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 Brea, Buena Park, Fullerton, La Habra, Placentia, Stanton, and parts of north and west Anaheim will be choosing their representative for District 4.
Voice of OC reporters reached out to all three candidates and sent them a list of 18 questions, several of which were submitted by readers in response to a public invitation for questions.
All of the candidates responded, and each was allowed up to 50 words per answer, to keep the total length reasonable.
Here are their answers:
1. What do you think the county should be doing about traffic and road conditions in North County?
Doug Chaffee: “I believe in helping Cities find funding to repair their roads and to synchronize traffic signals so traffic will flow better.”
Sunny Park: “The County’s housing crisis requires building more homes. More housing means more traffic and pressure on public roads. As Supervisor, I will work closely with the seven cities in District 4 and the State of California by identifying and helping secure funds for capital improvements and addressing traffic light synchronization.”
Steven C. Vargas: “The County should ensure that roads in unincorporated areas are some of the best in Orange County. The County should work closely with OCTA and cities to help ensure smarter funding to alleviate traffic and improve the quality of roads. We need to enable smoother traffic flow and better roads.”
2. What do you think of how the county is doing on creating open space opportunities in park-poor communities in the 4th District? What would you do in office to address that?
Chaffee: “I have been helping to create the Anaheim Riverwalk, which will be a 1.5-mile-long public park along the Santa Ana River. Recently, the County conveyed land to Anaheim to help make that happen. I support the creation of pocket parks to give neighborhoods open space relief.”
Park: “North County is park-poor but there are expansion opportunities for open spaces in park-poor communities. In Buena Park, I led three park projects to create open space and improve old parks. I will push for park modernization and use the OC equity map to target park-poor neighborhoods.”
Vargas: “If I am elected 4th District Supervisor, I would examine options for more parks in unincorporated areas of the district and work with cities to examine options for more parks in their jurisdictions. We should explore innovative ideas, such as pocket parks, to add open space for 4th District residents.”
3. OC supervisors in the past have attacked the work of the anti-hate group OC Human Relations, which is funded largely by the county. What would be your approach?
Chaffee: “I have always supported the work of the Orange County Human Relations Commission and will continue to do so. Joanne Matsuba, who is the current Chair of the Commission, is one of my appointees.”
Park: “Fighting hate is everyone’s responsibility. As a city representative, I worked closely with OC Human Relations to make our community inclusive for immigrants, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, veterans, people with disabilities and more. I will incorporate inclusivity in the County’s values statements, programs, and events as supervisor.”
Vargas: “It is time to decide if OC Human Relations should be a government agency or a nonprofit. Its current status as a nonprofit heavily funded by the County makes it a pawn in political battles. OC Human Relations is more effective if it is a nonprofit independent of County government.”
4. 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?
Chaffee: “The County library makes materials available in multiple languages and provides materials in digital format and does an excellent job in doing so.”
Park: “Public libraries need to be modernized and technologically more advanced. Our children learn by using all sensory functions and libraries should create space for that. County libraries should also be a safe haven for all community members to receive county information, critical in-language support, and free essential resources.”
Vargas: “The County library system can increase its participation to public education, especially to make up for the gaps in learning that stem from COVID-19 interruptions of in-class instruction. I would support expanded programs in multiple languages, as well as increased investment in electronic resources, as many residents utilize library computers.”
5. Do you support more development in the hills of unincorporated north county, such as hundreds of homes supervisors previously approved in a high wildfire-risk zone?
Chaffee: “I voted against the subject development and do not believe it is appropriate to develop in high-risk wildfire areas.”
Park: “The safety of our current and future residents is most important and it all depends on the location. Given the housing need in the County, I would make decisions on a case by case basis.”
Vargas: “I believe each development should be evaluated on a case by case basis. We cannot make blanket statements. We must balance the need for more housing in Orange County with the need to ensure that housing is built only in places that are safe for current and future OC residents.”
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?
Chaffee: “I am a strong supporter of the Be Well OC mental health campus which provides mental health service to all county residents regardless of ability to pay. I support the continued expansion of the Be Well OC system including a new campus in Irvine.”
Park: “We need transparency so the public is aware of best practices for maintaining community health. I championed county and health providers collaborating with cities and non-profits for vaccine access and medical providers. I would continue to support these strategies so our residents have access to free or low cost healthcare.”
Vargas: “I would expand the County’s public health efforts to combat the opioid crisis, including fentanyl. As an advocate for local control, I would not object if a city wishes to form its own health department (though I would not support forming a new health bureaucracy in my own city).”
7. What are the biggest changes to the mental health system would you want to make, and how would you do it?
Chaffee: “See answer to 6 above.”
Park: “We must destigmatize mental illness and normalize mental health care. The process should be easier and more accessible for vulnerable populations including veterans, immigrants, people with disabilities, and children. We must also track the current programs to measure its success. We need to listen to those who are receiving services.”
Vargas: “I would focus on both emergency treatment and long-term recovery treatment. Law enforcement and medical staff should guarantee rapid de-escalation of an episode. We have historically left money on the table from the federal and state level that would increase our preparation for these events and for long-term recovery.”
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?
Chaffee: “I strongly support the work of the Orange County Finance Housing Trust. I expect the trust to meet its goal of 2700 permanent supportive housing units by 2025. I would like to see additional affordable housing built for those who are at risk of becoming homeless.”
Park: “The county’s plans to build housing are great, but the question is about efficiency. Faster permitting on an as-needed basis would build housing quicker. We also have people facing homelessness because of increased rent. Creating jobs and diversifying sources of revenue will create housing opportunities for working families.”
Vargas: “I would work to ensure the County’s focus on homeless programming solutions by increasing substance abuse treatment centers and mental health facilities to put homeless residents on a path of recovery and then establish permanent housing solutions. The 2,700 new units of permanent supportive housing is a good start.”
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?
Chaffee: “The entire County budget is available online and available for the public to view and comment. Comments can be made at meetings, by email, by telephone, and U.S. mail.”
Park: “It is not news that the County lacks transparency. The meeting time is during the day, when people cannot appear without taking a day off from work. Emails should be read aloud if requested, language services should be given if requested, and call-in options should be given.”
Vargas: “We must ensure the release of public records in a more timely fashion. The County must comply with both the letter and spirit of the law. In Brea, summarized email comments are read into the record, and we also allow public comment by Zoom. The County should do so too.”
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?
Chaffee: “I have been supportive of the Office of Independent Review. Additional staffing has been authorized and will be filled in due course.”
Park: “Oversight is crucial to any local government and its agencies. The OIR is a relatively new agency. We need to invest in and empower the agency and its leadership to do its job. It falls on Supervisors to be clear in the directions that it provides to the OIR.”
Vargas: “The board should utilize the expert opinions of the Sheriff’s department, District Attorney’s office, and Probation Department on issues facing County residents, so we can work as a consolidated team to improve lives and conditions throughout the county. The funding and positions in the Office of Independent Review are sufficient.”
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?
Chaffee: “I support green energy initiatives, especially rooftop solar. In my role as a Director of Metrolink, I have encouraged the use of Bio-diesel which is a carbon free fuel.”
Park: “I voted for 100% renewable community energy choice. This decision was not easy given that it comes with $4 more monthly energy bill but a resident can opt out. A clear action plan for climate change is an investment into our future. OCPA needs to attract more cities to join.”
Vargas: “I would encourage greater voluntary use of rooftop solar panels to ease generation burden and limit peaker plant need. I support continued infrastructure projects to build EV charging stations throughout OC. I would push for more efficient scrubbers to increase power generation at the electrical power plant at Olinda Landfill.”
12. Do you believe the last presidential election was stolen?
Chaffee: “No. But Trump tried his best to do so.”
13. Do you see public corruption as a problem in Orange County? And what would you do to combat it?
Chaffee: “Public corruption is a problem and creates distrust in government and harms our democratic constitutions. The [best] tools to combat public corruption are openness and transparency. Dealing behind closed doors has led to problems. The Anaheim Angel stadium deal is an example of behind closed door dealing.”
Park: “Maintaining independence in the decision making process is important to serve the community objectively, not special interest groups. I always hold myself up to high ethical standards for good governance and expect other electeds to do the same. I’m paying close attention to developing corruption cases in North Orange County.”
Vargas: “I would provide more funding for the District Attorney’s Special Prosecutions Unit to ensure the Deputy DAs in that unit have the resources and personnel necessary to combat public corruption. I would partner with cities to enable them to contract with the OC Ethics Commission to enforce city ethics ordinances.”
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?
Chaffee: “The County is addressing the housing affordability crisis through the Orange County Housing Finance Trust. The County needs to encourage the use of public transportation and help create mobility centers which provide multiple choices of transportation.”
Park: “I support creating more good paying local jobs to help families keep or afford housing and building new housing that would fit many different needs, whether they be homes for first time home buyers, newcomers to Orange County or high-income families.”
Vargas: “I would ensure the county not increase fees because they exacerbate the already-increasing cost of living. The county should work with cities to ensure that the middle-class housing supply is increased. The county should work with OCTA and cities on road improvements, traffic synchronization, and other tools to reduce congestion.”
15. How would you deal with the noise pollution under the flight path of John Wayne Airport, which residents say is increasing?
Chaffee: “I would expand the runway so larger and quieter planes may fly out of the Orange County airport. Because the number of flights is controlled by the number of passengers, larger aircraft will result in fewer flights and less noise.”
Park: “I would start with reviewing the current ordinance and regulations, and see if those have been observed. If not, I would call for a full report on how to improve the noise pollution level.”
Vargas: “I would work with our Congressional representatives and the Federal Aviation Administration to ensure that flight path designations take into account the impact upon residents. The County currently has ten permanent noise monitoring stations; I believe we should increase that number to place them in more locations throughout Orange County.”
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?
Chaffee: “The Orange County Sanitation District is expanding the groundwater replenishment system to 130 million gallons of potable water per day. This is enough water to serve more than 1 million Orange County residents. Water conservation measures especially planting drought resistant plants are a must.”
Park: “I would partner with the water experts from the Santa Ana Watershed to implement best practices and double our efforts on community outreach and education. While OCWD has been largely protected from the MDW water restrictions, it does not mean we shouldn’t think about our long-term water security.”
Vargas: “We must continue to find even more ways to capture and utilize reclaimed water throughout the county. We should fully pursue the idea of periodic pump stations moving reclaimed water nightly from south retention ponds to north spillways to improve percolation. Supervisors must work closely with OCWD, MWDOC, Met, etc.”
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?
Chaffee: “Transfers to ICE must be done in accordance with law and should be done only when necessary for public safety reasons.”
Park: “The role of law enforcement evolves to meet the needs of its community. I support a compassionate approach to reforming immigration policy. We need to protect our immigrant communities, create an easier pathway to citizenship, and ensure we protect their rights as workers to combat the exploitation of their labor.”
Vargas: “I support the OC Sheriff’s referrals. These are County jail inmates who are being turned over to ICE. If someone has committed crimes and also is not in the country legally, they should be handed over to ICE. Taxpayers should not be paying to jail people illegally in the country.”
18. Do you support the idea of public transit? If so, what would you do to make it more appealing and effective?
Chaffee: “Public Transit needs to be made more frequent and reliable so the public will choose this form of transportation instead of individual vehicles.”
Park: “I am in favor of public transit. Widespread use is good for the environment and public health. We need to ensure that riders feel safe and encourage ridership by offering free rides to specific groups like seniors and students.”
Vargas: “Yes, I support public transit. As a County Supervisor, I would also be an Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) Director. To make public transit in Orange County more appealing and effective, OCTA should enhance its schedule and route availability to be more convenient for Orange County residents, workers, and visitors.”
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.