Santa Ana Civic Center renovation affects more than buildings
By JENNIFER MUIR BEUTHIN, Contributing Columnist
Orange County plans to spend $150 million renovating the downtown Santa Ana Civic Center, where thousands of people work and attend court and public meetings – and where far too many live on the streets.
According to a recent Orange County Register story, the plan calls for demolishing six buildings, constructing three new ones and remodeling various other facilities. The plan, as well as options for paying for it, will be discussed at a Board of Supervisors meeting this week.
In many ways, the plans provide significant opportunity to restore and repair dilapidated buildings for workers and the public alike and elevate our community’s pride in our civic hub.
But there’s something missing from news reports, which simply describe plans for construction and buildings. What happens to the growing encampment of homeless residents who live on the sidewalks and lawns of the Civic Center?
In recent months, the county has made plans for a homeless shelter in Anaheim near the 91 freeway and purchased an empty transportation center in downtown Santa Ana for use as a cold weather shelter. These developments, along with the recent limited opening of the transportation center during our last storm, were steps in the right direction.
But these developments are isolated steps.
Today, we are at a crossroads: We can continue the current piecemeal approach to addressing our homeless residents, thereby assuring that any construction in the Civic Center will simply move families, veterans and mentally ill homeless residents down the street, only to return when construction is complete. Or we can stand together to call for a cohesive strategy to confront and address these challenges, capitalizing on the momentum of recent months.
Shouldn’t the county’s plans for the Civic Center also include a comprehensive approach for addressing the homeless crisis by leveraging the talent, expertise and dedication of the county workforce? Shouldn’t the plan include steps that ensure not only the homeless communities have access to the resources they need, but also the workers and public who visit these new buildings are safe from health and safety risks that the homeless encampments bring?
Earlier this month, for example, the Orange County Health Department was on alert after reports of a staph infection outbreak in the Civic Center emerged, potentially threatening the thousands of people who work and visit the public buildings there. Thankfully, it was a false alarm. But next time it might not be.
Adequately serving such a diverse homeless population and protecting the public who will utilize this new plaza necessarily is a complex challenge – a challenge that will take thoughtful leadership and vision among our county leaders and a recognition of the diverse talent and resources available throughout the public workforce.
There is no entity, public or private, better situated or possessing more resources to accomplish a vision for the Civic Center than the county.
So on Tuesday, when the Board of Supervisors discusses its Civic Center proposal, let’s hope the plan they consider will go beyond buildings and real estate and will include a comprehensive approach for addressing the human beings who live outside on the streets, in addition to protecting the workforce and members of the public who will utilize these buildings for decades to come.
Jennifer Muir Beuthin is general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.
Publication Date: February 21, 2016