Editor’s note: Ahead of next week’s election, Voice of OC is publishing a series of candidate surveys for the various races. Click here to see all of the surveys.

County supervisors are among the most powerful officials in Orange County, shaping decisions around law enforcement spending, mental health, homelessness and public health.

And in the coming days – and again in November – local voters have the power to decide who will control those decisions.

Voters in Anaheim, Santa Ana, Orange, Tustin and east Garden Grove will be choosing their representative for District 2.

Voice of OC reporters reached out to all five candidates and sent them a list of 18 questions, several of which were submitted by readers in response to a public invitation for questions.

Four of the five candidates responded, and each was allowed up to 50 words per answer, to keep the total length reasonable. 

Here are their answers:

1. Santa Ana is among the most park-poor communities in America. What if anything would you do to address this?

Vicente Sarmiento: “I would continue dialogue with Garden Grove for the possible acquisition of all or part of Willowick Golf Course. These approximately 100 acres are owned by Garden Grove but located entirely within Santa Ana. We must also consider remnant parcels that can be converted to pocket parts throughout D2.”

Kim Bernice Nguyen: “We need to be creative in how we approach open space. If elected, I would work collaboratively with the city of Santa Ana to identify potential places in the city and help with county funding for purchase with fair market value and development of open space.”

Jon Dumitru: (Declined to answer.)

Juan Villegas: “As for Santa Ana, the largest amount of open space is the Riverbed which is controlled by the Army Corp. of Engineers. There is an entity known as the Santa Ana River Conservancy. I would work with them and county parks department to find a way to attract more funding.”

Cecilia “Ceci” Iglesias: “I would ensure that we open up more space at the River Trail; assign staff to provide programs along the River Trail and ensure that we Patrol it so residents feel safe and more comfortable using it.”

2. OC supervisors in the past have attacked the work of the anti-hate work of OC Human Relations, which is funded largely by the county. What would be your approach?

Sarmiento: “My approach is to listen, learn and take direction from OC Human Relations commissioners regarding hate speech and activity. I would advocate for a more receptive space to hear about hate, and the harm it continues to cause our county.”

Nguyen: “I wholeheartedly support the work of the OC Human Relations Commission and support funding them. I would stand up to any efforts to defund them and defend them against attacks on their work. They have been an amazing resource for cities in OC, especially through the pandemic.”

Dumitru: (Declined to answer.)

Villegas: “My approach would be to provide the funding that is needed and seek outside donations from other groups who are fighting hate crimes.”

Iglesias: “We need to work collaboratively for the benefit of our community.”

3. What do you think of the county library system and its branches? Is it meeting the needs of residents? What do you think of the role a library should play in the 21st Century? Do you see opportunities to make county materials and services available in languages beyond English?

Sarmiento: “County libraries fail to meet the needs of all county residents. They must be located in areas where the need is the highest, and provide a safe space to learn and study.  Library services and resources should be delivered in multiple languages.”

Nguyen: “Like any department, there is always room for improvement. We should survey the communities who use the county system to see what needs are not being met, make sure they have the most up to date technology and offer services in multiple languages based on need.”

Dumitru: (Declined to answer.)

Villegas: “The 2nd District has few libraries. Libraries have become community centers over the last few years. We will need to make sure they evolve to meet the needs of all communities including wi-fi hotspots, clothing drop off locations and more. The libraries will need more mobility in the future.”

Iglesias: “We have an opportunity to provide many programs to our community and in different languages, especially in technology. We need to partner with our community colleges so they can teach classes that will provide our community the skills needed to be successful in the 21st century.”

4. Santa Ana officials have criticized the county for “dumping” homeless people and jail inmates from across the county into the city, by releasing all inmates in the middle of the night in the city’s downtown. What do you think of this practice? If you take issue with it, what if anything would you do about it?

Sarmiento: “Santa Ana was forced to sue the county for ‘de facto’ dumping practices. The eventual settlement prohibits the release of detainees in the middle of the night, and into the streets of Santa Ana. The most equitable next step is that they be transported back to the city of arrest.”

Nguyen: “This practice is wrong and the entire county should do its fair share in dealing with the homeless crisis. Releasing inmates in the middle of the night is problematic. I would work with the Sheriff’s Department to find a workable solution that is safe for residents and those being released.”

Dumitru: (Declined to answer.)

Villegas: “Homeless dumping needs to be addressed countywide. While on Council, I was part of several meetings with Judge Carter addressing this issue. As for the jail drop-offs, we need to work with the Sheriff and OCTA and ensure they have bus passes to get back to where they actually live.”

Iglesias: “Santa Ana residents should not bear the cost of cleaning up after the homeless that were released from the County jails. I would lead the effort to ensure that inmates are taken back to the city where they reside. I commit to fund the Sheriffs’ department to provide this service.”

5. What’s your sense of the specific plans that govern development in North Tustin and the canyons? Should any changes be up to residents to decide on?

Sarmiento: “Residents should participate and be engaged in any and all parts of the County’s development including North Tustin and the Canyons.”

Nguyen: “I am a strong believer that community input on projects is needed. Ultimately the community has to live with these projects and we should work with them within reason when a project is proposed for unincorporated areas. I would work to increase outreach and engagement in order to move forward.”

Dumitru: (Declined to answer.)

Villegas: “The voters should get to decide what they want.  A local discussion about the needs of the community is necessary before you can adopt changes.”

Iglesias: “I believe that residents should always have a say on what will affect their quality of life.”

6. What improvements would you see yourself advocating for with public health? What would you fund? What would you unfund? What do you think of how the county Health Care Agency (HCA) is being run? What did HCA do well during the pandemic? What did they not do well? Has HCA operated independently enough from the Board of Supervisors in your view? And what do you think of cities like Santa Ana and Irvine declaring they want to split off their own health departments separate from the county?

Sarmiento: “The HCA had problems delivering healthcare pre-pandemic.  The pandemic graphically demonstrated the disparity in service delivery to low income communities, which is why I advocated for a feasibility study for Santa Ana to create its own municipal health department.”

Nguyen: “My number one priority in regards to healthcare is removing the political intimidation and influence CalOptima and HCA have had to deal with for years. They need leaders who understand healthcare and who will prioritize the well-being of patients. Quality and timely healthcare is my focus.”

Dumitru: (Declined to answer.)

Villegas: “As far as I know Santa Ana and Irvine are not setting up separate departments of public health, it is cost prohibitive.  The county is contemplating building a public health center near the Great Park. I would like to see that move forward.”

Iglesias: “It is the responsibility of the BOS to set policy and ensure residents are served. The HCA leadership needs to be accountable for providing services to all OC residents. The Supervisor’s staff should be more involved with HCA management to ensure they do their jobs and have the resources needed.”

7. What are the biggest changes to the mental health system would you want to make, and how would you do it?

Sarmiento: “We need to better understand the degree of mental health services in our county.  We must then dedicate robust resources to those communities that have the highest level of need and the least access. This problem is not lack of funding but more about political will to address this problem.”

Nguyen: “We need to fully fund, utilize and expand our existing County mental health teams. Partner with BeWell OC to ensure gaps in crisis stabilization and SUD are being addressed county wide. I will work with all agencies to push for seamless and efficient mental and physical health services.”

Dumitru: (Declined to answer.)

Villegas: “Besides the BeWell project which is [in] the 2nd District, the county needs to look at the MHSA funds and reprioritize where the money is going. But we need lots more intensive outpatient programs as well as more permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless and severely mentally ill.”

Iglesias: “We need to make mental health services more accessible to everyone, the low-income and middle-class residents. I would collaborate and fund schools and churches so they can provide the services in their communities.”

8. How do you believe the county can do better at addressing homelessness? And how would you go about making that happen? What do you think of the county’s plans for 2,700 new units of permanent supportive housing? Should it be moving faster? If so, how would you make that happen?

Sarmiento: “The county has not developed a comprehensive plan to address the crisis of homelessness. Creating a continuum of housing and services is important.  I am also supportive of Care Courts introduced by the Governor so long as there are protections against violating one’s civil liberties.”

Nguyen: “Yes, the county can do better at addressing homelessness. The homeless crisis is a primary reason I am running for Supervisor. We need to get permanent supportive housing built as quickly as possible. You can read more on my comprehensive plan to address homelessness at https://www.votekimnguyen.com/homelessness-action-plan.”

Dumitru: (Declined to answer.)

Villegas: “I think the county has made great strides. We could use more shelters throughout the county not just in the 2nd District. As the third largest county in the state, we should ask Sacramento for our share of funds. As I said above we need more supportive housing.”

Iglesias: “Homelessness services should be county-wide. Lands outside of the city limits can be used to build homeless shelters. The County needs to partner with Churches and nonprofits to provide wrap around services. The Churches are experts in dealing with individuals with mental health and drug addiction issues.”

9. What’s your sense of how the county handles transparency with the public? Does the county do enough to engage the public in its budget and spending decisions? Should the county be bringing the public into its $8 billion budget process before the tail end every June? How would you plan on doing that? And how accessible should public meetings be? Should people have the ability to call in to comment? And to have email comments to be read aloud? And does the county need to ensure public records are turned over more quickly? What do you think of the sheriff not releasing public jail data unless people pay $1,000 for access?

Sarmiento: “The BOS is considered one of the most non-transparent public agencies in the county. People in Santa Ana can attend meetings in person, telephonically and virtually. Failure to disclose public information or imposing an excessive fee for jail records is a problem.”

Nguyen: “If elected, I will support policies that maximize government transparency and participation. Public outreach in participation in items like the county budget and public comment should be prioritized. We should have email comments read aloud and work to have public records requests fulfilled as quickly as possible.”

Dumitru: (Declined to answer.)

Villegas: “I would be open to listening to callers if there was a reasonable way to manage the calls. Time frame issue. Email comments can be added to the agenda but not read aloud which is back to a timeframe issue. Public Record Requests should work through the normal request.”

Iglesias: “I am a strong advocate for Transparency/Accountability. I believe residents should have a seat at the negotiations table regarding public funds and its allocation. I believe the Board meetings should be in the evenings and should be streamed on TV. I don’t support charging the public for public records.”

10. What do you think of how the board has handled its oversight of law enforcement agencies like the Sheriff’s Department, DA’s Office, and Probation Department? What if anything would you like to see approached differently? And what is your sense of the county’s law enforcement watchdog the Office of Independent Review? Is it adequate? Do you see a need to expand funding and positions there, or not?

Sarmiento: “Accountability is one of the most important functions of county government.  I would support expanding the Office of Independent Review with stronger powers to ensure objectivity and comprehensive oversight of the departments.”

Nguyen: “Oversight and accountability is an important part of our job that Supervisors should take seriously. I believe the board can improve in the handling oversight of these departments and we should ensure the Office of Independent Review has the maximum funding and QUALIFIED staff to adequately do their job.”

Dumitru: (Declined to answer.)

Villegas: “The individuals who were hired at the Office of Independent Review are highly qualified and capable of doing the job. The BOS has done a good job of keep all law enforcement agencies funded and equipped under their jurisdiction.”

Iglesias: “The County has taken a step in the right direction. I support being transparent with our funding and processes. I support having members of the public in these committees; they are the eyes and ears in our communities.”

11. What, in your capacity as a local elected leader, do you plan to do about climate change? If you plan on taking action, what are your specific plans?

Sarmiento: “My goal will be to work and learn from subject matter experts, meet with community members and introduce strong public policy that will address the problem of climate change.  Orange County is home to some of the most beautiful environments in the world.  We must be responsible stewards of it.”

Nguyen: “Climate change is affecting us all. As Supervisor, we need to work together to invest in environmentally friendly solutions.  and programs to help residents do the same. Like most things, moving in a greener direction can be cost prohibitive to lower income communities who tend to be the most impacted.”

Dumitru: (Declined to answer.)

Villegas: “Advocate for more resources for the 2nd district. I don’t know of any person who has a solution for the people in my district who use gas powered trucks and cars to go to work and who can’t afford an electric or hydrogen vehicle.”

Iglesias: “No comment.”

12. Do you believe the last presidential election was stolen?

Sarmiento: “Absolutely not. I have complete faith, trust and confidence in [the] County Registrar [of Voters].”

Nguyen: “No!”

Dumitru: (Declined to answer.)

Villegas: “Beyond the scope of the 2nd District. However, I do believe that our elections in OC are run fairly. While ballot harvesting is legal, it is fraught with the potential for problems. We need to be mindful of that.”

Iglesias: “No comment.”

13. Do you see public corruption as a problem in Orange County? And what would you do to combat it?

Sarmiento: “Public corruption is a problem in OC and elsewhere. Campaign finance reform as well as stronger rules of disclosure are good first steps. Undue influence from any special interest source undermines the will of the voters and erodes the public’s trust in government.”

Nguyen: “Unfortunately, public corruption is a problem at many levels of government. As Supervisor, I would review current measures that hold Supervisors accountable to the public and make reforms where improvement can be made. For example, campaigning on the taxpayers dollar. That’s an area of much needed improvement.”

Dumitru: (Declined to answer.)

Villegas: “I think it is not as widespread as one [may] think. However, there [are] laws on the books along with a legal system that is more than equipped to handle it.”

Iglesias: “There needs to be more Transparency in the budget process. This is the only way we will gain the publics’ trust. Current practices allow for corruption to exist. My commitment is to have members of the public at the negotiating table.”

14. What do you think the county could do to address the housing affordability crisis facing many local residents? And what could the county do to reduce road congestion?

Sarmiento: “Housing affordability can be achieved by increasing inventory and ensuring balance by requiring market rate developments include affordable units, or pay an in-lieu fee that can fund construction of new affordable units off site.”

Nguyen: “Unfortunately there is a shortage of available housing and we need to build more where we can and think out of the box to increase housing availability. The county, working with OCTA, needs to identify areas with most congestion and work collaboratively to prioritize those areas for improvement without delay. “

Dumitru: (Declined to answer.)

Villegas: “Housing affordability in the 2nd district can be addressed through the housing authorities in each city. The county can continue to seek more Section 8 vouchers and use both the public and private housing trusts to build housing.”

Iglesias: “The housing affordability is an issue caused by inflation and policies from Sacramento. Example is the minimum wage increase. The County needs to do a better job to educate the community that wage increase affects our cost of living. The county can fund to add more lanes to our streets.”

15. How would you deal with the noise pollution under the flight path of John Wayne Airport, which residents say is increasing?

Sarmiento: “I would first engage the impacted residents to better understand the issue.”

Nguyen: “First we need to keep the current curfew on when flights are taking off and leaving John Wayne Airport. Second we need to examine the flight paths to make sure they are avoiding residential areas where possible and try to keep them to unpopulated or commercial areas.”

Dumitru: (Declined to answer.)

Villegas: “I would work with Supervisor Wanger and see if we can enforce the flight patterns so as not to disturb the residents. We can work with the FAA and the residents to fix the problem.”

Iglesias: “We need to communicate and hold the airlines accountable in reducing the noise pollution.”

16. With the recent federal government changes to water allocation in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, what are your plans to assure adequate water supply to all communities in Orange County?

Sarmiento: “First off, we are blessed to have a groundwater basin that serves most of central and northern Orange County. These areas therefore not overly dependent on importing water. I support conservation efforts and continuing to work with the OCWD to increase recycling of waste water.”

Nguyen: “Orange County is a leader in water reuse, with the water replenishment system. We need to continue to utilize and expand its use, particularly now that the Poseidon project is not happening. We also need to encourage and possibly mandate water conservation efforts.”

Dumitru: (Declined to answer.)

Villegas: “Because the Poseidon project defeated, we need a broader discussion on water. Meeting with our experts and looking at what we can do to prevent any shortages. OC has always been a leader on water conservation, we need to continue to lead.”

Iglesias: “We need to collaborate with the Water Districts to ensure we provide our residents the water that they need without raising rates.”

17. Currently the OC sheriff refers more people to ICE than any other department in the state. Would you change that? Or do you support it?

Sarmiento: “I am opposed to a local agency such as the OC Sheriff referring people to ICE.  Federal matters such as immigration should be funded and handled by federal agencies.  This practice will chill the public from reporting crimes and eventually as witnesses.”

Nguyen: “I would meet with Sheriff Barnes and ask for a review of all transfers to ICE to ensure compliance with SB 54. I would also ask questions during the Truth Act hearings if warranted. I support transfers of the most dangerous criminals who are a clear threat to public safety.”

Dumitru: (Declined to answer.)

Villegas: “I would sit down with the Sheriff and see how the program is working and if there are changes that could be made if needed. But let me be clear, there’s no reason the residents of the 2nd District should tolerate serious criminals in their neighborhoods who are undocumented.”

Iglesias: “The OC Sheriff is entrusted to provide public safety and ensure that laws are followed to keep our communities safe.”

18. Do you support the idea of public transit? If so, what would you do to make it more appealing and effective?

Sarmiento: “I’m very supportive of public transportation. I support transit oriented development, and improving the experience and convenience of new and existing riders. Free bus passes for youth 18 and under will further introduce new riders to our transit system.”

Nguyen: “I do support public transit and feel it is an important transportation option. District 2 residents use transit the most in Orange County. To make it more appealing and effective, we need to create a public transit system that is reliable, convenient to use and suit the needs of residents.”

Dumitru: (Declined to answer.)

Villegas: “I do support public transit. We need to make it safer. OCTA has invested in cleaner buses, and we are building the light rail system which was 30 years in the making. We need commuter input as well to determine the most effective routes for use.”

Iglesias: “I support public transit as it is a needed service.”

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

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