Santana: Who’s Driving the Bus at the County of Orange?

Just a few hours after one of my last columns was published earlier this month – again warning county supervisors about the dangers of inaction on the homeless explosion at the county Civic Center in Santa Ana – shots rang out.

“A 32-year old man was in critical condition Monday after he was shot by police in a struggle just outside the Central Justice Center in downtown Santa Ana,” read the Aug. 1 story from the Orange County Register.

Santa Ana Police Department spokesman Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said two officers from the department’s Civic Center patrol unit attempted to detain a homeless man who tried to grab an officer’s gun, prompting the officer’s partner to shoot, the Register later reported.

Earlier that morning, I wrote:

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

Hoping for an explosion?”

Our colleagues at the OC Weekly recently published a gripping video of the incident sent to them by a reader.

Watch the reactions of the officers as you can tell they react as if they are in an area that is not secure.

They are nervous.

And they are armed.

How do you think the tens of thousands of workers, jurors and taxpayers feel each day when they have to walk through the sea of hopelessness that our county civic center grounds have become?

Just watch this woman’s reaction.

Yet the Orange County Board of Supervisors does nothing.

Month after month.

Nothing.

There is only time for their political events that drive campaign contributions.

No time for boring public work, like addressing homelessness.

Since I started this public column more than a year ago, I have reported on the situation up close, again and again, and attempted to ring an alarm bell to a situation that is getting dangerously out of hand.

We need to take care of our brothers and sisters who have fallen on tough times.

It’s unacceptable to just walk by them every day and shrug our shoulders.

Every day they have to sleep on the street, each one of their situations, conditions all get worse.

Then we all do the most shameful thing possible: we leave police to deal with the chaos.

And pounce when they are not perfect.

Meanwhile, we all continue to wait for the lords of the manor, our board of supervisors, to take action.

To enact the comprehensive approach that each one of them knows is the only long-term solution going forward.

Listen to Supervisor Todd Spitzer eloquently elaborate how this needs to happen now…back in 2012 during his first inaugural.

 

Spitzer called it “shameful” to allow this situation to continue.

Yet that’s exactly what he and his colleagues have done.

Supervisors have done virtually nothing on homelessness, other than take lots of credit for very incremental steps.

Meanwhile, it looks as if our elections calendar is finally pumping some political adrenalin into the system.

And maybe some homelessness services might actually get going because of it.

The day after the shooting incident at the Civic Center grounds, Santa Ana officials announced they were launching an innovative program with a Long Beach-based non-profit to get homeless people from the Civic Center into housing.

Note that Councilwoman Michelle Martinez is challenging Supervisor Andrew Do for the First District supervisor’s seat this November.

While it was announced as a partnership with the county (because they are chipping in about $100,000), there was lots of head scratching among executives I heard, with some not knowing much beyond the initial talks.

So for months, we all wait with an empty $3.5 million bus terminal – ostensibly bought with the public premise of temporarily housing and helping homeless people in the area.

We wait for an executive to run the program.

We wait for federal approvals (which only come after news media pushes) for people to be covered during winter months.

We wait for escrow to close on the bus terminal, which already passed this summer.

And yet nothing has been announced.

Until we find out that the plan is to move the homeless away, directly into housing – somewhere else.

So what’s the abandoned bus terminal for? What’s the homeless coordinator for?

Supervisor Do was supposed to be addressing the homeless situation at the downtown Civic Center.

But several years after he’s been in office, it’s clear the situation is getting worse.

And so far, all I see is a feeble attempt (after the Santa Ana announcement) now to get portable bathrooms into the makeshift campsites at the civic center.

Either Do is only interested in headlines or he simply can’t make anything happen.

Do can’t make his colleagues move off of concepts like using the bus terminal as a parking lot instead of helping people.

He can’t assemble a county workforce that can actually tackle the job they are supposedly hired to do; offer health and human services to those in need.

And this is during an election year, about as good as it gets in terms of an elected officials’ penchant for listening or working on policy.

Meanwhile, the Civic Center area Do is in charge of is now being turned into a construction zone, pushing the homeless out into the broader neighborhoods, like one big human blower.

Court officials are complaining about basic security. County union officials are beyond frustrated, filing numerous grievances while workers continue to express fear. Meanwhile, Santa Ana officials just temporarily closed down their library.

Lets hope for all our sakes that Santa Ana has some sort of vision for the county homeless explosion.

We don’t want to see more explosions like the one earlier this month that left 32-year-old Richard Gene Swihart in critical condition.

Because so far, watching the county’s response makes you wonder who’s driving the bus over there.

Update on County Supervisors War on the First Amendment

Homelessness isn’t the only issue where there are questions about who’s actually leading the County of Orange.

Last week, I wrote about the fact that supervisors have taken an unprecedented step of deposing me in a public records case – a clear attempt to bully and intimidate the free press in Orange County.

After reading my column last week, Supervisor Shawn Nelson called me to say he’s not on board with this authoritarian approach.

“I’m embarrassed that we’ve asked to depose a reporter,” Nelson said. “It’s a basic American liberty principle that reporters are not subject to depos when it involved their stories and sources.”

“I don’t support the action and I don’t’ understand why we would waste resources to do it,” Nelson said.

I’ve put out calls to other county supervisors to see how many do support attacking reporters when stories don’t go their way, like Spitzer – who is leading this effort according to Nelson.

Quite the crystal ball on a potential Spitzer DA Administration, eh?