God bless John and Ken.
The two local radio hosts from KFI this week intensely grilled both Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do and Santa Ana Councilwoman Michele Martinez – who are competing this November to represent the county's First District on the board of supervisors - about the homeless encampment that has overtaken Santa Ana's downtown Civic Center.
Now, it looks like a stalled plan to create a homelessness rapid response service center at a nearby abandoned bus terminal could happen within the next month.
Over the past decade, the supervisors and the Santa Ana City Council have both largely ignored the growing throngs of hopeless and homeless individuals washing ashore at the Civic Center.
The one supervisor who did try to do something years back was now State Senator John Moorlach, who I spoke with this week about the new developments.
Moorlach, a supervisor from 2006 to 2014, told me he recalled the frustrations of being rebuffed by Santa Ana's city manager when he advocated for the county purchase of the bus terminal as a makeshift shelter for the homeless. Moorlach later did get the homeless bathroom access to the facility.
He said Santa Ana officials did not want to legitimize the presence of the homeless at the Civic Center by offering services like storage, tables for eating, or just charging stations for laptops or cellphones.
"All I asked for was that they give these people some dignity," Moorlach said.
Yet he never got any of his colleagues on the supervisors' dais to really back him either.
Now nearing 500 people, the homeless village has transformed the area first designated in 1966 for local taxpayers to access their local government, their courts, the Santa Ana Library, and a host of other agencies.
Orange County Register reporters this past weekend presented a stark and well-reported account of what the civic center has become.
Civic leaders across the spectrum in Orange County have grown disgusted with the situation in recent years.
I myself launched a public wake-up campaign aimed at county supervisors – one they have largely ignored – more than a year ago in my weekly column, repeatedly calling on them to open the bus terminal as a rapid-response center for these individuals.
Ever since then, I have kept up a steady stream of columns also warning about the Civic Center situation.
To their credit, supervisors bought the terminal last December.
Yet county officials have never articulated a vision for the property, much less any kind of regional homelessness policy.
The Santa Ana City Council wasn’t much better.
They have largely ignored the Civic Center homeless explosion and historically fought plans to use the bus terminal for homeless services. And last year, facing neighbor protests, they even pulled the plug on support for a county homeless shelter in a nearby Santa Ana neighborhood.
John and Ken were basically able to uncover this lack of purpose at the city by grilling Martinez on the spot about the Civic Center situation. The city of Santa Ana is the lead agency on law enforcement under the 1966 joint-powers agreement where the city and county share jurisdiction and costs over the area.
Martinez didn’t do well. She didn’t have much to point to. At points, like a boxer who’s been hit in the head too many times, she just went silent, unable to return or block incoming punches.
It was ugly.
Click here for Martinez's interview.
Do, on the other hand, came on the air smooth but essentially sold an elaborate fib -- that the county has no jurisdiction over its’ own buildings.
I found that laughable as the county controls the entire area through the same joint-powers authority that gives the city primary policing power.
John and Ken correctly kept pressing Do on the county’s inaction, which is when he shot back with his plan to open the bus terminal within 30 days.
Yet that makes me – again – wonder? If you can do it within 30 days, why isn’t it already open?
Click here for Do's interview.
Since these interviews ran last week, both city and county officials are now moving to significantly increase their homeless services.
Santa Ana officials on Tuesday are expected to consider a resolution (co-authored by Martinez) declaring a public emergency at the Civic Center and calling on the county do offer more services and convene a regional discussion.
Meanwhile, county officials are reportedly considering plans to get the bus terminal up and running – at the direction of Do – within a month.
According to Do’s interview with John and Ken, he seems to want to frame the issue as a zoning battle with Santa Ana.
I find that odd, as I’ve always been told the county already has the institutional zoning it needs – as a civic center – to open a service center.
It will indeed be fascinating to see how this plays out during the next few months against the backdrop of the November election.
Listening to the John and Ken interview reminds us all of the power of media and people to shake things up.
Their tough questioning may have just gotten 500 poor, desperate people some much needed services.
That’s what Labor Day is all about.
Public Safety Spending
County supervisors are poised for another momentous act this coming week, scheduled to consider a large pay hike for deputy sheriffs – one I hear will cost more than $62 million over three years – during a rare special meeting at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning.
Now, hiking deputy sheriff pay may or may not be advisable.
The big question is what kind of overall strategy does that deputy sheriff plug into?
There’s no evidence county supervisors have done any homework on that question.
Consider that the Tuesday after Labor Day is a rare date for the Board of Supervisors to meet.
And this is the so-called conservative board that adopted the COIN ordinance to shed light on union negotiations.
Yet now, on the eve of Labor Day weekend, this board drops the deputy contract without any kind of analysis, not even a press release on what they are doing.
So what are they doing?
When I told Moorlach about how the deputy pay raise package was being rolled out by his successors, he nearly choked.
“It’s a testimony to the power of public employee unions,” Moorlach said.
Keep in mind this coming vote has nothing to do with ensuring we have the best policing model for Orange County or that it’s fiscally sustainable.
It just ensures that every single member of this current boards gets an endorsement when they move on to their next office.
You just get the tab.