Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner is livid at the Santa Ana Police Department for ticketing visitors at the county Civic Center, while also expressing deep frustration with ongoing disruptions from the nearby construction of a $400 million streetcar in downtown Santa Ana.
Wagner vented his frustration Tuesday over tickets he says were issued to parents dropping their high schoolers off along Santa Ana Boulevard to attend a weekend event he hosts about local government.
“We have lately discovered the Santa Ana Police Department going out of their way…to ticket folks who come and drop their high school students off in front of the building,” said Wagner, who represents a district stretching from Irvine to Yorba Linda, during public remarks at the supervisors’ regular meeting.
“Apparently they’re also ticketing jaywalkers. I have no problem with them enforcing the law, though if anybody has driven around here, they know the trouble that Santa Ana Boulevard is, especially with that stupid, ridiculous boondoggle rail project that they’re trying to put in, at the cost of $100 million a mile,” he continued, referring to the OC Streetcar project.
“I find myself disturbed that apparently Santa Ana police – when no one is interrupting traffic, when no one is being unsafe out there – has decided to make an example of students coming from my district on a Saturday. I find it extremely discouraging, in terms of the relationship between the city of Santa Ana and the County of Orange.
“I say that especially since everyone on this board and everyone in this audience can see people jaywalking. We can see the homeless who are across the street, failing to observe the traffic rules, and we can see other cars stopping here on our corners, and somehow they seem to get a pass from the Santa Ana Police Department.
“But I guess they want the easy pickings on [a] Saturday morning of folks who are bringing their youngsters there to learn a little bit more about government. It is very disappointing, the attitude that I’ve heard from the officers involved in that particular situation. And I raise that as a word of warning to parents who will be dropping students off.”
Last year, the Santa Ana City Council expanded parking enforcement as part of its plan to fill a budget hole caused mainly by increased police salaries, benefits and pension costs. The extra enforcement staff would bring in an extra $200,000 in parking ticket revenue to the city, after taking into account the extra employees’ cost, officials said at the time.
Police Chief David Valentin declined to comment, but referred through a spokesman to a response from Councilman Juan Villegas at Tuesday night’s Santa Ana City Council meeting.
“I have a message for Don Wagner,” Villegas said at the meeting, calling Wagner’s critique “very disappointing.”
“You know, Mr. Wagner, if you’ve got a problem with the way our police department is doing its work, you can call the chief. You can call me. You can call any member on this council. And we’ll take the call,” Villegas continued.
“But don’t sit there in your…board chamber and start making accusations and saying a bunch of things – especially about our streetcar, that some of your people are probably gonna use, from Irvine or the area that you [represent],” he added.
“I don’t appreciate your comments. You can call me anytime if you have a problem with any of our staff here. You come to Santa Ana, your office is in Santa Ana, you ought to respect Santa Ana.”
Wagner responded to Villegas via a text to a reporter seeking comment.
“I’ll talk to Councilmember Villegas at the next OCFA meeting if I feel the need. I will only note that he didn’t address the substance of the abuse I mentioned,” Wagner said.
Wagner later texted a reporter a cellphone photo of a small truck blocking a lane near the Santa Ana Civic Center within what he said was clear view of police without any kind of enforcement. Wagner continued to take issue with the difference in approach to a recent Saturday when his visitors to the Civic Center were given tickets by Santa Ana police.
“Here is a car this afternoon loading stuff in front of the [Hall of Administration] for a long time. One lane on [Santa] Ana Blvd is blocked off for construction and a [Santa] Ana police car is parked 150 yards away, and nothing happens,” Wagner texted.
“On a Saturday, with no traffic and no lanes blocked off and a stop long enough for someone to jump out, they give tickets.”
The 4-mile streetcar, which is currently under construction and disrupting businesses in Downtown Santa Ana, was originally slated to cost $300 million but last year, after it was approved, the cost estimate jumped to $408 million. It’s scheduled to open in 2021.
County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett defended the streetcar, while acknowledging the disruptions.
“I know we have construction fatigue, with major construction on Santa Ana Boulevard that’s been going on for months now. And every time I get onto Santa Ana Boulevard, there’s a new detour that takes you around the area,” said Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, who represents south Orange County.
“But we have to kind of suffer through that, hopefully for the greater good, and hopefully better movement of people…throughout the county.”
“I think hopefully you’ll be…pleasantly surprised when the project actually does go in,” Bartlett added.
She also spoke positively of efforts to build additional streetcars connecting to John Wayne Airport and the Anaheim resort area.
“I think as we rebuild our Civic Center here, and we move our 18,000 employees to work in our Civic Center premises…that’s gonna be on the streetcar route and that hopefully will have a real positive impact, along with the potential connectivity of the streetcar to connect down to the airport in the future, and maybe connect up to the Anaheim area sometime in the future as well, to those job centers.”
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.