ORIGINAL PUBLISHED VERSION of “Bench Slap the South County Mayors”




“We South OC Mayors have the jurisdiction to put the homeless in any of our cities?  Well, today, our jurisdiction ends here!  Let’s put them in Silverado, a not-actually South OC community — in fact, quite a distant one, politically weak and governed by the county!”

(1) “South County’s Contribution”

Federal District Court Judge David Carter is turning up the heat on all levels of Orange County government to find a place where the homeless can live both short-term and long.  So when the Mayors of South Orange County met yesterday in San Clemente — as described in this Voice of OC story, from which we’ll quote at length — what is the most dastardly proposal that you can imagine they could make in response?

How about proposing that South County’s contribution be a “South County” site that doesn’t have a Mayor — an unincorporated community!  Good start — a place without a Mayor!  But it’s not nearly dastardly enough: keep going.

Well, if it’s going to be an unincorporated community, how about making sure that it’s not one with a lot of actual or potential big donors — a Coto, a Newport Coast, a Three Arch Bay (or one of the others with a Community Services District along the coast)?  Or maybe choose one that’s a step or so down, like a Ladera Ranch or a Las Flores?  Nah — their no doubt amply rewarded evil genius advisors had something much better in mind.

“South County’s contribution” was to propose a homeless shelter in isolated, middle-class, politically powerless Silverado — in a former elementary school that currently houses a library and pre-school serving the community and environs.

Well, what’s so bad about that?  A library and a preschool can be moved, after all.  And it may be class discrimination to suggest that the least influential and least affluent unincorporated community around be the one to absorb what the rest of the region doesn’t want — but that’s normal politics, right?

Right, but we haven’t gotten to the best part, the part that makes this a genius masterstroke of callow and disingenuous NIMBYism.  Ready for it?

The proposed site, Silverado Elementary School, isn’t functionally in South County at all!

Here — look at a map!

Silverado is the northernmost of OC’s east-of-the-55 canyons.  We often speak of “the canyons” as being within South OC — and further to the south, they clearly are.  But South OC is generally considered to be Lisa Bartlett’s Supervisorial District 5  — whence almost all of the cities represented at the meeting were located — and maybe some of the southern half of Todd Spitzer’s Supervisorial District 3  and maybe maybe the southernmost part of Michelle Steele’s District 2.  But Silverado is in the northern half of Spitzer’s district — definitely not South OC.  Here are the boundaries of the Supervisorial districts for your reference:

From the OC Registrar of Voters website — so you know that (unlike some maps online) it’s current!

Silverado Canyon is a bit northeast of where that big “3” is.

(I was just kidding when I said you could imagine anyone doing this.  For most of us, this level of gall-saturated perfidy would be beyond imagining.)

We’re going to lovingly review the details in what follows, to make the case that “South County’s contribution” would functionally be placed on the tab of Tustin, Orange, Anaheim Hills, and Villa Park.   That’s simply not South County’s own “contribution” to offer, no more than if they proposed a site in San Diego or Riverside Counties.

Now, I’ll readily admit: I enjoy the prospect of a huge fight between two of the wealthiest and NIMBYest parts of the county — the wealthy communities from Yorba Linda, Anaheim Hills, Villa Park, and the hills of unincorporated Orange and Tustin, on the one hand, and the coast south of Laguna Beach to San Clemente, on the other — as much as the next person does.  (Probably more.)  But given that NIMBYism is the enemy here — and it is — no part of the county should be able to get away with shunting their share of the obligation onto another one — at least without paying a HUUUUGE price for it .  (After all, I know where that game of “hot potato” ends: with indesirable obligations being dumped in North, Central, and maybe part of West County.)  This tactic must be nipped in the bud.

But IS this so unfair of South County?  Tell you what, in the section just after the one that follows, we’ll look at a lot more maps.  I can’t resist the urge to “bury the lede” here, so delicious it is, but I’ll put it in big bold orange text below so that you if you’re willing to at least skim downward you can’t miss it.  But first, let’s review that Voice of OC article.

(2) The Meeting of the Mayors

(I’m quoting liberally from the Voice of OC story, so please click one of my links to it so that they don’t get mad at me, although the following contains some of my own observations not found therein.)

  • Judge David Carter had pressured Mayors of the 12 cities in South Orange County to meet yesterday to find a site for a new homeless shelter.  Carter had told the Mayors that if they could not come up with a site, he was inclined to “follow the law” and strike down their anti-camping ordinances.
  • Those 12 cities are Aliso Viejo, Dana Point, Irvine, Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Woods, Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, Rancho Santa Margarita, San Clemente, and San Juan Capistrano.
  • Also attending the meeting in San Clemente were Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, a representative of South County state Sen. Pat Bates, OC’s CEO Frank Kim and homelessness czar Susan Price, and retired Superior Court Judge James L. Smith and two law clerks representing Judge Carter’s court.
  • The Mayors chose the county-owned former Silverado Elementary School, which now houses the Library of the Canyons and the Silverado Children’s Center, a preschool.
  • The site is in unincorporated (i.e., county-governed) territory, 2-1/2 miles west of Silverado itself, roughly bordering unincorporated North Tustin and unincorporated Orange.
  • According to Irvine Mayor Don Wagner, if the Silverado site was first adopted and Judge Carter wanted more beds, three of south county mayors might accept smaller sites for 10 to 20 people each.
  • The Mayors will jointly propose the Silverado Elementary School site to the county today, seeking help to work out the details.
  • Lake Forest Mayor Jim Gardner was the only one to oppose the proposal in a 10-1 vote, with Mission Viejo Mayor Ed Sachs having left the meeting early, due to its proximity to a preschool and remote location.  “It’s in the middle of nowhere and it’s on a dangerously fast road that already has a history of accidents.”
  •  Irvine Mayor Wagner said that the remoteness of the site was not a problem — implying that it might even be a plus: “A number of the south county cities might be willing to help with the transportation aspect if that’s a viable site. And I’m sure my constituents would be much happier with us helping transport to a site that isn’t in Irvine, as opposed to saying, ‘Hey let’s do it at the Great Park.’  I think that’s true of most of the communities, if not all of them, in south county. So that remote [location] issue, a lot can be done to alleviate that concern.”
  • Gardner also noted that he proposed shelter site is within the district of Supervisor Todd Spitzer’s district, who either was not invited to or did not attend the meeting, rather than Bartlett’s, which he described as “a funny little twist on things.”.  The Voice says that Spitzer didn’t reply to a message seeking comment, perhaps as to how funny he found this twist.
  • Spitzer’s having the site shunted into his own district may have resulted from his own actions, which seem related to his campaign for a countywide position as District Attorney.  Spitzer, who had spearheaded the removal of homeless from the Santa Ana River sites, was criticized by his colleagues for having gone into other districts to foment opposition to emergency shelter sites in Laguna Niguel (Bartlett’s district) and Costa Mesa (Steel’s.)
  • Gardner, a clinical psychology Ph.D., said that he wanted to see the sites split up into smaller ones throughout south county.  “I think the problem … is that they are trying to create a large site, a large shelter, rather than distribute the population evenly throughout the county in small numbers where they wouldn’t be noticed,” Gardner said, adding that the large grouping approach “was already discarded 50 years ago.
  • Gardner also stated: “This is just the mayors and their opinion. That honestly holds no weight. The mayors have to go back to their cities and get the support [from the councils].  It’s very exploratory at this point,” Gardner added. “So there’s no reason to assume that this is the final outcome, but this is what’s being advocated now.”
  • However, shunting the problem to the eastern edges of Central County near the border of North County would likely be a popular choice among South County City Council members — if they are allowed to get away with it.

(3) But Is This Really Shunting the Obligation Out of South County?

I realize that there may be some skepticism out there.  Sure, Silverado is in Todd Spitzer’s district rather than Lisa Bartlett’s, but it’s still a canyon, so why shouldn’t canyon-crammed South OC get credit for “doing its part” by proposing a homeless shelter there?  Fair question.  I do have an answer — but you’re going to have to look at a lot of maps!

Let’s start with exactly where the proposed site — which I’ll still call “Silverado Elementary” is:

Not much in Silverado makes it onto the maps, but there is the Silverado Cafe, at the right of the above map, which more or less let’s you know where the community is.  And the small number or streets give you a hint as to its size, while the green surrounding it indicates its rural character.  The Silverado Children’s Center, at the left, is another name for the proposed site.  As you may imagine, the proximity of both a library and a nursery school to Silverado is not exactly something to sneeze at.  Taking them away will significantly undercut the social services provided to at least residents there with children.

But the bigger question — which you can’t answer from the above map, is: what’s it near?  Here’s how to get from Silverado Elementary to its closest neighboring city:

A 2.7 mile, 5 minute (in relatively clear travel) drive from Villa Park City Hall.

While one might reasonably locate Silverado Elementary in proximity to Santiago Canyon College — not a bad place for panhandling, I’m guessing, at least probably better than the Silverado Grill — and unincorporated Orange Park Acres, the nearing City Hall (which I’m using a proxy for distance to a city center) is that celebrated center of South Orange County … Villa Park.  (If you’re not already laughing at this, consult the top map at you’ll see that the latitude of Villa Park is south of the 91 but north of most of Anaheim.)

I could probably stop right there — SILVERADO ELEMENTARY IS NOT EVEN CLOSE TO SOUTH COUNTY AND SOUTH COUNTY MAYORS PROPOSING IT AS A SHELTER SITE IS SIMPLY A MATTER OF DISPLACING THEIR OBLIGATIONS ONTO NORTH AND CENTRAL COUNTY, YET AGAIN — but since we’re here anyway, before you skip down to the last section, let’s beat this horse not only to death, but into the glue jar.  I promise there’s a treat in it for you at the end.

In clear traffic, Silverado Elementary is … and let’s do North County first …

… under 8 miles, 12 minutes in clear traffic, to what passes for Yorba Linda City Hall.  (Note that the time measurements for all of these maps were taken around midnight, so they would be greater to everywhere during the day.  The distance measurements, less so.)

… under 14 miles, and 17 minutes, from Brea’s City Hall (etc.)

… under 18 miles, and 22 minutes, to far-flung La Habra City Hall,

OK, what about other places in Central County?  Silverado Elementary is …

… 7.3 miles and around 15 minutes to Tustin City Hall.

… under 6 miles and under 10 minutes to Orange City Hall.

… under 10 miles, and a little over 15 minutes, to Anaheim City Hall.

… under 10 miles and 18 minutes to Santa Ana City Hall.

OK, OK … but maybe it’s still close to SOUTH County, right?  Let’s start with the relatively close Irvine …

… 13.2 miles, 19 minutes.   Closer than La Habra and Brea!  (Although not quicker….)  Onward!

… 20.4 miles and 27 minutes — and that’s if they use the Toll Road, as I’m guessing most homeless people do not.  Otherwise, 29 miles and 34 minutes.  (By the way, as you can see, Trabuco Canyon has a much better claim to being part of South County.

Maybe Capistrano?

… whew!  It’s 27.7 miles — ten times as far away as Villa Park! — and 30 minutes at best.  That’s one long walk!

Finally, what about the City Hall in the city where the Mayors met, San Clemente?

It’s 27.2 miles away at best,  About 10 miles further than La Habra! — and 36 minutes at best.  (I had to redo this during the day; let’s generously estimate 33 minutes to account for that slight jam.)

Funny thing about this: I tested a few other OC cities that I thought might be further away from the proposed site than San Clemente and Capistrano — and I couldn’t find one.  Their City Halls are as far away from the proposed site by road as you can get in Orange County.

That’s right: San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano are the furthest City Halls from Silverado Elementary within Orange County.

Silverado Elementary can in no way be justified as the “South County”-based proposal to address homelessness. 

(4) Every Mayor Except Mayor Gardner Deserves a “Bench Slap”

The former Silverado Elementary School may well be a good site — or it may be a way to dump the problem on one of the least politically powerful communities in the county — but there’s no way in the world (or at least in the county) that South County should get credit for it being its contribution to alleviating county homelessness.  For South County Mayors to propose it as their contribution is a particularly pernicious act of NIMBYism.  (I don’t say that because I think that cities should be competing to shunt the homeless off to others, but simply that they are doing so — and the South County Mayors yesterday did so in one of the most pernicious and deceitful ways imaginable.)

I don’t know exactly what Judge Carter’s specific instructions were (presuming that there were any) to the South County Mayors — but I presume that they were something along the lines of “inform the court what you propose to do to help alleviate this countywide problem.”  If so, then for South County to propose Silverado Elementary School as their offering is a carefully plotted fraud on the court — and Judge Carter should respond to it with something called a “bench slap.”  He should fine the cities proposing this sham and putting the proceeds into a fund to actually address the issue — and then require each of the city making the proposal to come up with space within its own borders as its proposal.

Problem solved!

But there’s another problem, and this is that — by proposing a North- and Central-County based solution in response to the court’s request for solutions in their area, rather than NIMBYism — every South County Mayor but Jim Gardner of Lake Forest acted in utter and atrocious bad faith.  Unless the Court wants to see more of that — because there’s more in store — Judge Carter should sanction those Mayors and impose a suspension of their cities’ anti-camping ordinances until they present a good-faith plan.  From the perspective of the rest of Orange County, what they’ve done here is atrocious and unacceptable.  While other regions of the county have operated in good faith, they’ve tried to play the Court for a fool.

But Judge Carter is no fool.  I hope that he lowers the boom on them.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)