Orange County supervisors Tuesday heard concerns from the public about three key issues: a shortage of housing options for homeless people, a troubling county economic future, and alleged improprieties by supervisors in choosing a major airport contractor.
Most of the commenters urged supervisors to look seriously at expanding housing options for homeless people, a request that the board – which controls county government spending – didn’t respond to.
While the county has more than 3,000 single homeless men and women, there are only about 1,600 dedicated housing beds for them, according to county officials.
Advocates said the two county shelters for single homeless men and women – the Courtyard in Santa Ana and National Guard armory in Fullerton – have been full lately, leaving no realistic place for people to go when the county clears an encampment along the Santa Ana River starting Friday.
“Where will these people be then?” asked Jamie Ludovise.
After the meeting, a county spokeswoman disputed claims that there’s been no available space at shelters lately. Figures provided by spokeswoman Carrie Braun showed that the Courtyard had 107 unused spaces during heavy rains Friday night, while the Fullerton shelter was at capacity.
Another activist, Mohammed Aly, noted at the meeting that Supervisor Andrew Do showed strong interest last year in exploring a housing-first model that was successful in reducing homelessness in the state of Utah.
In an interview last March during his re-election, Do reacted positively to the Utah model and said he was taking leadership in helping get homeless people off the streets and into housing.
“Maybe Supervisor Do will be the one to take the initiative” to direct county staff to look into the feasibility creating a fund to support permanent supportive housing, Aly said.
Do and the other supervisors didn’t respond to that request or other comments about homelessness.
Rising Housing Costs Lead to Warnings from Chapman Advisors
The only item on Tuesday’s open session agenda was a presentation from Chapman University on the future of business and jobs in Orange County. And it ended up being a warning to supervisors.
The two Chapman researchers said that while many in the county are well-off financially, rising housing costs are creating serious economic dangers.
Orange County now is on pace with the San Jose area to become the least affordable housing market in California, said Chapman’s Joel Kotkin.
Housing prices have increased eight times faster than income in the past 15 years, he added, leading many rents to become so high that people became homeless.
And that’s had ripple effects, including companies and professional workers relocating to other regions and states to find affordable housing – and thus increasing poverty in the county.
“The fact of the matter is, Mississippi now has a lower poverty rate than we do,” said Kotkin.
It’s critical that the housing supply is increased, he said – particularly homes for younger professionals who are starting families – and for county supervisors to step up to help lead the discussion.
Otherwise, Kotkin added, in the long run “we have this danger where we are going to become” like Hawaii, where affluent people have nice homes and only need “servants” and good restaurants, with little preparation for the next generation of workers.
Two supervisors – Lisa Bartlett and Todd Spitzer – showed interest in having supervisors take leadership on regional economic issues, while Supervisors Shawn Nelson and Andrew Do criticized aspects of the presentation and suggested that supervisors have very limited influence over economic development and city policies.
Airport Contract Again Draws Pushback
A major contract at John Wayne Airport is continuing to spark backlash and legal concerns from the top-ranked bidder who ended up losing out.
In comments to supervisors Tuesday, attorneys for Signature Flight Support reiterated their claims that supervisors violated federal rules when they chose the fifth ranked firm for the contract, instead of first-ranked Signature.
The Federal Aviation Administration has urged supervisors to postpone awarding the contract to fifth-ranked ACI Jet, said Signature attorney Phillip R. Kaplan of the law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips.
He said Signature wants to find a deal that works for all sides. The company welcomes a chance to sit down with county attorneys to discuss solutions that may “be a win win for all stakeholders in this matter,” Kaplan said.
Supervisors went into closed session to discuss the issue, but didn’t report out any action.
Signature and others have questioned whether the closed session discussion was legal. The exemption supervisors used to go behind closed doors is limited to price and terms of payment, whereas the issue regarding the airport contracts centers on whether the bidding process was handled properly.
The issue comes back to supervisors next Tuesday, when they’re scheduled to vote on whether to award the contract to ACI Jet.
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.