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Introduction by Managing Editor Shawn Raymundo
Vote-by-mail ballots have begun to hit constituents’ mailboxes this week as California’s Primary Election is less than a month away. In an effort to give our readers more insight into the slate of candidates vying for seats in major local elected offices, we’ve given those running an opportunity to respond to some questions related to issues impacting South Orange County.
Every district-area candidate seeking office in the State Senate and Assembly, Orange County Board and U.S. House of Representatives was given three questions and asked for 400-word responses to each.
Some candidates did not submit responses to our questions. Space for their responses was left blank.
What are your thoughts on the availability of homeless shelter beds in South County? Could more be done to improve availability? If so, what solutions would you propose as a Board Supervisor to 1) provide more shelter space, and 2) facilitate the development of permanent supportive housing—either locally, by city, or regionally? If not through shelter or housing—permanent supportive, affordable, or otherwise—what alternatives would you support to address the ongoing homelessness crisis?
OC Board Supervisor Katrina Foley*
I’ve long believed the county’s failure to take responsibility for the regional issue of homelessness has exacerbated the problem. Past county leaders left individual cities to figure out how to fund shelters and services with their scarce general funds, instead of the county using the funding it receives annually for homelessness solutions. The county continues to struggle to assign regular patrols and clear encampments in its flood channels and parks, forcing cities to tackle the issue. Immediately after joining the board, I initiated a first-of-its-kind audit of all county dollars spent on homelessness to assess what is working, cut wasteful spending, and find solutions for our entire region. As the OC Register reported, my April Investigative Hearing on Homelessness made findings of the audit public, which concluded that, “unless the County creates a comprehensive countywide strategy focused on lasting solutions, (we) may be stuck on a hamster wheel: solving the same problems over and over, community by community.”
When reelected, I’ll finish crafting the strategic plan with regional metrics and goals to end this crisis, while also building on my previous success of reducing homelessness by converting dilapidated, unsafe motels into permanent supportive housing for veterans and families, and continue funding the clearing of encampments in parks and flood channels. A regional collaborative approach requires public safety, mental health social workers, public health, our faith-based community, and a true city-county partnership.
Former Assemblymember Diane Harkey
South OC does not have a comprehensive approach to address homelessness—yet. Solutions will not happen if we wait on Sacramento to act on legislation that is national or statewide that may not be practical for South OC. While we welcome options for temporary shelters, converting motels or other units into permanent shelters wouldn’t be optimal in high-tourist beach areas. We know what works for Orange County, which has built a System of Care and a broad response plan. The OC Housing Finance Trust was formed to identify and secure 2,700 permanent supportive housing units, with six projects underway in SOC that I will shepherd to completion. Additionally, we must expand support for nonprofits such as the Family Assistance Ministries (FAM) that provide temporary and permanent shelters in SOC at present and offer intake assessments for countywide homeless assistance. FAM also operates a food bank in San Clemente and thrift store in Laguna Niguel. FAM will need to relocate their intake and foodbank facility within the next year due to expiration of a leased facility in San Clemente. One housing model is to purchase existing multi-family units through contributions, grants and mortgages, which they retire. They presently own two triplexes and house those with children who need temporary assistance, one family per bedroom with the common area shared. I’ve toured these facilities, and units are in excellent repair, meld into the neighborhood and have on-site supervision. Within 90 days, these families are relocated into rental housing and within a year, families are paying full market rent and back on their feet again. FAM also works to secure permanent housing for mentally ill and disabled and elderly persons. (See: familyassistance.org)
Illumination Foundation is a comprehensive resource nonprofit organization that we can and do leverage to assist in SOC. Be Well OC provides mental health assistance and mobile response teams for addiction and mental illness. Working with the cities, I will help secure location(s) that meets the court mandate for our Southern region, ensure the county is available to provide wraparound integrated services for care. I will explore options within our district for a central facility such that the burden on the cities is relieved as much as possible. We should not be subjected to illegal camping in our parks, beaches, alleys, or business locations. We can and will do better to meet the requirements for relocation and supporting our communities.
Newport Beach Councilmember Kevin Muldoon
Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, and Laguna Beach have regional shelter beds dedicated to their homeless shelter needs. The County of Orange has an adequate number of homeless shelter beds required to address the needs of the remaining South County cities, but the county’s Yale Navigation Center has temporarily limited their capacity out of health concerns. Lifting those restrictions will immediately increase shelter space and provide sufficient shelter beds for South County.
State Sen. Patricia Bates
Cities have the responsibility to determine where housing is allowed in their community. While on the Laguna Niguel City Council, the Board of Supervisors and as your state senator, I have always been an advocate for local control. I will advocate with the county to work with South County cities to look at commercial and industrial land within their jurisdictions that is no longer occupied, and appropriately rezone those sites to build affordable mixed-used housing and emergency housing, ensuring those developments are placed in appropriate areas and have the support of neighboring properties. I will work with our County Planning and Public Works Department to advocate for waiving or lowering the fee structures for projects aimed at providing affordable housing. Accountability is key to determine best practices, and which approaches to ending homelessness have worked. Given the state has spent $17 billion to date and the problem has grown, I support auditing those programs to determine which ones move forward.
Orange County has seen a sharp rise in fentanyl-related deaths and overdoses over the past few years, with a reported 636 deaths in 2021. AB 1955, which proposes to increase penalties for those caught dealing fentanyl, is making its way through the state legislature. Locally, what should the county and the Board do to dramatically reduce the illicit sale and use of this drug?
As mayor of Costa Mesa and now as your county supervisor, I’ve advocated for and voiced my concerns about fentanyl overdose, poisoning, and abuse in Orange County. Fentanyl kills indiscriminately and dealers target our youth with counterfeit prescription drugs like Xanax and other opioids. As a mom, I’ve mourned with mothers whose children were victims of this sinister and illicit drug practice. As supervisor, I’ve led the board to sponsor legislation in Sacramento that would hold fentanyl dealers accountable, and locally our approach to the fentanyl crisis must prioritize treatment, while also targeting traffickers and holding them responsible. In March of this year, I hosted an investigative hearing on the fentanyl and addiction crisis alongside Sheriff Don Barnes. According to Sheriff Barnes, “One of the greatest travesties is when people get medical treatment for addiction and sober up while in jail, only to be released and fall back into old habits because there’s no post-custody, sustainable treatment system.” In their coverage of my hearing, the OC Register said, “Studies have shown that people have a much better chance of getting sober in public treatment programs, which are required to take a medical approach to addiction, than they are at the private programs so ubiquitous in Southern California.” Let’s be clear, Sacramento has continued to fail Orange County, especially when it comes to the proliferation of illegal sober living homes in our quiet residential neighborhoods. For years, unscrupulous group home operators profited while patients suffered, exacerbated the addiction crisis, and defrauded insurance companies. Despite countless safety infractions that drain public safety resources, operators maintain their state licenses. But instead of just blaming Sacramento, we solved the problem locally. As mayor, I helped craft the first legal strategy to defend reasonable regulations and prosecute these bad actors who refuse to comply. The courts continue to rule in favor of the city’s regulations and the legal ordinance has proven to protect our neighborhoods from overconcentration. While on the board, I’ve brought our groundbreaking ordinances countywide; Newport Beach is set to implement a similar ordinance soon, and will be meeting with mayors from all 34 cities to discuss creating a model ordinance for their cities.
Proposing legislation and waiting for Sacramento to act is futile—we must expand on what works locally to keep OC safe. Multiple efforts over the past five years on the part of our sheriff and law enforcement in general with OC legislators to strengthen our laws have failed in Senate Public Safety Committee. The sheriff recently commented that “rather than pass a law that will help end this drug epidemic, they chose to further policies that empower drug cartels at the expense of California lives.” Nonetheless, the department is working with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and local police departments to arrest and file criminal cases against those who sell fentanyl-laced drugs in Orange County. The Sheriff’s Department also formed Stay Safe OC that supplies law enforcement teams to track the illicit sellers of fentanyl, as well as educate on the dangers and methods of exposure to the drug for our kids and adults.
The District Attorney’s Narcotics Enforcement Team investigates and prosecutes illicit drug sellers, applying felony enhancements and murder charges for trafficking fentanyl. We have a good team in Orange County, and they need help that won’t come from Sacramento. Our porous borders will only increase the threat to our citizens. We must encourage the current Administration to take action to protect the border in California, as well as other border states. The present inaction means that we must do more locally to combat the cartels. Reports are that fentanyl imported from China to Mexican drug cartels is then processed to create fentanyl-laced pills, which are very easy to transport. Combating this killer street drug will require additional public safety funding and personnel, which I will promote based on need and metrics of success that we are witnessing. We must supply our local boots on the ground with the ammunition they need to fight this war that is killing our children and adults, many that are duped and ingesting fentanyl by accident. This is often not a choice, but a criminal solicitation online or other that kills the innocent, and we must do all we can to combat this plague.
Fentanyl overdose has recently become the No. 1 killer of young adults aged 21-40, and it is an extremely serious issue that we need to address as a community. Raising awareness and aggressively prosecuting drug dealers should be a common goal. The county should continue to direct law enforcement resources toward the prosecution of drug sales, with an emphasis on going after drug dealers. In my opinion, dedicating financial resources to assist the sheriff and district attorney is the most effective way to target large-scale drug trafficking organizations. Unfortunately, the current border crisis is another contributing factor that is yet to be realized.
In partnership with Sheriff Don Barnes, I introduced several bills that would add fentanyl to the list of dangerous drugs, like cocaine, which are subject to enhanced penalties based on weight for those who sell or distribute fentanyl. Sentence enhancements are not supported in our State Legislature. However, there is support for my SB 904, which requires more comprehensive education on the dangers of drug use and abuse for those individuals who are serving time or on probation for drug trafficking. As a policymaker, I understand we must target the drug traffickers and those profiting off the death of our loved ones. Sheriff Barnes and District Attorney Spitzer will have my full support to implement SB 904, and we will continue to work collaboratively to reverse the rise in fentanyl deaths in our county by continuing our effort to have stronger penalties for those who participate in illicit drug trafficking.
Sea-level rise as a result of climate change is impacting Orange County’s coastal cities, largely threatening infrastructure, residential communities, and local economies. While such cities are looking to address these matters with their own Local Coastal Programs as required by the state, what efforts should the County Board be taking to offer protection of our coastal resources?
Between unmanageable wildfires and the collapse of our coastline, we must take immediate action to prevent future economic catastrophe and loss of our livelihoods due to climate change. In my first year on the board, I’ve defended our coastal communities by reducing pollution from John Wayne Airport, led the emergency response on the Orange County oil spill, successfully advocated for sand replenishment funding, and began creating the first Climate Action plan in county history—an approach that will ensure future generations enjoy our Orange County paradise. I am the only candidate endorsed by the Orange County League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club, firefighters, and climate advocates, because they know I have made inroads in the county to prevent the adverse impacts of climate change from decimating our communities. This month, I brought forward a proposal to prohibit the purchase and use of styrofoam in county facilities. I encourage you to go to the County Board website and submit public comments supporting this proposal, which is a necessary step in the fight against climate change.
Senate Bill 1 was passed in 2020 with grant money for revised Local Coastal Program for municipalities. To date, few if any submitted revised LCPs have been approved by the Coastal Commission. The rejections have indicated the plans don’t go far enough.
As your supervisor, I will help our cities meet Local Coastal Program solutions with an eye toward limiting the “managed retreat” option. Property owners should not have their property under threat of another form of eminent domain. Stormwater management, retrofitting and/or elevating existing structures and where necessary, updating land use designations and zoning, are options that must be weighed carefully to protect property ownership. I will promote and work with the state, federal and county to secure funding and work with stakeholders to preserve our coastline, which provides local, as well as tourist enjoyment and revenue. Seal Beach and San Clemente have secured federal funding for sand replenishment, and we need to further explore this option where practical. Reinforcing existing revetments should also be part of the solution. Where revetments are in place, it makes economic sense to maintain them for property owners, as well as public transportation, streets and railroad tracks that may be impacted, such as the tracks linking our county with San Diego. There have been recent approvals in San Diego County for revetment repair. The living shoreline, where sand dunes and plants to help secure the shoreline, should also be implemented where practical. I will also continue work to expand options to protect our beaches and parks that have or may be impacted, such as Capistrano Beach. We need to ensure there is beach access for the public, which was and still is the mission of the Coastal Commission, in addition to protecting the coastline. I will have a member seat on OCTA and will work with Caltrans, OC Parks, State and City Parks that dot our district to ensure resolutions are compatible with our residents and agency budgets. We also must work toward relocation of the nuclear waste at San Onofre. I will continue the efforts of our current supervisor, Lisa Bartlett, and Supervisor Jim Desmond in San Diego, who have worked collaboratively with elected officials and the community to pursue temporary or permanent storage for San Onofre, as well as 75 operating or shut-down nuclear power plants in 33 states with stored waste, which grows by about 2,000 metric tons each year.
The county should be working with coastal cities to lobby for our tax dollars to be returned from Washington to be used for ongoing sand replenishment projects. The recent granting of $15.5 million to replenish Huntington Beach and $9.3 million to replenish San Clemente is a good start.
In 2020, I authored SB 1090 with the help of my friend, Dr. Pat Davis, after his wife, daughter and sister-in-law were killed in the Encinitas bluff collapse in San Diego County. Orange County’s Fifth District represents the majority of Orange County’s beach communities, and a broad range of strategies should be available to those cities to combat erosion. Our coastal communities need options. Included in SB 1090 is flexibility for toes, seawalls, drainage systems, erosion-resistant landscaping and notch infills. The California Coastal Commission’s “managed retreat” policy of forcing families out of their homes is draconian. Not only is it expensive for the taxpayers, it does not address the underlying issue of erosion. Bluff safety is crucial to save lives and preserve beach access, which is an integral part of the Fifth District’s economy and way of life. Over the next several years, the board will have the opportunity to apply for SB 1 funds, which will provide $100 million annually to local governments as a significant funding resource to protect coastal homes from coastal bluff collapses, provide for sand replenishment to save beaches, and protect vulnerable infrastructure such as our coastal rail lines and roadways. As a supervisor, I will strongly advocate for those funds.