Santana: OC Homelessness Czar Gets to Work; So Should County Supervisors

Norberto Santana Jr.

Orange County officials announce Susan Price as their homelessness service coordinator (from left to right: CEO Frank Kim, Supervisor Andrew Do, Supervisors' Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett, Susan Price, Supervisor Todd Spitzer and COO Mark Denny).

Going into Memorial Day weekend, Orange County homelessness activists were gearing up to deal with police sweeps of homeless encampments along the Santa Ana riverbed near the 57 Freeway.

Notice.PhotoVersion.5-24-2016

Yet instead of the traditional yard-blower approach to homelessness, they got something very different.

On Friday, county supervisors formally welcomed a new leader – Susan Price – whose sole focus is to attack homelessness in a comprehensive way.

IMG_4779

Price, who made a name for herself as the city of Long Beach’s homelessness services coordinator, will work directly for CEO Frank Kim on getting the county’s huge bureaucracy focused on combating homelessness after a decade of feckless wandering.

This past year, supervisors have inched forward on addressing homelessness, authorizing the homelessness service coordinator position. They also purchased an abandoned OCTA bus terminal, ostensibly as a homeless service center that can act as an entry point into a system of care and rehabilitation for those who end up at Santa Ana’s downtown civic center – a traditional gathering point for the homeless.

Supervisors also have authorized a homeless shelter in Anaheim, but Supervisors’ Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett acknowledges that it isn’t enough given that National Guard cold weather armories in Fullerton and Santa Ana may not be opened this year because of the commitment to do a full-time shelter on Kraemer Place in Anaheim.

At the Friday morning press mixer that county officials organized for Price, I was anxious to ask her a million questions…about the terminal, the Kraemer site, veterans housing, etc.

I’ve been waiting nearly a year to interview someone like her.

While Price wouldn’t comment on any specific projects, she confidently told me that attacking homelessness is not complicated.

“It’s about income and housing,” Price said.

She’s right on target.

Supervisors and department heads need to focus government income streams on key services – like housing – for this population immediately.

Yet often times, government is doing exactly the opposite.

Consider the coming U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding cuts that will reduce the amount of transitional housing funds available to the homeless starting on July 1.

Colette’s Children’s Home in Huntington Beach alone is reporting that they will lose 120 transitional housing beds effecting over 250 women and children a year.

I heard from Teamsters Local 952 Secretary Treasurer Pat Kelley over the weekend about a press conference they are holding on the issue today at noon at the Ronald Reagan Federal Building in downtown Santa Ana. They’re starting out their morning by taking officials out to tour the riverbed camp cities that are popping up along the 57 Freeway.

These tent cities also have really struck a nerve on the fifth floor of the county Hall of Administration (where supervisors’ offices are located) with Supervisor Todd Spitzer (whose district has the tent cities) on Friday announcing that he’s urging action after getting feedback from the public and his colleagues.

Meanwhile, activists are hearing that the Memorial Day police sweeps on homeless are back on, postponed until later this week.

I hope they get surprised again.

I Told You So

In recent months, I’ve been watching supervisors’ supplemental agendas fatten up considerably in the wake of cutting the yearly meeting schedule.

The plan, championed in January by Bartlett in her new role as supervisors’ chairwoman, also has drawn fire from a few of her colleagues because it makes a county supervisor’s calendar resemble that of a city council member — only meeting in public two times a month.

Bartlett argued her plan would make government more transparent because agendas would be posted with two weeks advance notice.

I argued – correctly, it turns out – that the change would make supplemental (aka last minute) additions to the agenda grow considerably.

I wasn’t the only one.

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that cutting six meetings from the annual schedule would overload the agenda when even before some meetings lasted until 5 p.m.,” wrote Voice of OC longtime commenter, LFOldTimer, on Nick Gerda’s story out of last week’s supervisors’ session.

Nobody in politics (including agency department heads) is going to give you two weeks to telegraph punches.

And this last week, CEO Frank Kim confirmed it publicly: supplemental agendas have grown by eight percent over last year.

This last week’s supplemental agenda was over 800 pages. And it’s been that way for the last few county supervisors’ public meetings.

And you can bet that the last to figure out that kind of maze is the public.

These last-minute supplemental agendas also don’t come with any kind of organizing table or links….just a straight 800-page document – like combing through the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Good luck trying to search through that.

Now, despite what Bartlett says, that’s not more transparent.

When I ran into Bartlett at the Friday event and asked her about the agenda friction with her colleagues, she stood firm, saying her colleagues needed to do their homework ahead of time instead of waiting for the weekends to finish their analysis.

Except I have to stand up a bit for her colleagues here.

If, for a variety of reasons, supplemental proposals are substantially changing the agenda the Friday before a Tuesday meeting, then it doesn’t matter that some template of an agenda was posted two weeks prior.

And if you get less public meetings – lets chances up to bat – then the supplemental really becomes where the action is at…

That means more last-minute proposals, less transparency.

County supervisors should, if anything, meet more often in public – as do their colleagues in Los Angeles and San Diego counties.

I know that meeting in public can often draw unscripted moments and take up lots of time.

That’s democracy.

That’s what supervisors signed up for, campaigned for…

This last week you could see the panic in their collective faces as the rush of delayed contracts – from not meeting enough – came at them.

I don’t think even one member of this exclusive band of so-called conservative Republicans on the Board of Supervisors made one substantial change – much less improvement – to one single government contract at the last meeting.

At one point, Supervisor Michelle Steel went after department heads — publicly complaining that putting last minute contract approvals before her effectively limits her ability to question.

She insisted that department heads must stop bringing up last-minute requests – even though the Sheriff’s Department has been doing it for years…and getting away with it.

And then she voted yes, yes, yes…

Spitzer admitted publicly that he felt rushed and in effect, ill-prepared to provide good solid fiscal review of complex issues and contracts.

Nonetheless, backed up against fiscal year-end deadlines, supervisors kept on with a string of revolving, authorizing spending votes.

They all voted yes, yes, yes…

Supervisor Shawn Nelson (to his credit the only supervisor opposed to the new agenda approach) looked up at one point during the public meeting, reminding people that they had just spent $200 million dollars – without one public question!

Now, Nelson will argue that for him, the public meeting is just the last procedural step of a review process that begins well before, in his office, with his crack staff looking into issues, resolving questions.

Yet for others, like reporters, public meetings are a critical part of the process of self-governing because its’ the only place where all board members can sit together and work on policy.

It may be messy to watch, but that’s how you’re supposed to legislate.

Out in the open.

At least, that’s how our state constitution sees it.

So let’s get back to work.