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Fresh off of flipping a seat from Republican to Democrat, Katrina Foley is now Orange County’s newest supervisor – and she’s vowing to make progress on coronavirus vaccine access, homelessness and racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

But as one of five supervisors, how much of an impact will she have?

It’s the first time in decades that Democrats have two seats on the powerful OC Board of Supervisors – which controls $7 billion in taxpayer spending and oversees everything from public health to homeless services to spending on jails and prosecution.

Foley spoke with Voice of OC in an interview Thursday as she was preparing for her public swearing-in ceremony today, which is scheduled to be live streamed here starting around noon.

Here’s what she had to say:

What are the biggest changes the public can expect, now that you’re taking office?

“My top priority is going to be public health and improving the community’s health. So, whether that’s mass distribution of the vaccine more wide, more quickly – and certainly targeted to our most vulnerable communities more effectively; or access to health care, homelessness services to help stabilize people’s lives; or quality of life improvements that are sometimes overlooked but that impact people’s mental health, their confidence, their feeling of security – things like graffiti abatement.”

You’ll be one vote out of five on the Board of Supervisors. What can you actually get done?

“I don’t see it like that. I see it as, we are five people, all representing distinct districts, and we have certainly opportunities to work both collaboratively as well as individually in our own districts. So I’m going to do my best to achieve both. And I think there’s plenty of areas where collaborations will occur – in the space of community parks, climate action, and housing and homelessness. Just to name a few.”

The top issue OC residents care about – according to the latest Chapman University survey – is housing and homelessness. What are the concrete steps you’re going to take to tackle those?

“Well you’re going have to stay tuned for that. I’m not prepared to give you any concrete steps, other than to tell you that that is going to be the top priority for my team. And I’m hiring policy advisors and forming a working group that will very specifically address those issues and bring forth recommendations. And we will be working on that immediately.”

On homelessness, does anything come to mind as a big roadblock to making progress that you’d want to tackle?

“No, I can’t answer that question at this time. So it’s premature to answer that question specifically. But what I can tell you is that I think there’s some low-hanging fruit that we can identify ways to get people off the streets and into housing through rental assistance programs, better partnerships with our federal partners for vouchers, and partnerships with our apartment communities for helping people get stabilized into housing.”

On Covid, what are the main steps you’re going to take?

“Again, it’s premature. But I will be announcing tomorrow my chief Covid recovery officer, and that person will be tasked with helping us to immediately stand up a super site in the district, and to immediately work on making sure that we have community vaccination sites in every city in the district, especially in those neighborhoods where Covid has hit the hardest.”

In electing you, voters in the 2nd District replaced one of OC’s highest-profile mask skeptics with someone who helped bring about one of the first city mask mandates in OC, which had a $100 fine attached to it. Is that accurate?

“It’s a major shift – and while I’m in this interview, I’m wearing this mask! Nobody will coming in our office without a mask. The masks save lives, and there’s just no reason not to wear a mask at this point. And the scientists worldwide have certainly recommended that.”

The Board of Supervisors passed a resolution this week saying they will not stand idly by amid racism, and that they’d work to try to essentially dismantle racism and racial disparities in policing, particularly when it comes to mental health and drug addiction. Do you support that? And if so, what concrete steps do you want to see taken?

“Yeah, I think that we’ve seen during the pandemic that racism is rooted in some of our systems….It’s embedded, and we must root it out. And so I’m proud of the board for taking a strong position against racism.

We have a beautiful, diverse community in Orange County, especially in District 2. And my office will reflect that diversity. Our team is going to be a diverse team. And we’re here to serve everyone – regardless of race, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, age, disability, economics. We’re here to serve the people.

And as far as the public safety issues, in week 3 I will be announcing our public safety policy advisor and they will be working collaboratively with our network of nonprofits, our law enforcement, and our criminal justice attorneys to develop quality plans for adjusting some reforms that will be very workforce development-driven.

Because I know from my personal experience helping youth in our community that if you don’t have housing, and you don’t have a job – or you don’t have any training in order to have some hope for the future, that’s a huge deterrent to you wanting to continue to be a law-abiding citizen.”

Voice of OC revealed in a story yesterday that the number-one most prosecuted crime in Orange County is possession of drug paraphernalia like meth pipes. Traditionally it’s been low-income people of color who are disproportionately prosecuted for these kinds of low-level nonviolent drug crimes. What do you think of this being OC’s most prosecuted charge? Is that something you want to examine?

“We will be looking at all of the factors, and our team will be making recommendations for reforms. But it’ll be a collaborative approach. Because we must work together for these things. My goal is to bring unlikely allies together to solve problems – whether it’s criminal justice, homelessness, health care, housing, climate action – you need to have many voices with different perspectives at the table in order to find common ground.”

Anything you want to add as you prep for your public swearing in?

“I’m just ready to get to work on behalf of the people of Orange County and District 2. My week has been spent with briefings learning all about what is and is not happening in the district, and I’m anxious to start working better for the residents of the district and the businesses and supporting our cities in a more meaningful way.”

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

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