Santa Ana Resident is Ousted from County Commission After Raising Homeless Shelter Concerns

Angie Cano voices concerns about the proposed Yale homeless shelter during public comments to Orange County supervisors on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019. The following day, Supervisor Andrew Do asked her to resign from the county airport commission.

A county commissioner from Santa Ana says OC Supervisor Andrew Do ousted her last week in retaliation for publicly voicing concerns about a proposed county homeless shelter in her community.

Do confirmed he asked for Angie Cano’s resignation from the Orange County Airport Commission, but declined to say if it was because of her public comments.

“That’s between me and her,” Do said in a text message to Voice of OC when asked what his reason was. Both officials are Republicans.

Cano, who last year ran for a seat on the Santa Ana Unified School District Board, said she’s troubled by how Do and his chief of staff treated her.

“I’m just very disappointed that the shelter’s being pushed [forward]. And anybody that gets in the way, they’ll just move to get you out of the way or silence you,” she said.

“I mean, that’s just disturbing to me.”

County Supervisor Andrew Do at the Sept. 24, 2019 supervisors meeting.

Cano, a Santa Ana resident and city planning commissioner, joined more than a dozen city officials, residents and business owners raising concerns about the proposed Yale shelter during public comments to supervisors last Tuesday.

She represents the area around the proposed shelter on the Santa Ana Planning Commission, and had been serving on the Airport Commission for 11 months as Do’s appointee. During her public comments, Cano identified herself as a Santa Ana planning commissioner and 19-year resident of the city ward where the shelter is proposed.

A sign came the day before Tuesday’s meeting, in a call from Do’s chief of staff, Chris Wangsaporn, Cano later said in an interview.

In the Monday call, Wangsaporn mentioned Cano’s county commission position and asked if she thinks it’s a “good idea” to speak at the meeting, Cano told Voice of OC. Wangsaporn also told her he didn’t want “anybody to speak against my boss,’ ” Cano said. She shared a call log with Voce of OC showing she returned a call that day from Wangsaporn.

Cano spoke up about her shelter concerns anyways at Tuesday’s meeting, as one of 14 Santa Ana speakers who raised concerns about a lack of county outreach and wondered why South County wasn’t doing more to host shelters.

The next day, Do’s chief of staff called again, according to a call log screenshot Cano provided. “Chris called me 24 hours [after the meeting] saying, ‘Hey I think it’s best if you resign…It’s best if we both go our separate ways,’ ” said Cano.

Wangsaporn didn’t return phone messages seeking comment on Cano’s description of their conversations. Do declined to comment, beyond saying his reasoning was between him and Cano, that he had spoken with her on the phone about it, and accusing Cano of lying about not being given a reason for her resignation.

Cano later acknowledged that in her first interview Wednesday night, she incorrectly said she had not been told a reason why she was asked to resign. The reason she was given was simply an excuse for retaliating against her for her public comments, Cano added.

“I feel like anybody that might be working with the supervisor or with Chris…this is what happens when you speak up,” Cano said in an interview.

“You know, people should be able to speak their minds. This is America. And I don’t know if he’s doing the same thing to employees, like if you don’t do [what I want] you’ll be fired.”

After receiving the call Wednesday asking for her resignation, Cano texted Do directly to ask him to call her about it, according to a screenshot she shared.

Do called her half an hour later, according to a screenshot she provided.

“He was..sensitive about the shelter,” Cano said of her conversation with Do. Cano said she told Do she didn’t want there to be “a misunderstanding” that she was speaking against him, and noted she didn’t mention his name when she spoke.

“[I told him I was] disturbed that your chief of staff called me the day before, and asked me to step down the day after I spoke,” Cano said of the conversation.

Do told Cano he wanted to give other people opportunities on the commission and realized there was a conflict between Cano serving on both the airport commission and city planning commission.

It’s not clear how it would be a conflict, because the county-run airport – John Wayne Airport – is outside the city of Santa Ana and apparently does not fall within the city planning commission’s jurisdiction. Do didn’t return a message asking why he believed it’s a conflict and why, if he considered it disqualifying, he didn’t ask Cano to resign until after her public comments.

“It did bother me that his excuse wasn’t even good,” Cano told Voice of OC. “If they wanted to give me the message that that was my punishment for speaking, I received it.”

About two hours after her call with Do last Wednesday, Cano emailed his chief of staff to ask for a written request for her resignation.

Cano says she did not receive any response for more than 24 hours. The reply came on Thursday evening, about 30 minutes after Voice of OC first reached out to Do and his chief of staff for comment.

“I don’t want my chief of staff to be maligned, as he is only the messenger,” Do wrote.

“From the time you applied to be appointed, I raised the difficulty in being both a planning commissioner for the City of Santa Ana and airport commissioner for the County.  As you know, there are overlapping issues between the City and [John Wayne Airport], in addition to the potential differing interests on other issues, that would put someone in your position in a conflicted position. I see that potential conflict more clearly now,” Do added, without specifying what he was claiming were the overlapping issues.

“In addition, I also mentioned to you that I re-appoint my commissioners from time to time, as I have done with the airport and parks commissions recently, so as to give more people a chance to serve,” Do wrote. “In conclusion, I ask for your resignation so that I can move ahead more smoothly with my appointment process.”

Do did not cite any legal opinions saying it’s a conflict of interest for a Santa Ana city planning commissioner to also serve on the county airport commission.

Asked for his response to Cano’s criticisms, Do did not address the substance of what she said. Instead, Do said Cano lied about not being told a reason and now says she doesn’t like the reasons.

OC supervisors have been openly sensitive to public commenters, and at times have restricted them in ways that a court has found are likely unconstitutional. This summer, a judge struck down a longstanding supervisors’ policy against public commenters questioning individual supervisors or using the supervisors’ names.

Earlier in his term as supervisor, Do called for a policy to restrict the speech of those who step up to the speaker’s podium.

“Week in, week out, every time we have a meeting, it seems like the berating is getting more intense,” Do said, after a public commenter mentioned a joke about sex in the TV show Seinfeld while criticizing a county official.

“I know freedom of speech is something that’s very difficult to curtail or to define, but there has to be, I think, something that we need to put in place, because I’m just getting fed up with the kind of comments that I hear nowadays,” Do said at the July 2015 meeting.

Todd Spitzer, who was a supervisor at the time and now is Orange County’s district attorney, was quick to emphasize there are limits to what the supervisors can restrict.

“There are rules about what you can and cannot do,” Spitzer said, adding that he and other officials have received “excellent” suggestions on the issue at a forum hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union.

In a landmark 1989 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court declared, “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”

Do also has led the supervisors in changing county rules so commissioners and other appointees can be removed at any time for any reason, without having to explain why.

Below are Cano’s full public comments at Tuesday’s meeting:

“Good morning Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett and Board of Supervisors. My name is Angie Cano. I am a planning commissioner in the city of Santa Ana. I’m also a 19-year resident in Ward 6 in Santa Ana. Last night I had a letter sent to every one of you with six reasons why I think the shelter should not be placed in the Yale area.

Number one: the site is in close proximity to the Heritage Museum, Centennial Regional Park, Windsor Village Park, and Jackson Elementary School with 745 enrolled students, Kenneth Mitchell Elementary School with 500 enrolled students, and Godinez High School with 2,449 enrolled students.

Reason number two: stop overcrowding our city. Santa Ana is one of the densest cities in Orange County. Our police department response time has turned into two hours. Our city does not have the resources to take more homeless individuals.

Number three: the city – as overcrowded as it is – has carried the county’s burden to care for the homeless population. It is time to start holding other county cities accountable. Home Aid seems to be a great organization for south county, it seems. I mean, it has been sold as having the resources, having the expertise – so I’m sure south county will be happy to welcome them.

Number four: start fixing the homeless problem in the city of Santa Ana. The county can introduce this space more thoughtfully. The city of Santa Ana has sheltered homeless individuals that have not yet been integrated into society and the workforce.

Number five: the city of Santa Ana has spent millions of dollars to pay for staff overtime hours, and to clean up after the homeless already in our city. These reports can be provided by Steven Mendoza, executive director of the [city’s] Community Development Agency.

Number six, and finally: the County of Orange has not worked in good faith with our community and our neighborhood to accommodate our concerns. And I would encourage the county to think of ways to start benefitting our community by increasing the quality of life here. The city of Santa Ana is overcrowded, and the county must start being sensitive to Santa Ana residents and the way it builds in our city.”

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.