County Supervisor candidates Doug Chaffee and Tim Shaw discussed their plans to try to solve homelessness in north Orange County Thursday night at their California State University, Fullerton debate.

The two are running to take Supervisor Shawn Nelson’s seat as he terms out this year. Chaffee is mayor of Fullerton and Shaw is the mayor of La Habra. The top priority for both, they said, is addressing the growing homelessness issue.

“I consider the Board of Supervisors to be dysfunctional. They seem more concerned about advancing their careers instead of doing the right thing for the County … Not establishing homeless places for people to go in south county. They had opportunities to do that on county land and they kinda chickened out,” Chaffee said to an audience of roughly 40 people.

Shaw wasn’t as critical of Supervisors, but said he believes in the “housing first” model to address the homelessness issue and cities need to band together to help build permanent supportive housing, which is housing geared for homeless people that has medical, mental health, job planning and a variety of other services on site.

“What we’re lacking is that permanent supportive housing,” Shaw said. “It obviously has to be  regional approach. We don’t have to have permanent supportive housing built in every single city … other cities can contribute — it does need to be regional.”

The moderator, CSUF political science professor Stephen Stambough, asked how each candidate could get south county cities to chip in more in addressing the homelessness issue. Members of the audience also submitted questions for candidates, with much of them being about homelessness, Stambough said.

“That’s a tough question because the city’s all have control of their local territory … when you pick a site there’s always a NIMBY (not in my backyard)  contingent that seems to object,” Chaffee said.

Supervisors initially proposed building a homeless shelter on county-owned land in Irvine in March, but faced immediate protests from residents. After busloads of Irvine residents showed up to the March 27 meeting, Supervisors cancelled the plan.

“Busloads of people came up from south county and they (Supervisors) chickened out and backed away,” Chaffee said.

He said, if he were elected, Chafee would try to get homeless housing at the Fairview Development Center, a state mental health facility,  in Costa Mesa. Although it was an idea floated by state Senator John Moorlach and Nelson, no official plan was formed. The Costa Mesa City Council held an emergency meeting to address the Fairview idea March 28 when over 300 divided residents showed up — some lambasted the Council, while others were supportive of the idea.

“It’s 114 acres of state-owned land and the local cities can’t really have a say on that.” Chaffee said.  

Shaw said the county shouldn’t try to place too many homeless people in one city, but the County should put more pressure on cities.

“No one part of the county can be off the hook here, but I don’t think you can take one city and say you’re going to take thousands and thousands … but everyone has to do something here,” Shaw said. “You can find a site that’s perhaps more in an industrial area … you don’t just want to jam it down on them, but hopefully with some city council leadership and some county leadership, we can overcome the NIMBYism and find the appropriate sites as needed. ”

Stambough asked about the County’s large pool of Mental Health Act funding it has and how each candidate would spend it. In March, Voice of OC reported the County stockpiled at least $230 million in mental health funding and much of it could be used to address the homelessness issue.

“The county has built up a healthy amount there and it should be spent wisely,” Shaw said. “The approach I agree with — housing first, getting people into the housing … and that’s where we can begin the treatment.”

Shaw also said he supports institutionalizing people who have severe mental illnesses, like schizophrenia, to get them treatment. “The problem we have with the courts is its their Constitutional right … they can be out in the street.”

“The County has accumulated … millions of dollars and has not used it as it should have,” Chaffee said, adding that seniors also need more mental health services. “I think we need to have clinics more regionalized, not just in the central part (of the county), so that access can be available to them.”

Transportation was another issue that came up and Shaw said it’s also one of his top priorities because he expects to be chair of the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) board chairman next year. He’s currently the vice chair.

Shaw said Measure M, the half cent sales tax passed by voters in 2006, was supposed to generate $24 billion over 30 years, but the 2008 recession, coupled with the loss of sales tax due to online shopping, has reduced that projection to $13 billion.

“So the OCTA is trying to make that promise to voters with significantly less money,” Shaw said, adding that the online sales tax is unfairly allocated to cities. 

Chaffee said he supports the “No” vote on Proposition 6 and wants to focus on more train services, but the freight companies own the lines and he wants to work with them to get more passenger cars.

Stambough asked how the candidates would support undocumented college students and both candidates said they want to support them.

“We need to support them … they’re not here to get a free load, they’re here to better themselves,” Chaffee said, adding he disagrees with the County’s move to join the federal lawsuit against the state over its sanctuary city law. 

“If they’re coming to a university, they’re obviously interested in bettering themselves … We want to have people come here who want to work hard,” Shaw said.

Stambough asked how the candidates would increase public participation at the county level.  

“I have what I call a different open-door policy … mine is open so I can go out. I want to continue meeting people,” Chaffee said. “My intention is to meet, at least quarterly, with each city manager to get their input.

Chaffee also said he wants to meet with workers at the Orange County Employees Agency,  “I want to listen to them. They’re members of the public too.”

“I’m going to instruct my field staff to be at city council meetings … to make myself available as much as possible,” Shaw said.

Shaw also wants to revive Nelson’s breakfast he used to have with council members and city managers in the Fourth District.

“Having all the mayors and city council members of the district and kind of get together for breakfast … and talk about our needs for the region,” Shaw said.

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC reporter who covers south Orange County and Fullerton. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio

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