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Hear from the candidates vying for the 73rd Assembly District

Voters will see two Democrats and three Republicans on the March ballot for the 73rd Assembly District. The top two vote-getters, regardless of party, will go on to appear on the General Election ballot in November. To give our readers a sense of the contenders’ platforms, each candidate was asked two questions:

How should transportation agencies address South County traffic?

Bill Brough
Bill Brough, Republican: We pay four times for roads: normal taxes, Measure M County ½-cent sales tax, new SB1 gas tax, Toll Road home and business fees, then pay to drive toll roads. Why are three agencies planning South County? Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) is the county planning agency under the Public Utilities Code. OCTA is living up to its Measure M promises, like the Ortega bridge, I-5 widening, off-ramp repairs, car pool extension to Pico and current work at the El Toro choke point. The Toll Roads (the Transportation Corridor Agencies) have not built a new road in 20 years, yet continue to charge us home and business fees. Current Toll Road bond debt payments to 2050/53 is $11 billion (principal plus interest), more debt than six states. Remember, the OC bankruptcy 25 years ago was $1.2 billion. No one seems concerned about Toll Roads and $11 Billion in debt. They continue to refinance bonds, which is very profitable for some but costly to taxpayers. Toll Roads became a gravy train for local politicians who issue multimillion-dollar consulting contracts to friends. I introduced AB 1273 to return TCA to its core mission as a Toll Road operator, not planner, and was immediately attacked. Opposition wants status quo—I don’t. Tolls were not supposed to last forever or replace in perpetuity state funds. Tolls have been increased repeatedly to keep pace with expenses and debt payments—nearly 12 times on the San Joaquin corridor alone. Where is all this money going? Planning the last two decades got Toll Roads in trouble. They could not get the green alignment approved while spending millions on lobbyists and consultants. Toll Roads need to pay off debt and make the roads freeways, as was the original intent. Millions have been spent annually to build support for unpopular ideas, which seems simply to prop up Toll Roads rather than improve transportation. Our statutory agency, OCTA, needs to lead as the county planning authority. Local councilmembers also need to think about approving massive apartments on Crown Valley and hotels on busy corners like Marguerite, then complain about traffic.  
Laurie Davies
Laurie Davis, Republican: As a member of the Orange County Transportation Authority since 2017, I understand the need for infrastructure, hurdles to obtain funding, and also the need to ensure we do not tear through communities. I have supported many projects while on the board to improve mobility in South Orange County and beyond, and I can assure you I will never support a toll road through any existing neighborhood or established community, including San Clemente. While the legislature plays a minimal role in local planning decisions, I do fully understand firsthand how the intersection of city, county, state and federal funding can come together to improve our roads and bridges. I will use this knowledge to ensure South Orange County obtains the tools it needs to ensure we have credibility, a strong voice and a seat at the table to bring projects forward, as well as to stop those that might have a negative impact on our residents.  
Chris Duncan
Chris Duncan, Democrat: Transportation agencies should address South County traffic in a comprehensive way that promotes increased public transportation and accounts for changing traffic patterns and commuting trends, as established by scientific and socio-economic studies. The OCTA should take the lead as the main governmental agency tasked with developing and implementing transportation solutions that help South County communities maintain their unique character. The OCTA should collaborate with local city councils, who chiefly have South County citizens’ interests at heart, and other business, education, and environmental stakeholders. Caltrans should provide secondary financial, strategic, and logistical support for sound plans adopted by the OCTA and its partner local government agencies and officials. The TCA should not be involved in developing or delivering South County traffic mitigation efforts. The TCA was charted to build and manage the 73 and 241 toll roads, not become involved in general transportation planning.  Moreover, it has not responsibly managed its debt, which has nearly doubled since its inception, resulting in unnecessary additional toll road and developer impact fee charges on local taxpayers.  Finally, the TCA has a strong profit motive in ensuring the construction of more toll roads and toll lanes as a primary traffic mitigation option, tainting its ability to be a neutral arbiter on transportation or related development projects. If elected, I would work tirelessly to foster closer relationships between OCTA and local officials to protect our parks, schools, and open spaces from unnecessary development, ensure Caltrans and other state agencies support the OCTA’s data-based transportation mitigation plans, rather than plans promoted by entities with ulterior motives, and limit the TCA to its existing mandate by holding it accountable for the efficient management of our existing toll roads and tax payments.  
Scott Rhinehart
Scott Rhinehart, Democrat: I believe a positive step for transportation agencies in South County would be to move the needs and concerns of the commuters above the interests and concerns of developers and consultants. Like many others living in South Orange County, I have growing concerns regarding the relationship between the TCA, developers and consultants. I support Congressman Mike Levin’s call for an audit of the TCA by the State Controller’s Office. Because of my concerns, I oppose any further expansion of the toll roads here in South Orange County.  
Ed Sachs
Ed Sachs, Republican: Everybody agrees that we have a traffic problem, and no one agency has submitted a proposal yet that would earn my support. My support for a proposal is not confined to which agency brings it, but rather, the merits of the solution—does it reduce traffic significantly and how is that traffic reduction measured against community impact? The way I measure community impact is multi-faceted, but it starts with the use of eminent domain.  If people’s homes are going to be taken, that is strike one, two and three for me. Other important factors are quality of life, character of a city and the behavior of proponents or opponents to a solution. The South County cities must be consulted and involved in the process, and I believe it is vitally important to have local representation and let South County cities determine their destiny. All due respect to the Northern and Central Orange County cities, but if a South County traffic problem is going to be fixed, I want South County to be the key voice in whether or not it is approved.  

What is your plan to alleviate and remedy homelessness in South Orange County?

Brough: We need to change the homeless definition. It is not someone losing a job and the inability to afford to live in South County. The population is mentally ill, drug- and alcohol-addicted and formerly incarcerated individuals. Propositions 47 and 57 contributed to the lessening of felony crimes. The inability of cities to enforce ordinances has led to essentially legalizing vagrancy. I am proud to have worked on homeless veteran issues at the Department of Veterans Affairs while serving in the Bush Administration. While on Dana Point City Council, I asked in 2014 that we create a homeless task force. We included Family Assistance Ministries, Dana Point VFW Post 9934, Dana Point Chamber of Commerce, St. Edward the Confessor Catholic Church and Police Services on the board. In the State Assembly, I authored AB 346, along with my colleague from Anaheim, Tom Daly, which gave cities flexibility to pool financial resources to address homeless issues such as agreements for regional shelters. The County has the lead. Judge David Carter’s ruling created three zones: North, Central and South. The North is proceeding with services in Tustin. Stanton and Placentia created a facility that will be open this summer; then they will be able to enforce their zoning ordinances. There were 763 homeless individuals identified in South County, according to the 2019 Point-in-Time Count. Nothing has happened in the South other than Supervisor Lisa Bartlett proposing a homeless tent city at the Laguna Niguel Town Center that was dead on arrival. There are several county and state properties that have been identified. The county needs to identify sites, audit the individual for their needs, request for proposal (RFP) the Prop 63 mental health dollars they have collected—upwards of $200 million—and get it to the appropriate health care professionals to treat people; then cities can enforce their ordinances. These facilities will treat individuals, rather than going to emergency rooms, which is the most expensive point of health care and does not give them the appropriate care. The governor provided additional dollars in his budget and suggested state properties like fairgrounds to assist counties with a solution. I will continue to work with state and local officials to find solutions to the issue. Davies: To address the homeless issue, we need to take a look back at the issues and legislation that have created this crisis. We need to reinstate the common-sense laws that protected our communities and provided help to those that are in need instead of leaving them on the street to fend for themselves. This crisis needs more than one solution. The homeless fall into three main categories: mentally ill, financial burdens and addiction and lifestyle choice. In all cases, more family involvement should be encouraged. As President of the ACC-OC, we are working with the county, nonprofits, and private developers to build affordable permanent housing.  In addition, we have implemented efforts to provide job training for those that have taken to their car or streets due to financial burdens. There are many success stories, and we can build upon those models. No matter the diagnosis or cause of mental illness, a family network should be encouraged. But often, due to privacy laws, families and those who care are unable to help until the situation is out of control, and law enforcement is called. By that time, commitment to a hospital for 3-14 days does not stabilize the person, and the cycle repeats. Many universities, hospitals and military bases are recognizing the illness and are expanding their behavior health units. Research is being developed to “cure” some forms of mental illness. I will encourage research and development, longer-term hospitalization, as well as loosening some of the privacy laws to allow those who care to help those who need. There is no easy answer for addiction, but needle exchange programs and establishing rehab facilities in residential neighborhoods are not the answer. Again, early detection, family involvement, longer-term treatment and follow-up with licensed medical professionals in licensed facilities should be encouraged through legislation. Duncan: Homelessness is an increasing problem in South County that inhibits our ability to access and enjoy public areas, such as beaches and parks, and has left many of our most vulnerable community members with few options to gain stability, improve their lives, and obtain long-term housing.  While I am empathetic to the plight of the homeless, it is not healthy, nor sustainable for South County, to have increasing numbers of people living on the streets. Further, without clarity of their authority, law enforcement officers have had their hands tied and have been pressed into duty as social workers. The Boise decision made clear that in order for local cities to enforce anti-camping laws, there must be available lawful places to sleep. Any plan must balance the goal of assisting the homeless to find affordable or permanent supportive housing with the need to take action to preserve the safety and quality of life of our communities. With these interests in mind, I would propose a county-funded-and-managed temporary homeless shelter serving South County’s homeless population. The shelter would be located inland, where real estate is more affordable, preferably on state-owned land, and staffed with mental health professionals, substance abuse counselors, job training experts, and affordable housing representatives. Social workers would be tasked with offering temporary housing services to the diverse homeless population in South County so that they may take advantage of these resources.  Deputy Sheriffs would have the authority to take appropriate action where these options are offered but rejected. Again, the goal of this effort would be to put vulnerable people back on their feet, but it would also empower communities to protect the integrity of their businesses, transportation hubs, beaches, parks, and other public areas. As our state assembly representative, I would lead this initiative and hold myself accountable for its success. I would bring Orange County and South County officials together to identify and allow the creation of a temporary homeless shelter that would serve all of South County. This collaborative, pragmatic approach is the best way to build the widespread support needed to move the project forward. Conversely, state-mandated, top-down requirements and quotas imposed on South County cities are the wrong approach. Such mandates unfairly penalize South County cities for being attractive places for homeless people to travel to and reside in, and they do not account for cities’ budget constraints or local interests. Rhinehart: First, there is no “my plan” to alleviate and remedy homelessness in South Orange County, the state or the nation. Homelessness requires an “our plan” to address the contributing factors leading to the increase in our homeless population and to begin solving this public health crisis. An increase in Federal Housing Programs, permanent supportive housing and enhanced housing first initiatives would all be major steps in solving our homeless crisis. Locally, it should not have taken an emergency request by a U. S. District judge to shame us into action here in Orange County. I look forward to working with local, state and federal representatives to move solutions forward. Sachs: Like in any crisis, we need to triage the problem—break it up into parts. That has been the flaw in our approach to date; we’re looking for one-size-fits-all solutions to a very complicated issue. First, no shipping homeless from one place to another; if homeless populations form in certain areas, there is a reason for that, and moving people masks the reason why that population formed in the first place. Second, I don’t believe we will ever build enough housing or spend enough money on support services to fix this problem. While compassion is an ingredient in the solution, it is not the sole solution. We must stop coddling the entire homeless population and differentiate between a homeless child or veteran dealing with PTSD versus those with poor life choices that engage in street crime. Prop 47 was fraudulently passed with a deceptive ballot title (much like the gas tax, Prop 57 and soon-to-be Prop 13) and is undoubtedly a major contributing factor to the surge in street drugs and homeless we have experienced locally. We must make these incredibly harmful street drugs felonies again, as w The South County cities must be consulted and involved in the process, and I believe it is vitally important to have local representation and let South County cities determine their destiny. All due respect to the Northern and Central Orange County cities, but if a South County traffic problem is going to be fixed, I want South County to be the key voice in whether or not it is approved. ell as the street crime that feeds the habit. With the threat of a felony district attorneys can mandate people into treatment early on before their addiction becomes next to impossible to defeat. I feel our current representation in the Assembly has done far too little to address these issues, and if I receive the honor of representing South County in the Assembly, I will immediately draft legislation to make repeat street crime a felony again and will increase the severity of punishment for drug use and sales near schools, parks, beaches and in residential neighborhoods. California’s Primary Election is March 3.

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