Frustrated by an official lack of action, nearly two dozen residents spent early Memorial Day cleaning Orange County’s Walk of Honor, which debuted at the downtown civic center during the 1998 Memorial Day holiday, intended to show that war heroes are far from forgotten.
Instead, Orange County elected leaders who work at the civic center acknowledge the memorial wall has become a walk of shame of sorts that they pass by daily on the way to their offices.
Often called Orange County’s Skid Row, the plaques are on a wall that is in the midst of a homeless camp – showcasing for many the county’s chronic inability to deal with critical social welfare challenges like homelessness and veterans affairs.
The area around the plaques is by all accounts, disgusting.
The walls are caked with dirt, scuff marks, bird droppings and are often used as outside urinals by the homeless people camping at the civic center. Two large trash cans from a nearby parking lot often sit right against the Walk of Honor.
After reading a Voice of OC story, about 20 county residents scrambled on Monday to put together an impromptu cleaning crew, spending the early morning with scrub brushes and buckets attempting to clean off the grime from the civic center.
Despite repeated public protests over the past decade, the county’s management – as well as the 1966 joint powers authority governing the civic center – has never been able to keep the area clean.
Last week, it looked as if the plaques might get a facelift after County Supervisor Janet Nguyen – who represents the area because it’s in her First District — announced as part of her Memorial Day message that her office was leading a charge to get the plaques renovated and the wall repainted.
“It’s actually very exciting that the American veterans, also known as AMVETS has pledged to have the plaques on the walk of honor professionally refurbished, which will save the county approximately $27,000,” Nguyen said toward the end of the May 20 county supervisors’ meeting:
“The condition of the civic center Walk of Honor is important to our entire county family, and I am so pleased what we have been able to work together to ensure that this important first district memorial site continues to exemplify the love and gratitude that we county residents have for our veterans,” added Nguyen, who is in the midst of a contested state senate race.
Except, a key veteran leader on the Walk of Honor said he told the supervisor’s office months ago that the grant application to fix the plaques was denied. He said never heard back from Nguyen’s office on other financing options.
Thus, there is no money for a refurbishment.
Furthermore, Terry McCarty, an AMVETS Commander with Post 18 (which covers all of Orange County) who has spearheaded memorial efforts at the civic center, said Nguyen’s staff was difficult to work with: throwing the entire responsibility of maintaining the plaques to Amvets yet being ready to quickly take credit.
“They are the biggest critics about the state it’s in but they don’t want to do anything about it,” said McCarty, a former Marine who served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970. “They want us to put them (memorials) in but don’t want to maintain them.”
“This is an indication of how the county treats veterans. They want us to take care of what we put in,” he said.
McCarty said after telling Nguyen’s staff there was no grant money, he heard nothing more about the project until he got a call from a reporter asking about Nguyen’s May 20 comments on the $27,000 facelift.
Nguyen declined to be interviewed for this story.
For the time being, McCarty said he just wants to get the wall scrubbed clean. He is looking for a high-pressure washer to blast the dirt off the walls.
“High pressure is the only thing that will do any good,” he said.
At least when it comes to scrubbing the wall.
Several countywide elected officials have attempted high-pressure politics to try to change the situation, to no avail.
Nick Berardino, general manager for the Orange County Employees Association, has publicly called on county supervisors to better maintain the memorial wall on several occasions over the past decade from the public dais at supervisors’ meetings:
Former County Treasurer Tax Collector Chriss Street vocally protested the joint powers authority managing the civic center back in 2010, arguing that the veterans memorial should get better maintenance, especially since county parking lots financing the joint powers authority produce solid revenues.
When Supervisor Shawn Nelson took office in 2010, he also raised questions about how the Civic Center joint powers authority operates – questioning how revenues are spent.
Both the Street and Nelson efforts were rebuffed by Nguyen’s office, officials said, which argued that district prerogative leaves the civic center under Nguyen’s purview.
Yet attention to the lack of action on the veterans’ memorial wall may be prompting action.
Berardino late Friday said that given the lack of AMVETS foundation funding, he would be working with State Sen. Lou Correa (D-Anaheim) to clean the area immediately.
“Apparently, the board of supervisors don’t feel spending taxpayer money to honor our veterans is a necessary expenditure, so Senator Correa, OCEA, OC Trade Unions and AMVETS will clean and repair the wall,” he said.
When reached for comment on the situation, Nelson said if he verified the grant money has indeed not been allocated, he will ask a contractor he knows to begin the clean up until the county creates a permanent plan.
“Deeds not words,” Nelson said, repeating what he calls the Fourth District mantra.