Santana: OC Animal Shelter Born From Engagement

Theresa Sears

Supervisors Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett announces new animal shelter with her colleagues.

People really can make a difference.

That’s what ran through my head this past weekend after watching Orange County Supervisors on Friday hold a thoughtful groundbreaking on a new modern animal shelter in Tustin. It replaces the oldest animal shelter building in our region, a WW-II era structure in Orange that had become an embarrassment after nearly a half dozen critical grand jury reports in recent years.

Now, while county supervisors really do deserve credit here for thinking long term and offering taxpayers a better future vision and facility for animal care, all of us should also send a hearty thanks to Rose Tingle.

Rose Tingle

I first met Rose a few years back when she first came to speak at the Orange County Board of Supervisors weekly public meeting about the dismal conditions at the county animal shelter.

She challenged supervisors during public comment to understand that animals feel pain, arguing it’s below us as a county to keep animals that are in public care in substandard cages and facilities. Tingle also wanted to show a video to back up her contention but was cut off at the speakers’ podium and left frustrated.

I followed her out that day and told her she could present her arguments and video at Voice of OC as often as she liked as we were expanding our opinion section to allow residents like her to challenge local government in an open forum.

Rose certainly took me up on that challenge.

She wrote her first editorial in September 2013, eloquently challenging supervisors to “imagine yourself as one of the many scared and confused animals who enter that shelter every day.”

“It is clear the residents of Orange County, as well as the animals, need and deserve a new shelter or shelters,” Tingle wrote.

She spent the next few years regularly challenging the entire county to step up its services, posting regular op-eds about the animal shelter and fueling several grand jury probes, I think, with her persistent and thoughtful questioning about the need for a new facility.

Grand jurors here also deserve a ton of credit for staying on top of the issue and pressing the county in report after report.

It made a difference.

I know personally that Rose’s constant writing on the issue certainly got under the skin of several county supervisors and county executives who bristled at her coverage of the shelter issue.

But Rose’s pen and the grand jury also got them thinking.

Both touched supervisors’ human side and challenged them to do better.

And they have.

When Rose started writing a few years ago, the issue of a new animal shelter was considered politically dead.

It wasn’t going anywhere.

This past week, county supervisors held a groundbreaking ceremony on a new facility.

Again…thanks Rose!

Thanks OC Grand Jury!

And believe it or not, Rose, the same guy that shut you down that day as chairman of the board of supervisors, Shawn Nelson, is the same guy who came up with the idea of swapping out some public land in the county portfolio to get the animal shelter proposal moving.

And it’s probably because you got under his skin and challenged him to think.

Nonetheless, Nelson stepped up.

And his colleagues backed him

So it may have been messy at times, but hey, you’ve all made a key difference in the history of Orange County!

I was especially heartened to read a recent editorial in the Voice of OC by Orange County CEO Frank Kim about the county’s future plans for the animal shelter, a far cry from where the county was several years ago.

I hope Kim’s efforts find a good response from animal rights activists and also fuel a potential movement to take over the old animal shelter and use it as a non-profit base to coordinate with the county shelter.

One of the reasons that San Diego’s public shelter works so well is that there’s a strong civic non-profit community working closely with the public model.

I’d like to take this opportunity once again to invite anybody with a take on local public policy or what’s happening around your streets to submit op-eds as Rose Tingle did.

Opinion journalism does make a difference.

Reach out directly to our Involvement Editor, Theresa Sears at tsears@voiceofoc.org and also keep an eye out for upcoming announcements on training sessions we’ll be holding on how to really engage with your local government.

Most recently, we worked with County Auditor Controller Eric Woolery to hold a popular session called “Accounting for Activists” where we helped people dive into local government finances.

We had such great feedback on our inaugural session that more are on the way next month in addition to other public training sessions – like how to access public records – that we are currently developing with the help of the California Endowment.

Again, enabling people to engage their government makes a difference.

Homeless & the OCTA Bus Terminal

Indeed, lets talk people…

Now that OC Animal Care has gotten some much needed attention, county supervisors should now work to refocus headlines back onto people.

Homeless people.

People who still need a shelter over their head and some sort of human reception when they wash ashore at the county Civic Center grounds in downtown Santa Ana.

It’s been months since county supervisors agreed to invest $3.5 million in purchasing an abandoned OCTA bus terminal building for what many hoped would be the entry point for a continuum of care for homelessness in Orange County.

Yet nothing.

Despite suddenly uprooting encampments at the Civic Center in recent months by erecting construction walls around public buildings, supervisors haven’t done anything to inform people of what’s being done, much less set up services at the nearby bus terminal like they did during the winter months.

It feels like they just keep embracing chaos no matter what kinds of alternatives are being offered.

Hoping for an explosion?

You would think that a Republican county supervisor running for reelection in the First District, like Andrew Do, would have his fellow colleagues back him up in setting up a compassionate and effective homeless services response center in the heart of Santa Ana – where his Democratic opponent (Santa Ana City Councilwoman Michelle Martinez) has yet to show much progress on combating homelessness from her city perch.

You could have had campaign themes contrasting a Republican strategy that actually responds to homelessness vs. the Democratic zeal for just learning to live with it.

But nothing…

I’m starting to wonder whether Do has lost his colleagues support, given competing pressures, things like parking or the coming trolley development.

Do has yet to walk out of closed session with his colleagues and announce much of anything in terms of a vision for an empty $3.5 million semi-covered bus terminal in his own district just yards away from where throngs sleep outdoors at the Civic Center.

Ironically, helping out Do is helping out themselves.

Yet it may be too late.

Instead of investing in real accomplishments earlier this year on a homelessness strategy, it seems Do and his colleagues instead invested their time and money more into festivals, mailers and statues.

Forget people.

Staying Relevant

This past week, Supervisor Todd Spitzer took issue publicly with comments on a PBS SoCal broadcast with Inside OC’s host Rick Reiff, where I appeared on a panel earlier this month with the Orange County Register’s Brian Calle and OC Ethics Commission backer Bill Mitchell.

At Tuesday’s public session, Spitzer warned his colleagues that they better tighten up procurement deadlines because people like me are increasingly arguing the board of supervisors is irrelevant.

Yet publicly policing procurement contracts and vendors – which offers unique (even questionable) campaign finance advantages for supervisors – is just half the job.

If the Orange County Board of Supervisors doesn’t really dive into their business model – health and human services – they might as well go the way of the Dodo.

Now this past week, with the animal shelter, county supervisors showed they can effectively move a public policy agenda and produce real quality of life results for taxpayers.

They should continue to seize on that momentum by looking out their front window and really confronting the homelessness situation with a real response center.

Again, helping others – ie: providing regional services – is county supervisors’ best collective case for staying relevant…and alive as an institution in the 21st Century.

Servant leadership.