There’s already one big winner in this year’s election.
Several hundred lost homeless souls, who last year at this time were sleeping outside in the rain at the county Civic Center in downtown Santa Ana, now have a roof over their heads.
Maybe even a chance.
All of us also have been granted a real shot at creating effective regional public policy on combating homelessness.
Ironically, it’s all thanks to the bizarre, freak show that has become our election calendar.
Members of the Orange County Board of Supervisors have increasingly shied away from regional leadership since the 1994 bankruptcy and the subsequent bitter, ballot defeat of their plans for an airport in Irvine during the early 2000s.
Nowhere has their leadership void been felt more than on combating homelessness.
Despite setting up several tame but ambitious-sounding county commissions, like the Commission on Ending Homelessness, supervisors didn’t really lead. They didn’t push cities or the building industry for more affordable housing or shelters or check-in centers. They didn’t secure additional funds from Washington, D.C. or Sacramento, or even local donors, to do anything on providing more services to homelessness.
County supervisors did just about nothing at the local level, in terms of expanding, even adapting, county social services to respond to the worst economic explosion of our lifetime.
Instead, they basically outsourced their responsibilities via a set of loose contracts with a series of overwhelmed local nonprofits.
And got mediocre results.
Meanwhile, tent cities have exploded across Orange County – at our Civic Center, at area parks, flood control channels and freeway off-ramps.
The lack of leadership in this crisis was really exposed this last year by the increasing chaos that started to grip the Civic Center.
Workers, jurors, children using the local library, taxpayers trying to interact with their government, have all had to step around more and more drug needles and total mental breakdowns, day after day. Public complaints got loud. One homeless man was recently shot and killed by police.
Meanwhile, county supervisors increasingly stayed tucked behind a closed parking garage and a sweet elevator ride up to their insulated offices (the only post-bankruptcy reform to stick). That’s if supervisors even show up at all to the Hall of Administration (which sources say isn’t often and supervisors won’t release calendars to prove otherwise).
They largely ignored media coverage on the Civic Center homeless issue for more than a year until KFI talk radio hosts John and Ken publicly called them out, right in front of their base, right in the midst of election season.
The radio interviews of both incumbent Supervisor Andrew Do and Santa Ana Councilwoman Michelle Martinez (who are vying against each other in this week’s election) were special to anyone covering this issue because both got what they deserved.
That seemingly produced immediate movement – getting a bus shelter transformed in one month, where the county had been sitting on the property for nearly half the year.
Politicians don’t seem to deal with tough issues unless they are pushed.
Maybe the lesson is we are all too complacent and don’t push enough or often enough.
We all need to stay engaged.
There’s much more work ahead – setting realistic policy goals for combating regional homelessness and continuing to manage the situation at the Civic Center.
Key pillars of policy remain to be implemented, such as immediately establishing other check-in centers throughout Orange County, ensuring the Santa Ana center doesn’t get impacted.
Santa Ana should not be left alone to carry the weight of an entire region when it comes to homelessness.
We can all step up and start thinking creatively about how to get realistic affordable housing projects going.
There has to be a place for those at the Courtyard Transition Center (as the old bus terminal is now called) to transition out of and into.
County officials can lead here, engage cities that are looking to craft creative solutions – things like rezoning plots for small houses or even developing a campus-like approach such as with the state Fairview Development Center in Costa Mesa, which some have already suggested be retooled as a homeless services campus with housing.
No matter how we got here, it’s critical to think beyond Tuesday.
The Disney/Trump Factor
Speaking of Tuesday, the biggest looming figures over this year’s electoral landscape in Orange County were outsiders.
Disney and Donald Trump.
Both are cast fighting against a potentially large Latino voter turnout.
The implications for the future of Orange County are vast.
Disney along with a host of hotel interests has spent the last few years working to cut taxes for themselves.
This year, they’ve been active and nasty on the election front like never before.
Trump launched his campaign last summer by calling Mexican undocumented immigrants, rapists and criminals (adding as a footnote that “some” are ok).
That has fueled not only significant anger in places like Santa Ana – evidenced by the Trump piñatas along downtown Fourth Street – but also boosted solid turnout numbers for Latinos and Democrats in races across Orange County.
There’s been a lot of talk about Trump’s turnout potential for down-ballot races but I think it will be felt in Orange County more than anywhere in America.
I think we are in for a historic election night when it comes to Latino turnout numbers in Orange County, which will likely impact numerous races.
Just look at the June primary numbers, where the impacts were all over the electoral map.
This year’s county supervisors’ race says it all.
Supervisor Do despite spending a good sum on political mail and producing tons of county mailers, barely kept up with Councilwoman Martinez, who ran a non-existent campaign against him during the primary.
Nobody has surfed the Trump dynamic more than Martinez – who hasn’t fundraised that much since the primary or been very active in hitting Do directly at events or with mail.
Democrats, for better or worse in the county supervisors race, have all but allowed Trump to be their GOTV machine this cycle.
In turn, Do has fundraised aggressively throughout this election season – some say too aggressively.
Do, has introduced a new precedent this election cycle, one that has already triggered a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission from longtime campaign finance watchdog Shirley Grindle.
Publicly-funded election mail for incumbents.
I worried about these kinds of connections when county supervisors established what I called “the Party Planner in Chief” some time ago with the idea that it would be helpful to have one county staffer that just worked on events for supervisors.
The danger, I wondered, was whether it would become too politicized.
I fear we are there.
On Friday, my colleague, Nick Gerda reported that political data – allowing a county mailer to be targeted to specific voters – was purchased and used to direct mailers by a county supervisors’ office.
The tricky part of this, according to my understanding, is that it’s the county Community Resources Department (aka civilian bureaucracy) that sends out mail supposedly aimed at community relations.
According to a response late last week to a public records request I submitted on the issue some time ago, Deputy CEO Cymantha Atkinson replied that “Individual Board offices are responsible for determining distribution lists” for government-funded mailers coordinated by the county.
So now, we have county politicians using public dollars to create their own hyper-targeted voter lists and then steering a county PR machine to send out what melds official county announcements with campaign-looking photos and language to specific addresses inside each politicians district?
In this case, there’s hundreds of thousands mailers sent out on behalf of an incumbent before Election Day?
Not too many years ago, 1974, Supervisor Bob Battin went to jail basically because a staffer used a copy machine at his county supervisors’ office for campaign purposes during his run for Lt. Governor.
Boy have we come a long way.
Do is playing aggressive here, acknowledging we have a soft DA in Tony Rackauckas when it comes to throwing penalty flags during elections – especially on influential politicians.
It has nothing to do with ethics.
It’s simple math.
There’s a powerful undercurrent this Election Day running across Orange County because at the end of the day, regardless of outcomes, there is one thing all of us who study local government know to be true.
Thanks to the adoption of district elections for the first time, in places like Anaheim and Garden Grove, city councils are about to look a lot more like the people they represent.
Consider that in this year’s first district county supervisors’ election, it’s Martinez vs. Do. And in the corresponding congressional race for the 46th Congressional District, it’s Correa vs. Nguyen.
This whole mad scramble is really all about politicians – new and old – plugging into a new voting reality here in Orange County.
The future is here.
Update on Voice of OC Open Records Lawsuit
Last week, due to a filing glitch, a hearing on our motion to fight off a government deposition order against me (related to our public records lawsuit involving County Supervisor Todd Spitzer’s handcuffing of an evangelist at gunpoint) was delayed to Nov. 29.
As a reminder, county supervisors are arguing in court that I should be subject to a government interrogation – a deposition – because I had a conversation with Spitzer about the handcuffing incident and months later another reporter working for Voice of OC sought a series of public records for a story.
When the reporter, Adam Elmahrek (now with the LA Times), was improperly denied those under the state’s Public Records Act last year, we were forced to challenge that decision in Orange County Superior Court.
Spitzer and county supervisors want to establish a legal precedent that they get to email back and forth with public (taxpayer-funded) executives in secret.
Voice of OC and our attorneys at CalAware steadfastly disagree that our state constitution allows this kind of secret local government.
Deposing me has zero legal relevance to whether those records are public or not.
It’s pure harassment.
We look forward to defending our rights in court.