Sick of county officials -- especially Supervisor Shawn Nelson -- publicly dressing down Santa Ana's civic leadership for not doing enough to alleviate homelessness, Councilman Vincent Sarmiento issued a stinging rebuke during last week's Santa Ana City Council meeting.
Nelson's most recent broadside came during a Board of Supervisors meeting last month, in which he said city leaders have done nothing about the homeless encampment that has consumed the downtown Civic Center.
Nelson’s criticism was highlighted in a recent column by Voice of OC Publisher Norberto Santana Jr. The piece credited county leaders for making progress on the homeless problem, noting among other things that the long-shuttered bus terminal opened for shelter during some El Nino rain storms.
But Sarmiento dismissed those claims of progress as disingenuous and conveniently timed for campaign season. As evidence, he pointed out that the homelessness problem has been festering for years without county action, despite the issue being primarily within the county’s jurisdiction.
He also blasted the county’s mismanagement of social services and specifically CalOptima, the county’s health plan for disabled and low-income residents. And he mentioned other scandals, like the recent jailbreak from the county jail in Santa Ana by three dangerous inmates. He also called out the taxpayer funded, and possibly illegal, mailers sent out by supervisors Andrew Do and Lisa Bartlett.
Sarmiento applauded the county auditor-controller for halting payment on the mailers.
“It’s just a shambles over there. It really is something that none of us can be proud of,” Sarmiento said of the county government. “It’s just a very disappointing, unsettling set of circumstances when you see folks at the county who are supposed to be providing help to some of our most needy people in the community -- and many of them reside [in Santa Ana] -- and they’re abrogating their responsibility. They’re ignoring the problem.”
Nelson’s frustration with the Santa Ana council can be traced to the council’s approval of a zone for a year-round homeless shelter in 2013. When the county went to select a site in one of the city-approved areas, hundreds of residents pushed back, and the City Council sided with the residents, criticizing county leaders for a lack of outreach.
The supervisors dropped the site after the backlash, and Nelson asked the County Counsel's office to explore a lawsuit against the city.
But last week Sarmiento said Nelson and other county leaders deserve the blame because the real problem was the county’s lack of communication with the potential residents around the shelter site. County leaders “have a way of shooting first and aiming later, and that’s not a good way to operate county social services,” he said.
Sarmiento also criticized the county for proceeding with a remodeling plan for the Civic Center before resolving the homeless camp, insinuating that it was a ploy to make the encampment entirely a city problem.
“What’s going to happen during construction, is they’re going to push all those folks into our side of the Civic Center and they’re going to say now its your problem, and that’s going to be at our doorstep,” Sarmiento said. “This isn’t something that wasn’t well thought out. I think they’re doing this in a very conscious way.”
Finally, Sarmiento said Nelson’s criticism shouldn’t be allowed without a response, because an attack on the council is an attack on the city’s 330,000 residents.
“With that Mr. mayor, I’ll say good night.”