Santana: Is Civic Activism Turning the Tide in OC?

Have we turned a corner in Orange County?

Are our countywide elected leaders starting to think seriously about actually delivering regional services in a cost-effective manner that enhances our quality of life and public safety?

At their most recent public session, Orange County’s all-Republican board of supervisors signaled support for an ethics commission, pressed for progress on building a regional animal shelter, got stalled labor negotiations back on track and called for the creation of a special county executive who’s sole aim is to end homelessness.


They even made 80-year old local campaign finance watchdog Shirley Grindle cry after they indicated, politely, that they might actually work with her instead of resisting regulation.

Thus, the OC may soon move from a largely lawless campaign finance jungle devoid of enforcement due to a lethargic work ethic from District Attorney Tony Rackauckas to becoming the largest county in California opting for an additional layer of campaign finance enforcement.

Because residents stood up and found a voice.

Last week, I sat in Anaheim with Los Amigos and watched Police Chief Raul Quezada politely take questions and complaints about police interaction with homeless residents at local parks.

Santa Ana residents are also engaging Santa Ana police on the issue of community policing, attempting to craft a popular consensus on how to police our streets in a manner that can win popular support in areas affected by systemic crime.

Tomorrow, Police Chief Carlos Rojas will come to the Voice of OC offices at 5:30 p.m. for another frank public discussion (event is free and public is welcome) to continue crafting consensus.

In calling for the establishment of a county animal shelter here in Santa Ana, Supervisor Shawn Nelson actually sounded entrepreneurial, telling the countywide execs to not put this on the lets-study-this-and-never-do-anything list.

He demanded action, “not these government timelines where we’re going to send it out for 90 days and think about it.” Answers, Nelson added, should come before the supervisors’ next meeting on Oct. 6.

Speaking of “government timelines,” lets talk homelessness.

Or better yet, lets follow Supervisor Andrew Do’s new lead and talk about ending homelessness with a county executive whose sole charge is to do just that.

In what amounts to a long overdue, public admission of absolute failure of the county’s ending homelessness task force, Do last Tuesday said it’s time to task an executive with the job of targeting the issue day and night, working across multiple agencies until the county develops an actual policy that has support – not just political but budgetary – to fashion together a real strategy and results.

So what’s up?

The answer to the evolving behavior of our county supervisors, I believe, is the direct result of civic engagement.


They are moving on Ethics because Grindle and a host of other prominent citizens – including Chapman professors Mario Mainero and Fred Smoller and attorney Bill Mitchell – have presented the legitimate threat of a ballot initiative.

Animal rights activist Rose Tingle has been challenging supervisors publicly for more than a year, writing numerous Op-eds in the Voice of OC on the sorry status of Orange County’s WWII-era animal shelter.

Orange County grand jurors – an ever favorite of county supervisors – have filed five different reports slamming the county’s failure to lead on the issue.

More and more animal activists are also starting to show up at public meetings, calling for a better system.

Residents in both Anaheim and Santa Ana also have stood up recently, protesting homeless shelters in their neighborhoods without a clear policy that doesn’t leave them to deal with dicey issues on their own.

I myself have had to raise my voice as Publisher against the shameful conditions we find at our county civic center when it comes to dealing with homelessness.

As much as we demand good governance from our elected officials, we as citizens and residents must stand up and be vigilant in the defense of our freedoms.

By staying involved.

We have to stay engaged with our government, especially our local government, and keep giving them direction with respect, holding them to their higher calling inside of their own political careers.

We are the government.

It reminds me of the scene at the end of the 1970s-era film, “The Candidate,” where Robert Redford looks at his campaign manager after winning an upset against an incumbent for California Senate and asks “What do we DO now?”

The movie ends with the campaign manager signaling he can’t hear.

There’s no magic bullet when it comes to governance.

We stay vigilant, we stay engaged or we don’t stay free.

In Orange County, we have county supervisors who are indicating they are willing to move on a series of good policy goals and engage the public.

We should applaud them for that effort.

And stay engaged, offering them our help defining goals and progress as well as respectfully holding them accountable when they stray.

  • Roger Butow

    “Never mistake activity for achievement.”

    Coach John Wooden

    I agree somewhat with DZ on this: Activism shouldn’t be construed as successful action.

    Ex.: Losing 90% of the time to developers is the reality in OC. They have incredibly deep pockets, time to use their funds to lobby, to get into ex parties with decision makers and their staff that result in flaccid review rubber-stamping.

    Activists are NOT well-funded, mostly composed of volunteers, every project that has any reasonably sized footprint is David vs. Goliath…except David winning is a fairy tale, a myth created to inspire but NOT the way life actually works.

    This is especially true in the areas I know best and work within: Coastal/near coastal cities. San Clemente, Dana Point, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach? Their councils have ALL sold their souls & former quality of life to Big $$$. Only a naive person could believe that campaign coffers aren’t stuffed by commercial, special interest groups.

    It’s noble and inspiring to say/write: “We are the government.” But in fact MONEY buys that governance and leadership without conscience. From city councils, water/sanitation districts right up to the POTUS, America has been FOR SALE for quite some time.

    “Politics: A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.” Ambrose Bierce

  • David Zenger

    Sorry to sound cynical but it isn’t public activism that is stirring things up, it’s the fact that the County’s manifest shortcomings in almost every facet of their operations are coming under scrutiny by the Voice of OC.

    And I would be sure to make the distinction between public bloviations by our BoS and any meaningful accomplishment.

    Norberto & Co.: assess them by what they do, not what they say.

  • Paul Lucas

    Hear hear. Nice work Norberto. Blogs and online local news sources have had a heavy hand in this new engagement of citizens. The VOC professionalized that.

  • Jasenn Zaejian

    High sounding rhetoric is one thing. That is a far cry from putting policies for the public good into practice

    • David Zenger

      Right. The spotlight forces the PR mode into high gear. Once the light goes off it’s right back to business as usual. Remember Spitzer’s big fuss about the Form 700 filers? Dropped once, and now seemingly forgotten.