DA Todd Spitzer, who recently recognized National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, has said it’s been really difficult over the last few years to fundraise for the victims memorial he championed to much fanfare while campaigning for office.

In the seven years since proposing the memorial, Spitzer says he’s put together just $58,000 of the $1 million goal.

“The ability to raise 1 million [dollars] is a heavy lift. No one involved could reasonably raise that money at this point,” Spitzer said when asked about it in February.

“That was the difficult part, trying to raise the money,” he told supervisors last month, when he abandoned the original design and location.

Almost half of the $58,000 raised for the victims’ memorial by Spitzer came from his own campaign account. Spitzer transferred $25,000 from his County GOP Central Committee campaign account to the memorial fund in 2014.

In much less time, Spitzer raised 50 times more for his own election as DA than he did for the victims’ memorial, according to public records reviewed by Voice of OC.

In the two years leading up to his 2018 election as DA, Spitzer raised $3 million for his campaign, public filings show.

Since Spitzer’s initial $25,000 campaign transfer in 2014, he only raised another $33,000 for the victims’ memorial fund.

Spitzer didn’t respond to a phone message asking why he could raise so much for his election but not the victims memorial he had publicly promised to champion during his campaign. 

Paul Wilson, whose wife Christy was killed in the 2011 Seal Beach mass shooting, says Spitzer’s failure to follow through on his promises is a slap in the face to victims like him.

“There’s politics at work, right there,” Wilson said when told how much more Spitzer was able to raise for his own election.

“I mean, perfect example of Todd Spitzer the politician, not Todd Spitzer the ‘victims advocate,’ ” he added.

“It could have easily been done,” Wilson said of fundraising for the victims’ memorial.

Back in 2014, Spitzer got a wave of media attention around the grand memorial project he was planning at Mason Regional Park as he prepared to run for district attorney.

After picking a design and a spot near a lake at an Irvine park, Spitzer announced he planned to break ground in 2015 and open the memorial in 2016.

The original design for the Orange County Crime Victims’ Memorial at a regional park in Irvine, in place from 2014 until DA Todd Spitzer proposed scaling it back significantly in 2021. Credit: Orange County Crime Victims' Memorial

“It’s a beautiful, beautiful statement,” Spitzer said of the winning design when it was announced at a high-profile event in 2014.

“It’s embracing. It’s like a blanket around someone’s shoulders,” he added.

Yet years later, ground still hasn’t been broken.

Just 6 percent of the memorial’s cost has been raised, according to figures Spitzer provided a couple months ago when Voice of OC asked for an update.

A few weeks after Voice of OC reported in February on the lack of progress with the memorial, Spitzer proposed to dramatically scale back and move the crime victims’ memorial.

He moved its planned location from a lakeside spot at a park, to a small, gated plaza between DA and sheriff offices in downtown Santa Ana, across the street from the Sheriff’s Department headquarters and the county jail.

The memorial itself will now be “a minor landscape upgrade” with “a boulder or piece of art” as a centerpiece, Spitzer’s staff explained in a report.

Spitzer’s new proposed location for the Orange County Crime Victims’ Memorial, behind a fence between the DA and Sheriff’s Department offices in Santa Ana. Credit: County of Orange

The new location is exactly where Spitzer’s supporters once have said it shouldn’t be.

“We don’t want to go to a courthouse building, a hospital or a police agency,” said Patricia Wenskunas, a Spitzer supporter and founder of the group Crime Survivors, when the original victims’ memorial design was unveiled in 2014 at a regional park in Irvine.

“We need a place that is bright and beautiful. And this will be it,” she said of the Irvine park site.

Yet Wenskunas, who led one of the largest political action groups supporting Spitzer’s 2018 run for DA, now says Spitzer is right to want to move the memorial to a police agency.

“We have this great opportunity to move it to the new location where the District Attorney’s Office is, as well as the Sheriff’s Department,” she told county supervisors last month when Spitzer proposed the location shift.

“It will be empowering, uplifting,” she said, calling the new location “a great place.”

Spitzer says the new design will essentially be an etched boulder for about $25,000.

“Former Supervisor [Shawn] Nelson and some others were very creative, and came up with a beautiful design” of a boulder that can be etched into, the DA told supervisors last month when they approved the scaled-down plans.

He also noted there’s an existing tree at the new site, which he called a “tree of life, tree of hope, tree of inspiration.”

“I think it’s gonna be amazing,” Spitzer said.

Hinting at the previous delays in the project, newly-elected Supervisor Katrina Foley pressed Spitzer for a timeline of when it’ll actually be finished.

“Can we just get a timeline, because I really do think that it needs to be completed. And so would you be able to finish it by the summer?” Foley asked.

Spitzer said he’s “absolutely confident” it will be finished “by this time next year.”

“That’s too long,” Foley shot back, saying she’d like to get a timeline and regular updates for supervisors.

Spitzer then offered to give an update in three months if the Board of Supervisors wants it.

The board’s chairman, Andrew Do, then jumped in to support giving Spitzer more time with a more relaxed schedule for updating the board

“It’s not a contract that we have to keep performance metrics and all that. At the end of the day it’s a memorial,” said Do, laughing.

“And it’s delivery of a boulder,” added Spitzer, also laughing.

“Can you maybe report back in 6 months to let us know where we are?” Do asked, which Spitzer agreed to.

As the board voted to approve the new scaled-down plan, Foley told the DA she’ll be following up with him.

“I’ll be calling, DA Spitzer – so that we make sure we stay on time,” she said.

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

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