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Norberto Santana, Jr.

A pioneering leader in the nation’s rising nonprofit news movement and an award-winning journalist. Santana has established Voice of OC as Orange County’s civic news leader, uncovered the truths across Southern California governments for more than two decades and reported on Congress and Latin America.

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Thanks to a strong outpouring of reader support, which our newsroom deeply appreciates, I’m really proud to report that Voice of OC exceeded it’s $75,000 year-end fundraising goal at $83,316, which puts our newsroom on a solid fiscal footing as we enter 2019 and continue to deep dive into Orange County’s civic life.

So where shall we go in 2019?

Our loyal readers already saw the trends from last year’s year coverage with our top viewed stories.

For those of you just joining the conversation, let me set the table.

The biggest story of the year takes off right after the holiday.

The New Elected Class

A new era begins at the Orange County District Attorney’s office on Jan. 7, when Todd Spitzer gets sworn in at Chapman University – where I teach Public Affairs Journalism.

It’s the first changeover at the DA’s office in nearly 20 years and Spitzer – who calls the DA his dream job – said he’s settling in for the long run and is ready for change.

Spitzer already stopped by the On OC Podcast and talked about his plans for the office and the future of Orange County.

He wants to look into things like Hate Crime prosecutions and a controversial DNA collection program, also promising a much tougher line on transparency and going after political corruption.

It’s a story our newsroom will stay on.

Speaking of a new era, expect a regular more news focus in Orange County media on Washington, D.C. as four new Democrats in office fight to make a name for themselves while also having to stay close to the district to fend off the certain Republican and Democratic challenges that will come.

The first hot debate of the year for Democrats was expected to come in their own backyard.

On Jan.14, Orange County Democrats will select a new party chair at their central committee meeting, given that Fran Sdao is vacating the position.

Union leader, Ada Briceño now looks to be the next chair as longtime Irvine elected official and former Mayor Beth Krom recently announced over the holiday break she has pulled out of the race.

Both Krom and Briceño have agreed to sit down individually for the On OC podcast.

Despite the pounding that Republicans candidates took in November, incumbent OCGOP Chairman Fred Whitaker told us he expects no challenges for his chairmanship when Republicans convene on Feb. 19 at their next central committee meeting.

Whitaker talked to us on the On OC podcast about what Orange County Republicans need to do next if they want to take back their house seats in 2020.

Watching how the GOP adjusts in Orange County will be a major storyline in 2019.

One battleground where both parties will be able to test out candidates and strategy will be in the upcoming special election to finish out the term of Spitzer, outgoing Third District County Supervisor.

It’s still early – and as with the Democratic Party Chair race, things keep developing – but from what I heard around holiday hallways and parties, it seems Democratic leaders are trying to narrow their field to just have former Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez run for the vacant seat on the board of supervisors.

On the Republican side, top contenders i’ve heard include Irvine Mayor Don Wagner and Anaheim City Councilwoman Kris Murray.

We’ll see if Republicans come together around one candidate.

With former Fullerton Mayor Doug Chaffee, a Democrat, winning a seat in November to represent the Fourth District on the board of supervisors replacing outgoing Supervisor Shawn Nelson who termed out, the race is sure to go red hot.

A win by Sanchez or another Democrat would give the board a bipartisan nature it hasn’t seen  for many years.

A win by Republicans would keep Chaffee in minority status, much like the position of Democrat Lou Correa, now in Congress, when he held the seat from 2004 to 2006 – the first Democrat since 1987. Correa left his supervisors’ seat mid term to run successfully for State Senate and later for Congress.

Also expect Democrats to come out early and start gearing up to challenge State Senator John Moorlach for re-election in 2020. Note that all of Costa Mesa went blue this last election cycle – Congress, Mayor, Three City Council seats and the 74th State Assembly.

Regardless of how the elections go, the next Orange County Board of Supervisors will confront the next likely big policy story of 2019, the reshaping of public safety agencies.

Public Safety

Both the Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney’s office have been hit hard with scandals in recent years over the illegal use of jailhouse snitches and recording of inmate phone calls.

Spitzer and new Sheriff Don Barnes will have to work hard to restore trust.

With county officials continuing to bring in civilian jailers to run the county jail facilities, there are also serious questions about how that transition is playing out.

Just this past month, the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs publicly expressed deep frustrations about the failed administration of the jails after a violent confrontation between prisoners and Sheriff Deputies.

Public safety pension costs are also soaring.

Many south county cities directly contracting with the Sheriff’s Department for patrol services are watching their annual bill trigger serious pressure on city budgets.

In 2019, expect that issue to keep playing out on the county supervisors’ dais.

County supervisors also face a governing crisis at the Orange County Fire Authority with an exit by Irvine looming over that regional fire agency.

All of these county public safety agencies also continue to be impacted by the homelessness crisis, as they are most often the first agency of contact on the streets for vulnerable people.

Thus, the biggest challenge facing county elected leaders is figuring out how to best leverage public funds in a manner that manages health, housing and human services for vulnerable people in the most efficient and caring manner.

This is at the core of the homelessness crisis – another critical issue to watch in 2019.

The test case for Orange County will come in the form of the implementation of AB448, the speed-of-sound legislative bill that formed a new homeless housing agency last year.

We need to see how public funds will be safeguarded, who will run the effort, how transparency will be handled.

The better that county officials can direct needed social and health care services also will directly impact public safety budgets in nearby cities – with many of them already forced to institute sales tax increases to maintain current service levels.

Cities

Out in the main cities, elected officials also face stark challenges with rising public safety budgets cutting into other core areas.

Santa Ana’s city council penchant for spending on police salaries has them standing on the precipice of bankruptcy.

Anaheim also now moves into an interesting phase with the Angels potentially replacing Disney on the hot seat as they seek a new stadium deal or begin the process of moving on.

Mayor Tom Tait left an interesting present at one of his last council meetings by winning a vote directing city officials to assess the value of the land around Angels Stadium, without the team.

Should taxpayers start courting other partners for the land?

The future of Angel’s stadium will be a top story to watch in 2019.

It will also be interesting to see how Disney plays its hand after having secured a friendly mayor and council majority on the public dais, with a wave of political hit mail.

Will the subsidies be back?

Democrats in Costa Mesa will unveil an all-Democrat city council and mayors’ office this coming year – the result of new district elections. Incoming Mayor Katrina Foley stopped by the On OC podcast to talk about the coming challenges facing that city.

Out in Irvine, the debate between growth and quality of life will continue to rage – with the Veterans cemetery initiative seemingly stuck in the middle.

A new council majority there welcomes the first woman of color, Farah Kahn, a Democrat who identifies as Asian Pacific Islander and came in as the top vote getter despite being supportive of permanent supportive housing for homeless.

Kahn will join the On OC podcast in early January to talk about Irvine’s future.

These are just a few of the civic storylines we expect to develop throughout Orange County in 2019.

As always, our reporters will be there for you this coming year, chronicling the development of the new OC – right from the daily civic trenches where the toughest debates get hammered out.

Remember, many times, they are the only ones at critical court or legislative hearings that are crucial to the future of Orange County.

We all need to stick with them.

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