This morning, as I watch Orange County fairgrounds officials actually drag an old WWII Army barracks building into the 21st century, I’ll be remembering the army of veterans who have come before the Orange County board of supervisors over the past decade and argued, over and over again, for a veterans museum in Orange County.
Many times, I watched these aging warriors plead, in what seemed at the time as total frustration, to have the sacrifice of their fallen comrades properly recognized with a museum in Orange County.
Yet year after year, they kept coming.
Today, the collective weight of their testimonies will actually move a building.
Once known as the Memorial Gardens building, Gov. Jerry Brown’s fairgrounds board of directors chose to transform this aging structure into “Heroes Hall” at the passionate insistence of fair board member Nick Berardino last year.
Berardino – who wrote an Op-ed for Voice of OC on the issue today – notes that people should take special note that it’s his friend Gov. Brown’s fair board that put $4 million into recognizing veterans.
And while Brown no doubt deserves credit, it’s Berardino’s voice that deserves recognition.
What’s Berardino’s lesson for anyone advocating for underserved interests?
Don’t be quiet.
That’s what I was thinking this weekend as Nick was passionately arguing over the phone to me that Monday’s event was the most important thing happening in Orange County.
He constantly reminds me, and others, that these brave men and women gave everything they had for our freedom.
Now, he asks without hesitation, doesn’t that deserve recognition?
What else are you doing this morning?
I pray that the same energy that Nick brings to veterans issues will consume our county board of supervisors this week as they move forward on Tuesday with plans to purchase an abandoned Orange County Transportation Authority bus terminal as a homeless services center in downtown Santa Ana.
Known formerly as the Santa Ana Transit Terminal, the empty large football field-sized, semi-covered facility is connected to buildings that already house health care agency workers and is within a stone’s-throw of the small squatters village that county supervisors have allowed to arise around our county civic center.
For much of the last decade, the bus terminal has sat empty while our civic center grounds have devolved into America’s angriest KOA campground.
The development of Orange County’s own favela seems to mirror the view – exacerbated after the 1994 bankruptcy – from county supervisors that government can’t get anything right.
That’s why, in addition to the rise of government outsourcing, taxpayers are greeted by a hopeless mob when they come to pay their taxes.
One woman this month publicly confronted supervisors about the experience during public comment.
I’m stunned that more people don’t complain like this.
County workers are constantly complaining about safety issues and union leaders have been screaming for years about the challenges of having to work around a makeshift homeless encampment. Department heads, like the last three Treasurer-Tax Collectors, whose offices are nearby, also have to confront the issue on a daily basis.
Veterans groups are frustrated as they watch plaques to heroes urinated on and vandalized. Santa Ana school children also get to share their library with the chronic homeless.
Meanwhile, county supervisors and their counterparts on the Santa Ana city council who administer the area jointly through a Joint Powers Authority, have stood by and done nothing.
About a year ago, I started publicly challenging county supervisors to step up on civic center homelessness and admit there’s a problem. Moreover, I challenged them to act like the policy entrepreneurs they pretend to play during their campaigns.
Now many non-profit homeless providers and advocates have been engaging county supervisors for years, and have carried much of the burden alone – especially in Orange County.
In the last year, there seems to be progress.
There’s a homeless facility being developed in Anaheim (maybe for next year) and an opportunity for an immediate chess piece here in Santa Ana. County officials soon should be ready to hire a new homelessness services coordinator to get some long-overdue leadership on the issue.
Now recently County Supervisor Shawn Nelson – who really launched the recent homelessness effort that then gained momentum under Supervisor Todd Spitzer’s chairmanship – publicly went after Santa Ana city council leaders earlier this month for failing to lead on homelessness.
Then, Santa Ana City Councilman Vince Sarmiento shot back at Nelson and the county.
This can get real ugly, real fast.
Yet the bus shelter offers both sides a unique opportunity as the civic center area enters a construction phase soon.
Lets not forget that you have to start somewhere.
County supervisors haven’t ever really led their executives to engage on homelessness. And Santa Ana council members haven’t historically engaged much on the issue either.
And lets not kid ourselves about the challenges we face.
Many of the people at the civic center may not want what we deem as help.
They still deserve decent shelter and public services, like bathrooms.
In an orderly fashion
Not at the local library.
The bus shelter offers a chance for both.
For those who don’t want help, it offers a place to have shelter during storms. Maybe store stuff securely during a nap, a place to recharge a laptop or a phone while having a cup of coffee.
It’s also a place where help is always around the corner – where social services, health care agency officials and critical non-profits like 211 or Mercy House aren’t hard to find or engage.
County and city officials have a chance at bus shelter to really work on what kinds of public responses are needed and possible.
Instead of just burying their collective heads, county supervisors and council members can and should lead.
Leadership, like the examples from our veterans, is what forges legacy.