The Orange County Board of Supervisors during a special meeting Tuesday challenged Santa Ana city leaders to decide before Election Day whether they will join with the county in an effort to address the homelessness crisis at the downtown Civic Center.
Supervisors also directed county staff to get an empty bus terminal on the edge of the Civic Center up and running as a transitional homeless services center within the next 30 to 45 days and begin planning for a permanent solution to the crisis.
In recent years, as the Civic Center homeless population has ballooned to more than 450, county and Santa Ana officials have repeatedly clashed over possible solutions and who bears the lion's share of the responsibility.
The feud reached a new level last week when conservative KFI radio hosts John and Ken castigated both Supervisor Andrew Do and Santa Ana City Councilwoman Michele Martinez, who are in a pitched battle for Do's First District supervisorial seat in the November election.
Following her appearance on the John and Ken Show, Martinez added a resolution to tonight's Santa Ana City Council agenda to declare a “public health and safety crisis” and urging the county to take immediate action to provide services at the abandoned bus terminal. Not to be outdone, Do scheduled a special session among supervisors at 8:45 a.m. to act on the homeless issue.
During the supervisors' morning meeting, Supervisor Todd Spitzer openly recognized the politics being played and urged his four Republican colleagues to challenge Santa Ana to commit to working on a solution to the problem.
“Finally, the city of Santa Ana has stepped up,” he said. The city is “trying to exploit the situation for political gain. Take it! Take it!”
“We should make Santa Ana put up or shut up now,” he said.
Supervisors instructed County Executive Officer Frank Kim to meet with Santa Ana City Manager David Cavazos “immediately” to determine how serious city officials are about addressing the problems and whether they would agree to a site for a permanent homeless center.
Regarding the bus terminal, which the county purchased in May for $3.2 million, Do said he expects the county staff will recommend portable toilets, showers and other equipment, along with medical and social services, and nonprofit food services, to be operating at the terminal within the next 30 to 45 days.
Also in May, supervisors hired Susan Price as the county's homeless “czar,” to handle the terminal and other homeless issues.
During Tuesday's meeting, supervisors acknowledged the logistical issues and construction challenges involved in converting the concrete structure with no electrical outlets into a full-time homeless center.
The county spent roughly $250,000 about two years ago on a different proposed homeless center, but the project died when it was opposed by Santa Ana.
Do said area residents are “tired of meaningless resolutions” from government agencies. County workers, jurors and others who have to walk through the civic center also have said they are afraid for their safety.
“We need to accept Santa Ana doesn’t want to be our partner,” said Supervisor Shawn Nelson, citing the city’s past opposition to projects to improve the homeless situation. “We’ve been at this for two years. They won’t engage. We need to find a permanent solution…. This board needs to commit right now, we’re going to fix it.”
Board Chairwoman Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, with no public explanation, tried to get the supervisors’ discussion moved behind closed doors but County Counsel Leon Page advised the supervisors they could not legally hold a secret discussion at that moment.
The county also is preparing a 200-bed year round homeless shelter in Anaheim, just north of the 91 Freeway, but will close its winter armory shelter in Fullerton.
You can contact Tracy Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter: @TracyVOC.