam where they had their clerks at public works use white out to change the Real Estate Contracts – after the fact – I knew this was BIG time corruption. And anyone who gets “nosey” gets eliminated quickly.

          All you have to do is add a zero to the square footage & you can add a million dollars to the life of the contract in an instant. Add that to your pension- now you’re rolling.

          No one connects the dots after the fact. Those PW boys figured it out and admitinly it was (is) an easy scam – especially if they themselves are responsible for managing it. And you become CEO – head of HR and BOS CoS….you can clean up any leakage.

          I think the public works altering records scam will make the court clerk ring look like play school.

  • Kathleen Tahilramani

    31 years ago, I remember the Civic Center area as a peaceful area with people enjoying the walk to the Santa Ana Library as well as the green grass and lush landscaping. County and City employees took their breaks enjoying the sunshine. In 2010, when I returned for a stint at the Hall of Misery ie: Administration, the area was filthy dirty,overflowing trash cans ,debris blowing in the wind, the stink of urine permeating the air,addicts retching in the bushes,fights, stabbings, theft.homeless and desperate adults and children and elderly waiting for the food line.
    Of course the BOS only need look out their 5th floor castle windows to observe – but both their minds. souls and windows are closed to this profound 24/7 never ending play of human neglect and misery. At the start and end of the day these privileged snobs jump on their secret elevator to start another 24/7 play of their own design grabbing political contributions and handing out favors with the intent to enhance their own existence, inflate their enormous egos and line their own pockets. They rule from their thrones with what Norberto aptly describes as their “bullshit batons”.
    And each and every BOS member has the unmitigated nerve to start each meeting with 1) A Prayer 2) The Oath of Allegiance 3) A thank you to our military. Some of the folks suffering on the doorstep of the Hall Of Misery are Vets, many are devoted to their religion, peaceful beliefs, some are mentally ill many not, many are citizens of the United States and the world. What galling hypocrisy from our inflated windbag pseudo leaders.When are people going to revolt against this power play of the ignorant, selfish elite? Why are we allowing this disrespect and waste of taxpayer dollars?
    Neither the CEO nor Department Heads can do their jobs as their true task is to pander to the often idiotic twisted demands of power mad Board Members and their fawning ES’s.Countless wasted hours go into the effort to appease the BOS and their EA’s, countless hours of research and analysis that is often carefully prepared reports that are then totally ignored by the BOS, a million examples of exercises in futility. And the true jobs of the Department Heads get less and less quality attention.Because if Department Heads fail to create political cache for the BOS they will be fired. Plain and simple – like the Mafia. Do as I say or your gone. And they are the built in fall guys and girls when something heats up and threatens to burn a board member, It’s utter madness – but it will continue unabated until the general population comes to grip with their own humanity and decides enough is enough.
    Read the Grand Jury reports, read the paper, read the Voice of OC, read the Liberal OC, read the LA Times, read OC Politics Blog, the Orange Juice Blog read, read , read and it is evident that the BOS is infected with one scandal on the toes of the next outrageous scandal. The ineptitude and overt corruption has been exposed over and over. Are we all becoming shell shocked? Are we really going to give up and accept this sorry state of affairs? Now that’s something to pray about.

    • David Zenger

      “Of course the BOS only need look out their 5th floor castle windows to observe – but both their minds. souls and windows are closed to this profound 24/7 never ending play of human neglect and misery.”

      No, Bill Campbell’s employees looked out. They referred to the Mall as “The Island of Dr. Moreau” even as their lachrymose boss teared up over some abstract social problem or other.

      • Kathleen Tahilramani

        My comments are sarcasm – BTW , Campbell was the biggest phony there all he cared about was pushing OCWR to prop him up for his post BOS career as a green savior…..master of both the hot temper and crocodile tears. Any social issue was “abstract” to him as in don’t give a damn.

        • David Zenger

          God, the upper echelon loved (and feared) Bill “No Accountability” Campbell, the man that gave us Carlos Bustamante. I’ll never forget his insane idea to have kayaking in the Santa Ana River. Every staff stooge in the County looked the other way for that hare-brained notion.

          • Kathleen Tahilramani

            Ah yes, I remember that crazy illogical idea. At the time I thought someone fell down the rabbit hole.

          • David Zenger

            I tried to get one person in Public Works to give me a straight answer. None was forthcoming. They were all terrified to give a common sense opinion, let alone a professional one. Campbell ran it through Denny at the Parks Department. Nobody bothered to tell Risk Management, either – and a rope was supposed to be stretched across the river to catch people headed for one of the fall structures!

            A classic County fiasco: kayakers cavorting in the open storm drain known as the Santa Ana River!

          • Kathleen Tahilramani

            Gosh, that is beyond irrational. A rope to catch people? More like create decapitations with associated rope burn. Risk Mgmt. would have needed to be resuscitated if this was actually done! I can just visualize, Bill C. the naked emperor floating down at a fast clip on a dangerous storm drain headed for the abyss. What is sobering about this fiasco is the fear people have of speaking up and out and offering advice or a viewpoint.

  • David Zenger

    “…pick up the bullshit baton from State Senator (former County Supervisor) Pat Bates”

    Yes, indeed. Bates and bullshit are synonymous. But the old gal was in no way atypical of a County elected.

    The County B.S. needle is constantly pointing to the red zone, reflected in appearance over substance, bureaucratic double-talk, obfuscation, terror of error, and as you quite correctly identify, the crass politicization of County government.

    An “ethics Commission” cannot help solve this situation. Stay tuned for an editorial.

  • Kathleen Tahilramani

    Beautiful analysis of our backyard tragedy.