Wednesday, May 12, 2010|Chriss Street says he’s horrified every time he walks out of his office and past Orange County’s Walk of Honor memorial wall in the civic center area of downtown Santa Ana.
On a daily basis the county’s treasurer/tax collector sees homeless people sit on the wall, their feet dangling over the plaques honoring dead veterans. The wall is regularly covered with black grime and Street has even seen bloodstains on it.
And when Street is not seeing this grim reality, he is hearing about it.
“We have school children come and they’re always interested in the plaques,” Street said. “Unfortunately, it’s always so despicably dirty. I’ve been drilled by veterans as to why it’s treated like this — it’s a disgrace.”
The memorial wall hovers above the county building’s main civic center parking lot, next to the county board of supervisors’ meeting chambers. It has become the main feeding area for local churches working with the homeless.
It has also, to Street, become a monument to the dysfunction of government and the 1966 joint powers agency that governs the areas of Santa Ana’s downtown civic center.
Street is leaving office at the end of the year, choosing not to run for re-election after losing a $7 million civil judgment in a fraud case involving a company he administered as a bankruptcy trustee.
His legacy will undoubtedly be tarnished by the fraud case. It could end up being burnished by his efforts to right what he considers wrongs done not only to the wall but also to the memory of the veterans it is honoring.
To Street’s reckoning the county hasn’t gotten a good deal from the civic center authority, which operates with a $10 million annual budget, because county officials haven’t paid attention to it.
Under an unofficial power-sharing agreement, the county public works department gets the administrative dollars to run the area while the city of Santa Ana gets the contracts to do maintenance and security.
It’s not a fair deal, Streets argues. Santa Ana gets fountains and flag plazas and gardens while the county gets parking meters, debt service and a homeless feeding center. And the veterans’ wall suffers.
Most officials working in the downtown civic center are quick acknowledge the bad condition of the memorial wall. But they’ve been slow when it comes to finding ways to solve the problem.
“I’m more perplexed as to why [the plaques] are put there,” said County Supervisor John Moorlach, a former treasurer/tax Collector himself, “as opposed to an alternative place.”
He wonders: “Why are (the plaques) on a parking lot wall instead of closer to the new veterans memorial at the other end of the civic center plaza? There sits a 41-foot A4M Skyhawk plane commemorating the county’s Marine Corps heritage.
Also aware of the issue is Gerardo Mouet, who heads the city of Santa Ana Parks Department that handles day-to-day maintenance on the grounds through an agreement with the joint powers authority.
“I obviously know about the problem, and I know it’s a problem,” Mouet said.
Mouet said the grounds maintenance around the area has gotten better since it was outsourced to a landscaping company. “I’ve gotten tremendous feedback,” Mouet said. “They see things cleaner and cleaner.”
It’s not clean enough for Street. “The photo-op is over from when they first built it, so obviously they don’t care anymore,” said Street about the Walk of Honor.
Yet it is up to county officials like Street to press for more improvements at the meetings of the joint powers authority, Mouet said. However, few know about its existence and it only meets a few times a year.
Civic Center Authority commissioners adopt an advisory budget each year shortly before both the county and Santa Ana go into budget deliberations in June.
That was something that originally caught Street by surprise. In fact, he only learned he was the treasurer of the authority in 2007 when he was in the midst of an elaborate and controversial remodel of his office.
At the time Street complained that his office had rats and the view from his office window was often that of prostitutes doing their business.
“We had prostitutes doing trains,” Street said. The other window, he notes, “had people lighting up crack pipes.”
And this is an area where the Santa Ana Police Department receives more than $1 million to patrol each year, evidenced by the black and white police cars moving through the area on a daily basis.
When he started asking around about who was responsible for such maintenance and safety issues, he kept getting the same answer — the civic center authority.
“I showed up and started asking about the budget,” Street said.
Street found that some agencies get a good deal in the civic center authority budget — including OC Public Works, and Santa Ana parks and police departments. They aren’t too interested in shaking things up, he said.
But Street plans to keep up his fight going into this budget year.
“Government works,” he said, touting an odd line for a Republican. “It just works slowly.”