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Orange County Approves $3 Million Homeless Prevention Pilot Program

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Orange County Supervisors are moving forward with a new pilot program to help stop people from getting evicted or pushed into homelessness by giving them extra cash that they say could help 200 households. 

While evictions almost completely stopped during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic due to a statewide ban on evictions, they dramatically increased in 2022 according to a study by the nonprofit OC United Way. 

That report showed over 3,000 people were evicted from their homes in Orange County in 2022 alone, with cities like Fullerton, Anaheim and Placentia seeing more than 1 in 100 of their renters evicted in just that year. 

But the new county program wouldn’t be aimed at people already on the street, instead sending financial assistance to people “at risk of homelessness or experiencing a housing crisis,” if they fell behind on rent, utility bills and other similar expenses. 

To qualify, residents must be making less than 30% of the county’s average median income, which would be around $36,000 a year per household according to the US Census Bureau, or show they’re in the process of getting evicted, with seniors and single parents getting priority registration. 

The new program was put forward by county Supervisor Vicente Sarmiento, who also agreed to fund half the program’s $3 million cost out of the discretionary spending he receives for his district as a county supervisor. 

By the end of the county’s fiscal year in June, nearly $1 billion will have been spent on homelessness in just the last seven years according to a report from Sarmiento’s office.

He also said it’s time to start doing to stop people from entering homelessness. 

“The goal of the Homelessness Prevention and Stabilization Pilot Program is to keep individuals and families in their homes,” Sarmiento wrote in a memo to the rest of the board. “The expected program enrollment for households will be twelve-months, based upon need and evaluated on a quarterly basis.” 

The money would be split up between 200 households, with a cap of nearly $11,000 that each person could receive over the next year for late rent and utility bills along with other support like purchasing groceries. 

Robert Morse, a member of the county’s Commission to End Homelessness, said programs like this could’ve saved him from losing his home years ago. 

“If this plan had been in effect when I went homeless for 10 years, it would’ve saved the taxpayers of this county over $1 million,” Morse said to the board during Tuesday’s public comment period. “That’s all I’m going to say. Save some money.”  

Currently, the program is only funded for one year, but Sarmiento said he hopes to make it a permanent offering and use the data from the first year’s results to change how it looks going forward. 

But there are still some big questions over what the future of the program would look like, including who would be hired to run it. 

Douglas Becht, director of the county’s Office of Care Coordination, said that while his office helped draw up the framework for the rental assistance program, they didn’t have the staff to run it and noted that they weren’t sure if it would work. 

“There’s been several studies that help us get an understanding of how households are falling into homelessness,” Becht said. “The pilot will help either validate that or show us that number might not hit the mark.”

Until a contractor is hired, it’s unclear how much of the program’s $3 million budget will be spent purely on administering the funds. 

County Supervisor Don Wagner, who approved the program along with the rest of the board, also brought up concerns on how the board would decide if the program was a success or not and raised concerns that the money might just flow into landlords’ pockets. 

“When government makes money available, it gets spent,” Wagner said. “I want to make sure this goes to help people rather than go to folks who go ‘Hey, there’s more money out in the system, I’ve got this niche, I can jack up my prices.’”  

“We’ve got to be careful just making money available for good reasons,” he continued. “If it doesn’t come with the close attention it gets sopped up and does not, to my mind, always serve the purpose it’s intended to serve.” 

•••

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mrobold
45 days ago
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Orange County, California
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Santana: Anaheim Offers Key Lessons on How To Clean Up a City Hall

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This past year, city politicians in Anaheim offered up a clinic on how to clean up a city hall.

Largely by avoiding it. 

Yet paying attention to what the local elected class fought during the year offers key insights into what goes into a clean city hall.

It’s something for residents to consider for the New Year – especially after a civic awakening of sorts, which saw scores of residents and different activist groups band together and demand reforms in Anaheim. 

Members of the newly formed non-partisan group, CUAC (Clean Up Anaheim Coalition) and residents of Anaheim meet at the steps of Anaheim City hall for a press conference on July 12, 2022. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

It comes in a city where investigators allege high-level Anaheim officials were on board to keep as much as $100 million out of the general fund once resort bonds are paid off in a town where nearly half of the residents are on a public health plan

[Read: How Disneyland Resort Interests Planned to Withhold Tax Money from Anaheim’s Working Class]

Investigators say the plan, spearheaded by the Chamber of Commerce, was presented in a secret December 2020 retreat attended by at least two council members, lobbyists, disgraced former Mayor Harry Sidhu and Disney’s chief representative to city hall – Carrie Nocella. 

Restricting Officials From Voting on Projects Connected to Donors

Right from the outset of the scandal arising out of an explosive FBI affidavit detailing how Disneyland resort interests exert undue influence at city hall, Anaheim City Council members were challenged to reign in campaign spending by special interests. 

In Anaheim, those interests overwhelmingly dominate local campaigns by flooding mailboxes and social media during elections, helping them consistently elect politicians who lean heavily their way.

The biggest spenders in the city? 

Political action committees financially supported by the resort – especially Disney. 

[Read: Will Mickey Mouse Continue to Cast a Big Shadow Over Anaheim’s Election Campaigns?]
Right after the FBI corruption probe was first made public, many residents demanded city council members to adopt restrictions on support from political action committees.

Residents, activists and community members rally for city hall reform in Anaheim on Aug. 15, 2023. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Now, that presents constitutional challenges no doubt as restrictions can infringe on people’s – and corporations like Disney – ability to freely express their political opinions as protected by our cherished First Amendment.

However, Anaheim’s city attorney made it pretty clear from the outset that while city officials can’t restrict people from donating to campaigns, they can restrict officials from voting on projects where they have received support.

Despite that, Anaheim skipped any kind of campaign finance reform since the scandal kicked off in May 2022 –  instead kicking it several times, this most recent time to next year.

[Read: What Could Campaign Finance Reform Look Like in Two OC Cities?]

A simple, constitutionally consistent reform is restricting officials from voting for projects that benefit their donors for a certain period of time – like a year after receiving the financial support.

So far, city council members have resisted it like a choke hold.

That says everything the public needs to do about how effective that kind of reform could be. 

Implementing Gift Bans

Another key reform – already in place at the County of Orange – is to not allow city officials or local politicians to accept any gifts from those doing business with the government. 

County officials are under a $5 threshold, which pretty much keeps them to a cup of coffee.

Shirley Grindle, a principal author of the county’s 1978 campaign ordinance known as TIN CUP, earlier this year told Anaheim city council members that kind of reform would go a long way toward cleaning up city hall because it prompts an open government culture. 

Yet judging from how much Anaheim city council members love their thousands of dollars in free tickets to Angels games and events at the Honda Center, it’s pretty clear that the freebies have an impact. 

[Read: Anaheim’s Free Tickets Increasingly Go to Nonprofits, But Insiders Still Benefit]

The Los Angels of Anaheim play the Houston Astros at Angel Stadium Sept. 28, 2019. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Monitoring Public Calendars

One of the only reforms that all Anaheim city council members seemed open to adopting this last year was publishing their calendars, showing who they meet with.

[Read: Anaheim Officials to Publicly Post Online Who They Meet With]

Yet with calendars, the main challenge is to have politicians actually fully fill out who they are meeting with. 

Making calendars public is something that no local city hall or the county supervisors do.

That tells you again that there’s something to that.

Registering Lobbyists

It’s not just tracking who city council members meet with to have an idea of influence peddling at your local city hall. 

Keeping an eye on paid, professional advocates and who they meet with can give the public a really good idea of what’s coming down the pike at city hall.

That’s why Anaheim officials fought increasing registration requirements at city hall all year.

One of the few reforms adopted – yet to be implemented – is requiring any employee of a company whose job includes the influencing of officials to register as a lobbyist. 

By most accounts that will likely apply to Disney’s governmental relations head – Carrie Nocella – at Anaheim City Hall in the New Year. 

It would be the first time Disney has had to register a lobbyist in the city.

[Read: Disney’s Representative Could Soon be Considered a Lobbyist at Anaheim City Hall]

Tracking Public Cell Phones

Anaheim City Spokesman Mike Lyster on Dec. 6, 2022. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

An interesting twist that appeared in the wake of the FBI corruption probe in Anaheim was the use of private cell phones by city officials – like Public Information Officer Mike Lyster. 

When city-hired independent investigators wanted to find out what was really happening at Anaheim city hall, they asked to see Lyster’s text messages and inspect his cellphone records.

He refused.

City council members later that year adopted a rule that city employees had to start using cell phones publicly issued so when questions about city communications came up, it would be possible to measure what’s actually happening. 

[Read: Anaheim Tightens Electronic Device Policy After Probe Finds Disregard for Records Law]

While council members voted to approve the restriction, the use of personal cell phones seems to continue. 

Voice of OC this month asked for a record of text messages between Lyster and a city council member Natalie Rubalcava after he sent a statement on behalf of Rubalcava to questions about her private life, in this case the termination of her employment with State Assemblyman Avelino Valencia. 

[Read: Anaheim City Councilwoman Natalie Rubalcava Quietly Out as State Assemblyman’s District Director]

We’ll have to wait until the New Year to see if the public really has access to those conversations. 

Fueling Ethics Watchdogs

In one of their last meetings, Anaheim city council members did agree to appoint an ethics watchdog – someone who could keep track of lobbyist registrations, public record requests and campaign finance filings. 

[Read: Can an Ethics Officer Restore Trust in Anaheim After the FBI Corruption Scandal?]

Yet unlike the County of Orange, where the ethics watchdog comes under a commission appointed by supervisors, Anaheim kept their ethics watchdog on a leash held by the city attorney’s office. 

Anaheim city politicians resisted any effort to create a commission, ostensibly terrified by the potential of a political debate – much less the oversight – that one could trigger. 

While Politicians Sleep, Residents Wake Up 

While a majority of Anaheim City Council members were largely resistant – or downright against – many reforms, young people and various activist groups like OCCORD and Chispa have been coalescing to demand changes at City Hall. 

OCCORD, or Orange County Communities for Responsible Development, held a series of town halls after the city-commissioned corruption report was released over the summer. 

[Read: Can Anaheim Residents Really Turn Their City Hall Around?]

Throughout three panels, OCCORD gave a rundown on major findings in the corruption report – with residents like Cynthia Ward and Jeanine Robbins, along with former elected officials Tom Tait, Denise Barnes and Jose Moreno giving their insights on City Hall and how it could be fixed. 

Former Mayor Tom Tait (left), Activist Jeanine Robbins (center) and Former City Councilman Jose Moreno (right) speak at the OCCORD Sept. 21 forum on corruption in Anaheim. Credit: Hosam Elattar / VOICE OF OC

The entire city council was invited to the panels but only Councilwoman Norma Campos Kurtz showed up. 

The nonprofit also conducted an online survey amid the town hall sessions to get input on the type of changes and reforms residents want to see happen at city hall.

Read the findings of the survey and a report on the sessions here.

•••

Since you’ve made it this far,

You obviously care about local news and value good journalism. Help us become 100% reader funded with a tax deductible donation. For as little as $5 a month you can help us reach that goal.

Voice of OC is Orange County's nonprofit newsroom. We rely on donations from people like you to sustain our news agency. Please make a contribution today: https://voiceofoc.org/donate

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mrobold
59 days ago
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Orange County, California
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Huntington Beach Nixes Black History Month, Other Ethnic Celebrations

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Huntington Beach City Council members are throwing out their recognition of many ethnic heritage celebrations and replacing them with what one state senator called a “whitewashed revisionist history” celebration schedule. 

Council members are removing celebrations of Black History Month in February, Women’s History Month in March, and other similar celebrations going forward with officials writing the celebrations should be free of identity politics, according to the staff report.

“I’ve been amazed to learn just how much of our rich history I was unaware of,” said Councilman Casey McKeon from the dais on Tuesday night. ​“We wanted to focus on 12 themes a year instead of dozens to help city staff get on the same page.”

State Senator Dave Min (D-Irvine) called the proposal “embarrassing and shameful,” in a statement Monday on X, the social media website formerly known as Twitter.

“This is a disgraceful departure from the ideals we should be championing and once again illustrates that this particular HB City Council is more interested in earning cheap headlines than actually addressing the issues affecting the lives of Surf City residents,” he wrote.

The council’s Republican majority backed the changes Tuesday night, while the Democratic minority voted against the move.

What Stays & What Goes? 

The proposal will establish a new appointed panel to lay out a 12-month history program for the city.

Some of the potential themes include “the Revolutionary and Civil War” month in August and “Black Gold Jubilee – Honoring the Discovery of Oil” month in November.  

“All monthly themes hosted by the City must be included in this approved twelve-month program and will therefore repeal and supersede all such monthly themes/celebrations previously approved by Council,” reads the staff report.

The council’s minority questioned why those celebrations were being thrown out, and wondered why this was a focus of the city council. 

City Councilman Dan Kalmick said the proposal had nothing to do with public policy, called the calendar a “Eagle Scout project” and said it would effectively kill many celebrations geared towards minorities.

“We have deficits we’re going to need to address. We have a homeless issue that we still need to address.  We have a lot of big issues and this is the number one thing we came out with?” Kalmick said, comparing it to his child’s fourth grade project.

“This is not something we should be doing.”

Councilwoman Rhonda Bolton also questioned why the city couldn’t include their past celebrations with the council’s new ones going forward. 

“Why does it have to be either the proposed calendar or the existing commemorations?” Bolton asked. “The fact that those are being left out of this proposal says something. That sends a message to the community.”

McKeon and the Republican majority defended their proposal, saying it didn’t detract from their work on public policy and that events like Black History Month could always be reintroduced later on. 

“I totally think you’re over complicating it,” McKeon said. “That doesn’t preclude it from happening next year.” 

Mayor Gracey Van Der Mark called for a recognition of the Holocaust in January, but other months like Women’s History Month, Pride Month and Black History Month were ultimately left out of the 2024 calendar. 

Councilman Tony Strickland called for a recognition of Juneteenth.

The move also didn’t pick up support from the city’s Historic Resources Board, which wasn’t consulted about the new process and won’t be the governing body deciding what history months move ahead. 

Kathie Schey, the chair of the Historic Resources Board, resigned at Tuesday night’s meeting, saying the council’s decision was a “clear vote of no confidence.” 

“I was thunderstruck when I received a copy of the current agenda,” Schey said during public comment. “God knows I’m all about celebrating history, but this is just peculiar.”  

Previous Votes Raise Questions 

This is not the first vote the council’s Republican majority has taken that has sparked local outrage on what role cities should play in celebrating local diversity. 

The Huntington Beach City Council majority essentially banned flying the LGBTQ+ Pride Flag and a host of other flags on government property in February by restricting it to only city, state, national and prisoner of war banners.

The majority also voted earlier this year to disband the city’s Human Relations committee – aimed at combating hate crimes and incidents.

At a different meeting, they also voted to eliminate any mention of hate crimes in the Human Dignity policy.

[Read: HB City Council Majority Censures Natalie Moser; Removes Hate Crime Condemnation]

Tuesday’s decision comes months after a report by Groundswell – formerly known as the OC Human Relations Council – found an uptick in hate crimes and incidents across the county with the brunt of that being directed at the Black, Jewish and LGBTQ+ communities.

[Read: New Report Shows Hate Crimes and Incidents Continue Increasing in Orange County]

It also comes amid a national debate that is playing at local school districts on how U.S. and world history should be taught through ethnic studies courses.

Councilman Pat Burns pointed out that other more popular events, such as Women’s History Month and Pride Month, were already being celebrated elsewhere. 

“It is being celebrated,” Burns said.

Kalmick interjected:

“Just not by Huntington Beach.”  

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at nbiesiada@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

•••

Since you’ve made it this far,

You obviously care about local news and value good journalism. Help us become 100% reader funded with a tax deductible donation. For as little as $5 a month you can help us reach that goal.

Voice of OC is Orange County's nonprofit newsroom. We rely on donations from people like you to sustain our news agency. Please make a contribution today: https://voiceofoc.org/donate

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mrobold
66 days ago
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Not a day goes by, it seems, where I am not reminded to be thankful I don't live in such a cartoonishly stupid city.
Orange County, California
freeAgent
61 days ago
I would be embarrassed to live in Huntington Beach. I'm happy to live in a normal city where only 1/3 of the city council are complete assholes and it's primarily just the cops who are racist.
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Disney’s Representative Could Soon be Considered a Lobbyist at Anaheim City Hall

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Disney’s Director of External Affairs, Carrie Nocella, could soon have to register as a lobbyist for the first time at Anaheim City Hall in the wake of one of the biggest corruption scandals to rock Orange County.

The Fall of Reform

Corruption probes in Anaheim are triggering tough ethics discussions across OC and Southern California. Will reform follow?

A scandal that touches on Disneyland and a host of other resort interests.

The move comes months after city-hired independent investigators echoed in a corruption report released in July what FBI agents concluded in sworn affidavits last year: city hall is essentially controlled by lobbyists and Disneyland resort interests.

Mayor Ashleigh Aitken, along with Councilwoman Natalie Rubalcava, spearheaded the reform, including applying it to in-house lobbying activity, which could mean Disney has to register Nocella as a lobbyist. 

“Whatever your title is, if you spend most of your time advocating and trying to influence public officials, I believe that you should have to register,” Aitken said at Tuesday’s meeting. 

Anaheim City Council members voted 5-2 to bolster their lobbyist registration ordinance as part of a series of reform proposals they’ve debated this fall to address the continued fallout of a corruption scandal that surfaced more than a year and a half ago.

Councilmembers Jose Diaz and Natalie Meeks – both who benefited from independent campaign expenditures from a committee largely funded by Disney – opposed the reform. 

It’s one of the biggest overhauls elected officials have made to City Hall in the fallout of the corruption scandal.

So far, officials have decided to post their meeting calendars online, voted to create an ethics officer position at city hall whose responsibilities are yet to be finalized, and required city officials and staff to use government phones and devices to conduct city business.

Tuesday marks the third time Anaheim officials have debated reforming the lobbyist ordinance since the corruption report released in July, painting a picture of loose oversight of lobbyists at city hall – including potential criminal violations.

In all three debates, Disney and Nocella were never explicitly mentioned by council members.

[Read: Will Disney’s Representative Have to Register as a Lobbyist at Anaheim City Hall?]

“This is going to be an important step and it is going to be showing the residents of Anaheim that we take the lessons learned from the past several years seriously,” Aitken said.

Aitken’s father, Wylie Aitken, chairs Voice of OC’s Board of Directors.

Anaheim Mayor Ashleigh Aitken speaking at the 2023 Anaheim State of the City address on May 23, 2023. Credit: ERIKA TAYLOR, Voice of OC

Tuesday’s decision comes one day after the nonprofit Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD) released the results of a community survey that showed 96% of about 100 respondents want city officials to reform the way lobbying is conducted in the city.

Pushback on Reform

Meeks and Diaz opposed the changes, arguing they were too complicated and that a newly approved policy this month to publish council members’ calendars online lets residents know who they’re meeting with.

“What more transparency are we getting from this lobbying provision that we’re not getting with making our calendars public?” Meeks said at Tuesday’s meeting. “I am just very concerned that we are duplicating efforts and costs for our residents, and then creating conflicts between those efforts, because they’re not structured the same.”

Meeks received over half a million dollars in campaign support from Disney’s chief political spending arm – the Support Our Anaheim Resort political action committee – in last year’s election.

Councilwoman Natalie Meeks during her inauguration on Dec. 6, 2022. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Craig Steele, a former city attorney for Seal Beach who was brought in to help the council review its current policy, said at Tuesday’s meeting that the ordinance would only expand the current rules to in-house lobbyists who have to follow similar rules in other cities.

“Having dealt with this issue for a number of years in-house lobbyists know what the rules are,” Steele said. “Those people know how to comply and they won’t be surprised by any of the language that we’ve added.”

Steele also said that the new language helps clarify what lobbying looks like.

“I suspect you have been under-reported for a long time in this city, because the definition of lobbying was so vague,” Steele said.

Lobbyist Reform in Anaheim

Besides requiring in-house lobbyists to register, the proposed ordinance also requires an annual audit of at least 20% of lobbying activity in the city, as well as banning lobbyists from working as council aides for at least a year after they stop their lobbying activities.

The proposal also excludes labor union negotiators from having to report as a lobbyist.

Councilman Stephen Faessel pushed back on that exclusion, arguing that all lobbyists should be treated the same and threatened not to vote for the reform if it remained included in the ordinance.

“They do exactly what other lobbyists do,” Faessel said. “I don’t think it’s fair to the rest of the lobbyists. I don’t think it’s fair that we take one group and say no King’s X you get a pass and everybody else doesn’t. I don’t think that’s fair. We either look at lobbyists together completely the same, or we don’t.”

Residents, activists and community members rally for city hall reform in Anaheim on Aug. 15, 2023. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Councilwoman Rubalcava said she would not support the ordinance if the exclusion for labor negotiators was not included.

“Our employee unions should be treated differently when it comes to their MOU’s,” Rubalcava said at Tuesday’s meeting. “I would hate for you to put me in a position that has me vote no on this lobbying ordinance because you’re going to go back on what the majority Council recommended.”

Faessel ultimately voted in favor of the lobbyist reform.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

•••

Since you’ve made it this far,

You obviously care about local news and value good journalism. Help us become 100% reader funded with a tax deductible donation. For as little as $5 a month you can help us reach that goal.

Voice of OC is Orange County's nonprofit newsroom. We rely on donations from people like you to sustain our news agency. Please make a contribution today: https://voiceofoc.org/donate

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mrobold
88 days ago
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Orange County, California
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Largest Orange County School District Rejects Parental Notification Policy

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Orange County’s largest school district will not be adopting a parental notification policy after two other districts approved similar policies over the past two months — policies that have caught the eye of state Attorney General Rob Bonta.

School boards across the state have been passing policies recently that require schools to alert parents if their child is transgender or if they are experiencing mental health issues.

Bonta’s been focused on the policies, saying they discriminate against transgender students and has secured an injunction against enforcing the policy in a San Bernardino County school district.

Capistrano Unified School District, which educates over 40,000 students, voted against the notification policy Wednesday on a 2-5 vote. Board members Lisa Davis and Judy Bullockus voted for the policy.

Board member Michael Parham said the current notification system is already working the way it is.

“Our teachers have been phenomenal about reaching out to us,” Parham said at Wednesday night’s meeting. “I’m sure many of you have had the same experience with the teachers in Capo. In fact, I haven’t heard any anecdotes where that didn’t happen. We’ve heard a lot of things, but we haven’t heard negative comments about teachers deliberately not telling you something about your own child.”

Davis, who proposed the notification policy, said the move would increase parent involvement. 

“To be more specific, the issue tonight is whether or not parents should be excluded from major decisions relating to their children, especially when those children are at a greater risk of suffering from emotional or mental health-related issues,” David said. 

Orange Unified School District was the first in OC to adopt the notification policy last month, specifically stating that the policy affected transgender students — the same type of policy that’s caught Bonta’s attention throughout the state.

[Read: An OC School District Adopts Transgender Notification; State AG Issues Legal Threat]

Placentia Yorba-Linda School District voted in a similar policy earlier this month, but it didn’t specify anything about LGBTQ+ students. The policy instead said that parents would be notified about any student that posed a “clear and present danger” to themselves or others.

[Read: An OC School District Adopts New Parent Alert Policy; Will it Impact LGBTQ+ Students?]

In Capistrano Unified, the failed policy proposal was also vague — it didn’t mention a specific group, like transgender students.

It explained that it would alert parents of any students who are “exhibiting symptoms of depression, anxiety, a dramatic shift in academic performance, social withdrawal or other significant changes affecting a student’s well-being.”

Davis mentioned transgender students when talking about the need for the policy and most of the discussion focused on how the policy would affect students questioning their gender identity.

“Consider the scenario where a child approaches a teacher and expresses distress regarding depression or anxiety or gender identity concerns,” Davis said at the meeting. “The teacher carefully listens. The distress is very real. The teacher wants to help. The child asked the teacher not to share these disclosures with the parents.”

She continued: “What should the teacher do? Does the teacher take on the role of knowing what to do for the child? Does the teacher believe that offering gender-affirming support would alleviate stress? The teacher may be correct in the short term, but it is possible that the teacher could miss something.” 

Tyler Pearce, the student board representative, spoke out against the policy and urged the board members to oppose it.

“I feel like this is an outing policy,” Pearce said. “This parental notification policy in its nature is divisive. It’s unnecessary, and it’s deep-rooted in both political and personal agendas. We need to stop creating this umbrella of mental illness to refer to specific communities.”

There was an hour and a half allowed for people to comment for one minute each before board discussion. Dozens of other current students — who were given priority to speak during the public comment section — overwhelmingly opposed the policy. 

“I felt safe coming out at school,” a nonbinary student from Capistrano Valley High School said during the meeting. “If my teachers had caught wind of my identity, and a few of them certainly did, they may be forced to tell my parents. This was a nuanced conversation that I needed the time to work up the courage to have with my family, and I needed to be the one to have it. That is my right.”

Parham commended the student speakers who showed up to the meeting to speak on the topic.

“What I was probably most proud of is the critical thinking skills of these students to see through the BS and see through the misinformation,” Parham said. “I think we’re doing a great job of teaching these students critical thinking skills because they came well-prepared, and I think they taught us grownups about the next generation and what they’re capable of.”

During the meeting, Davis pointed to the Escondido Union School District in San Diego County, where a federal judge temporarily blocked the district from enforcing a policy that encourages privacy for transgender students.

The district’s policy forced school staff to keep students’ transgender identity private — including from their parents — unless the student gave written consent or if disclosure was necessary to protect the student’s safety.

U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez, who adjudicated the case, said the policy was “a trifecta of harm.”

But in San Bernardino, a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of a temporary injunction requested by Bonta against the Chino Valley School Board — the first school district in California to pass a parental notification policy for transgender students. 

The ruling prevents the district from enforcing the policy until the court case is resolved.

On Thursday, San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Michael Sachs ruled the policy couldn’t be enforced by the district until a jury trial decides if the policy is legal or not, according to Courthouse News Service

At Wednesday’s meeting, Capistrano Unified School District Board President Krista Castellanos said there’s existing mechanisms for school officials to report student mental health issues to parents. 

“There are resources out there for you as parents, and that’s important for us to communicate those out to you,” Castellanos said. “We can always do a better job at communicating and better transparency.”

Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact her at ahicks@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.

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Since you’ve made it this far,

You obviously care about local news and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford, but it’s not free to produce. Help us become 100% reader funded with a tax deductible donation. For as little as $5 a month you can help us reach that goal.

Voice of OC is Orange County's nonprofit newsroom. We rely on donations from people like you to sustain our news agency. Please make a contribution today: https://voiceofoc.org/donate

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mrobold
126 days ago
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Orange County, California
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Orange County’s Police Unions Are Increasingly Electing, Unseating Their Own Bosses

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It’s the story that replays itself every few years. 

Police unions are becoming the biggest spenders in Orange County’s municipal and county elections.

Some local leaders from both political parties fear it’s creating an environment where police have the power to elect – or unseat – the very people they’re supposed to answer to. 

With Anaheim’s police union entangled in a City Hall corruption scandal – and Santa Ana’s spending $371,000 in hopes of successfully recalling a City Council member over police salaries for the second time in three years – police union politics are out on full display this year like never before. 

And in Anaheim’s case, under city investigators’ focus. 

A July 31 report by independent investigators – hired by the City of Anaheim in response to an ongoing FBI corruption probe into City Hall – alleged that a powerful network of Disneyland resort interests improperly controlled city policymaking from the shadows.

[Read: A Rare Look At What Happens When Local Police Play Politics]

City-hired investigators – themselves former police officials – tied the police union to forces improperly exerting influence at city hall. Investigators highlighted police union efforts opposing a gas station approval that would have competed with one owned by a political fundraiser for disgraced former mayor Harry Sidhu. 

[Read: Did the Anaheim Police Go to Bat for Disgraced Former Mayor?]

City investigators noted the power that comes from spending heavily on city elections to form a friendly council majority.

One which Disneyland resort interests and the police union could support together.

Edgar Hampton, the police union’s president for much of the time frame that investigators focused on, has denied his organization being part of a shadow government, and discounted the role his organization played in local politics.

But in both Anaheim and Santa Ana, the police unions account for some of the largest political spending on citywide elections.

And in both cities, the result has been massive raises for police officers, despite concerns from some residents that such raises were fiscally irresponsible – forcing Anaheim residents to dip into their general fund reserves in 2020.

At the county, big Sheriff Deputy raises created conditions where critical investments in public health couldn’t be made, an impact largely unnoticed by the public.

Until the pandemic arrived. 

[Read this: OC Grand Jury Issues Scathing Report on County’s Pandemic Response, Plans]

In neighboring Santa Ana – before a police union-backed council majority approved $25 million in officer raises over two and half years in 2019 – voters had just approved a ballot measure in 2018 that made their city’s residents the highest-taxed in all of Orange County. 

Taxes that would go right back toward police salaries. 

Boosts in police salaries also means more money for police union coffers from member dues – monies that often go right back into funding local city campaigns through political action committees – again with the aim of further boosting salary and benefits. 

That kind of leverage can make police unions an imposing force for the elected officials who stand up to them. 

A force that some critics can only describe as political intimidation.

“As long as the public is afraid and wants to be safe, the endorsements from the police and fire will always be massive, and elected officials will do whatever they can to get it and to the detriment of the town,” said Jim Righeimer, a Republican former mayor of Costa Mesa who confronted his local union over raises and spending. 

While in office in the early 2010s, Righeimer and other City Council members from across OC publicly alleged that they were the target of police union intimidation and harassment in attempts to secure favorable labor contracts during negotiations that at the time were underway.

Righeimer said he was followed by private detectives hired by police union officials, who later disavowed the actions of the investigators. He accused the police union of orchestrating a failed effort to arrest him for drunk driving. Lawsuits around the issue swirled for years.

[Read: City Council Members Allege Police Union Bullying]

Righeimer, reflecting on the saga in a Monday phone interview, said his litigious reaction might have been what the union was aiming for. 

“Once I was in litigation, I was barred from voting on their contracts.”

Righeimer said he doesn’t blame officers for wanting better salaries – “I don’t blame people for wanting more money in any job. I think that’s fine.” 

But when police unions use public safety concerns as leverage, Righeimer said you get situations like Santa Ana. 

In 2020, the police union under former president Gerry Serrano funded a successful recall campaign against Cecilia Iglesias, a Republican council member who opposed controversial police salary increases the previous year. 

“They didn’t even need her vote,” Righeimer said. “It was all to make a point.” 

“It was all to make a public showing to all the other council members, that we will destroy you,” Righeimer said. “Instantaneously.”

It speaks to the way police unions in politics can become a bipartisan issue, despite the often divisive political territory of law enforcement reform. 

Serrano – who officially separated from the City of Santa Ana in July and did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday – later mounted the same recall effort against two City Council members, in this case Democrats, who again opposed the police union’s pay raise demands last December.

And one of those recall efforts has successfully forced an election for this year, to decide the fate of Councilmember Jessie Lopez, a Democrat, scheduled for Nov. 14. 

Police union-driven ousters don’t just apply to elected officials. 

Officers can just as easily put pressure on their own chiefs to resign.

In 2017, police chiefs in both Anaheim and Santa Ana stepped down after the police unions under them called for their removal. 

In Santa Ana’s case, former chief Carlso Rojas sued the city, claiming he was pushed out by the mayor and police union for whistleblowing.

[Read: Former Santa Ana Police Chief Sues, Claiming He Was Pushed Out By Mayor and Police Union]

In Huntington Beach that same year, the police union took a vote of no confidence in former chief Robert Handy, amidst tension with his officers over efforts to outfit police with body cameras.

At the county level, the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs (AOCDS) has been a steady player in county supervisor elections spending heavily in local races.

It’s paid off.

Back in 2019, OC supervisors granted a total of $151 million in raises for deputy sheriffs that had a real impact on the county budget – and a continuation of a trend established earlier in the decade.

While spending on sheriff salaries skyrocketed, spending on public health went flat – a trend that had deadly consequences when the 2020 pandemic arrived and the county’s public health system was caught flat-footed.

[Read: OC Moves Millions From Health Agency to Help Cover Sheriff Overruns]

While the AOCDS has backed largely Republican candidates in years past for county supervisor, their recent investments have shifted to Democrats over Republicans. 

In the 2022 election cycle – after scoring $151 Million in raises in 2019 from a GOP-dominated board of supervisors – the union representing OC Sheriff’s deputies spent big money on a Democratic candidate for OC Supervisor, Katrina Foley, over the Republican, Pat Bates.

[Read: Here’s a Twist: OC Sheriff Union is Attacking the Republican and Backing the Democrat in a High-Stakes Race]

Foley won that election.

When back-to-back police shootings of Latinos fueled unrest in Anaheim in 2012, it was the city’s Republican mayor at the time, Tom Tait, recalls becoming a police union political target after he called for independent reviews of the shootings by the U.S. Attorney’s office. 

“I felt that the District Attorney at the time, Tony Rackauckas, didn’t have credibility with the public and independence to investigate, partly because the police unions get very involved with District Attorney races,” Tait said in a Tuesday phone interview.

What followed was a series of attack ads and statements by police union leaders and even Rauckackas himself, accusing Tait of siding with gangs and criminals when outraged residents protested and rioted following the deadly police shootings.

“Everything is a balance, and in Anaheim, it’s always felt way out of balance,” Tait said, adding that the police union certainly isn’t the biggest spender in citywide elections compared to Disney, “but they’re up there.”

This year in Santa Ana, it’s Democrats who now find themselves on the unfavorable side of police union spending, with the Santa Ana Police Officers Association putting more than $371,000 – and racking up $15,000 in debt – on the campaign to recall Councilmember Lopez.

Lopez now finds herself in the same shoes as Iglesias, despite the two sitting on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Iglesias declined to comment for this story on Tuesday, citing her schedule.

“She’s a staunch conservative. But part of her job was to protect taxpayer money and that’s what I believe she was trying to do. And it’s the same movie we’re seeing again in 2023,” Lopez said. “Taxpayer money – is it being used appropriately? They don’t even like that I asked that question.”

That doesn’t mean every police union member is happy with their organization’s political exploits.

Serrano’s helm of the Santa Ana police union ended amidst public legal battles with top City Hall officials – including Police Chief David Valentin – over Serrano’s quest for a pension boost and what officials described as a bid to “burn the city to the ground unless he gets what he wants.” 

After Serrano’s departure, one police union member and public critic of Serrano sent his own letter to union membership.

“Our SAPOA needs to get a bit more involved with our community,” wrote police union member Manuel Delgadillo. “If our SAPOA can spend thousands on recalls, politicians donations, and attorney fees and still give our SAPOA Members children scholarships, we can surely hand out a few to the community we serve.”

Delgadillo shared his letter with Voice of OC. Read it here.

It includes recommendations for a new union leadership direction under Serrano’s replacement, John Kachirisky: “Our association needs to lay low and slowly repair the tarnished image left behind by our former president.”

Though the early signs aren’t good, wrote Delgadillo, who alleged that the union’s executive board under Kachirisky agreed to give Serrano $20,000 out of the union’s “Widows and Orphans” fund following his separation from City Hall. 

Kachirisky – who didn’t respond to requests for comment on Tuesday – defended that decision in his own letter to union membership. But the executive board reneged, according to Delgadillo’s letter, after police union membership “voiced its displeasure.”

“First impressions are very important,” Delgadillo wrote. 

It leaves open the question of how much the police union will continue to spend on Lopez’s recall under Kachirisky’s helm. 

“When a piece of mail comes from the Police Association, it has nothing to do with being safe,” said Righeimer. “It has to do with them getting someone elected who will give them what they want.”

“I’m not saying safety is not on their list, but the top of their list is pay and pension.” 

Voice of OC is Orange County's nonprofit newsroom. We rely on donations from people like you to sustain our news agency. Please make a contribution today: https://voiceofoc.org/donate

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mrobold
175 days ago
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Orange County, California
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