Santana: Wandering Through Crisis

I’m starting to feel like Orange County Supervisors are stalking me.

At least their images are.

More and more, there seems to be a frenetic pace to the marketing of our county government.

Simple things — like the La Pata road opening earlier this summer in South County or the installation of statues at Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley — are turned into political rock concerts aimed at marketing our masters, the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

Walking off an airplane this weekend at John Wayne Airport to get my baggage, I chuckled to myself as Supervisor Andrew Do’s voice welcomed me over a loud speaker and then asked me to spend money at restaurants in Santa Ana and Little Saigon.

Then, Supervisor Lisa Bartlett’s voice came blaring across the baggage claim lobby.

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By that point, I couldn’t focus on what she was saying because, frankly, I was distracted.

See, for all the millions we have spent as taxpayers over the past decade on renovations at the airport — which has expanded restaurant, gift shop and parking opportunities for vendors (and offered countless campaign contribution opportunities in turn for county supervisors) – we still have to walk across two floors, and up and down two sets of escalators, to go to the bathroom on the way out of an American Airlines flight in the main terminal.

After landing from a four-hour flight from Chicago – where I was a speaker at the annual Local Independent Online News Publishers conference – I wanted to go to the bathroom and expected to see a bathroom, like in most airports, right as I left the airplane.

Wrong.

Walking out of my flight, and not finding a bathroom, I took a long escalator ride down into the baggage claim area, where I again couldn’t find a bathroom.

When I asked a nice American Airlines worker in the baggage claim area — who’s obviously been asked this question a million times by the look on his face — he pointed me to a nearby government sign indicating the bathroom is on the second floor.

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So millions of dollars in upgrades but I have to take a hike to take a leak after a long flight?

What amazed me most is that the glitch has apparently triggered so much feedback that John Wayne officials have come up with a nice .39-cent sign telling passengers they’ll have to run up two flights of stairs to relieve themselves.

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And guess who has their mugs displayed right next to it?

The Orange County Board of Supervisors.

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I have to give them credit for innovating a unique accountability mechanism.

Putting up politicians’ photos next to every government shortcoming, like a restaurant rating system of sorts showing who’s responsible for daily inconveniences, is a great idea.

Just like our elected officials take credit for everything when it’s campaign season they should be publicly held accountable when things don’t go right.

Do’s PR campaign juggernaut even chased me to my local barber shop in Costa Mesa, forcing me to watch his re-election video during this weekend’s college football games.

His ad is really well done, even showcasing a guitar-picking, Jackson Brown-version of Do along with funny interviews with his two, well-spoken girls advocating for their dad.

I was caught by the last shot in the video, showing Do wandering through the downtown Santa Ana Civic Center.

That’s exactly what government does more and more.

Wander through crisis.

Then take credit for solving it.

Consider the newly minted, Courtyard Transitional Center.

Many nonprofits and homeless activists, including myself, have advised supervisors for more than a year that the abandoned bus shelter opened could work for services – even as a temporary bandage – to aid the small tent city of nearly 500 people at the civic center ignored by county supervisors over the past decade.

Last month, thanks largely to the dynamics of the November elections – a public drubbing by KFI talk show hosts John and Ken and a direct challenge on the Civic Center homeless situation from challenger and Santa Ana City Councilwoman Michelle Martinez – Do announced he would have the bus shelter up and running by October.

After walking through the Civic Center for more than a year talking about this issue.

While it’s frustrating that Do and his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors could have begun preparations for the bus terminal opening more than a year ago, we have still been granted a unique opportunity as a community.

Not only do we now have a public chance to craft a plan, we have a $3.2 million facility and an annual budget of more than $1.4 million allowing us to get to work right now, see what works and what doesn’t.

We get an opportunity to act in an entrepreneurial manner in downtown Santa Ana and get to work solving a systemic issue, one family at a time.

We’ll need to build a very special team of public workers and executives at the terminal, coordinating with strong nonprofit partners that are backed up by good guidance, strategic resources and funding from the Board of Supervisors and the CEO’s office.

Now after I offered last week to host a conference on homelessness in my Monday column, hoping to help focus supervisors, they cut off any chances of that the very next day with Do and his colleagues announcing that they would host their own conference within two weeks – just ahead of Election Day.

Hey, I’ll take it any way I can get it.

We all should take advantage of this unique opportunity.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer and our new homeless czar just got back from San Antonio checking out what shelters are doing there. There are also models in nearby Salt Lake City, Phoenix, San Diego and LA that are working and worth considering.

The upcoming conference on October 15 will allow us all to take a frank assessment of where are now, what’s working out there, and what kind of model fits us.

We can do this.

Yet we have to stay on top of our elected officials, we need to keep engaging with them to get them to respond to their better angels on issues and think long term – even if they are politicians.

Lets not all forget that when it comes to addressing things like homelessness, the real challenges come after Election Day, especially when bad weather shows up.

Stay in touch with Voice of OC Publisher Norberto Santana Jr. through email at nsantana@voiceofoc.org or @NorbertoSantana on Twitter