Orange County’s newest supervisor, Shawn Nelson, who ran on a fiscally conservative platform for a June special election, has already found a government agency that can be eliminated.
And it’s right under his feet.
Nelson wants to eliminate the joint powers authority that administers maintenance for the civic center.
The Civic Center Authority was set up in 1966 to build the entire block of buildings in the heart of Santa Ana.
Since the bonds that financed the original construction were paid off in 2001, the authority has primarily remained in charge of the parking lots around the site and acts as a shell for the maintenance done on the site by Santa Ana’s city parks department.
But few know what the authority — which meets only once a year — actually does.
“It has no functional reason to exist,” Nelson said at this week’s county supervisors meeting. “It became an authority of convenience.”
For Nelson, who faces re-election in November, there’s a clear goal. And getting rid of the Civic Center Authority fits the bill.
“Government being smaller is better,” he said.
Yet Nelson’s idea ran directly into Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Janet Nguyen because the civic center is inside her district. And she was visibly irritated with Nelson’s query.
She noted that if Nelson’s staff had bothered to check with her they would have found most of the answers they were looking into because Nguyen did the same thing when she was first elected.
She also reminded Nelson that the Civic Center Authority does more than just provide a shell for meetings. It’s the vehicle that governs how Santa Ana and the county share revenues for maintaining the civic center area, which houses not only county offices but also the superior court and Santa Ana City Hall.
“That relationship is important to this county, and the cost sharing is important,” Nguyen said.
“Legally we don’t need it. But financially we do,” Nguyen insisted. And getting rid of it would trigger uncertainty and a lot of questions about maintenance costs, she said.
“If we dissolve this JPA [joint powers authority], the cost to us would be unknown. An MOU [memorandum of understanding] would still have to be in place,” she said.
“There’s so many unknowns,” Nguyen said.
She went as far as to say that getting rid of the Civic Center Authority would “jeopardize our relationships with Santa Ana.”
“We are in their neighborhood, whether we like it or not.”
Other supervisors on the dais, anxious to outdo each other in terms of their zeal for downsizing government, were keen on the idea and wanted more exploration.
County Supervisor John Moorlach suggested a study be conducted to see if the civic center maintenance and parking lots can be administered through some other mechanism.
“The more that I can close down, shut down … I’m there,” Moorlach said.
Based on direction from supervisors, county Chief Executive Tom Mauk said he would return with a full briefing on what the Civic Center Authority does by Nov. 9.
Ironically, Moorlach — who was actually the treasurer of the entity when he was the county’s elected Treasurer/Tax Collector — could learn something about the entity from his old friend turned nemesis Chriss Street, who followed him in elected office.
Street has been fighting a battle against the Civic Center Authority for years as he attempted to revitalize the area just outside his office on the civic center grounds. Street argues that the county has been a bad landlord over the joint powers authority, allowing the city of Santa Ana to receive all the capital improvements on the site, in exchange for being paid an administrative fee that goes to the Public Works Department.
Street has protested the fact that so many of the veterans monuments at the site are not properly maintained and don’t combine well with the homeless feeding station that has arisen at the civic center.
Even Orange County Sheriff’s Department officials have discussed moving the peace officers memorial at the civic center over concerns about vandalism.