You get to learn about a broad array of subjects when you serve as a County Supervisor. One subject that has received a significant amount of my attention is Laura’s Law, which is the topic of the Voice of OC article below. Due to our tenuous fiscal situation, with a state that habitually takes money from counties, the Supervisors must be very careful in making long-term financial commitments. Consequently, we have asked for funding and reasonable caps, to accommodate implementation. Accordingly, we have asked Senator Darrell Steinberg to provide written authority to utilize Proposition 63 income tax revenues to fund this assisted outpatient treatment program. The Senator, along with Senator Yee, have heard our pleas and are moving forward on our requests with their bills. The Board is supportive, with minor change requests, of their efforts.
Last Saturday, “Call Me Crazy,” a Lifetime Original Movie event (A Five Film) brought together an all-star ensemble cast with five interwoven stories about how everlasting bonds of love and family can overcome life’s most challenging hurdles. I’m sure this cable station will repeat this program. If it does, please watch it. It deals with schizophrenia, depression, and post-traumatic syndrome in a touching and professional manner. It is very thought provoking and educational. It stars Academy Award® and Golden Globe® Winners Jennifer Hudson, Melissa Leo and Octavia Spencer, Brittany Snow, Sarah Hyland, Sofia Vassilieva, Ernie Hudson, Jason Ritter, Emmy® winner Jean Smart, Lea Thompson, Oscar® nominee Melanie Griffith and Chelsea Handler. Anthology from Executive Producers Jennifer Aniston, Marta Kauffman, Kristin Hahn, Kevin Chinoy and Francesca Silvestri. Directed by Laura Dern, Bryce Dallas Howard, Bonnie Hunt, Ashley Judd and Sharon Maguire. To watch the preview, check out
State Senate Panel Clarifies How Laura’s Law Can Be Funded
By TRACY WOOD
The state Senate Health Committee Wednesday unanimously approved legislation making it clear that state mental health funds can be used for the court-supervised outpatient treatment of adults with serious mental illnesses allowed by Laura’s Law.
The committee also approved a bill that would allow counties to limit the number of adults with severe mental illness who are treated under the 11-year-old law.
Both issues have been seen as major roadblocks in the effort to persuade the Orange County Board of Supervisors to adopt the law named after 19-year-old Laura Wilcox, who was killed in 2001 by a Nevada County man with a severe, untreated mental illness.
Laura’s Law allows the court to order involuntary outpatient treatment for severely mentally ill adults who refuse voluntary treatment and who appear at risk of hurting themselves. Nevada is the only county in the state that has adopted the law while others avoid it because of philosophical and cost reasons and fear of lawsuits.
It became a significant local issue after the July 2011 beating death of mentally ill transient Kelly Thomas at the hands of Fullerton police. Thomas suffered from untreated schizophrenia, but as an adult the 37-year-old could refuse treatment, and there was little his family could do, family members said.
When questions were raised regarding the law following Thomas’ death, the county counsel’s office told county health officials they don’t have the legal right to use Proposition 63 money to implement it.
The bill, authored by state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, specifies that counties may use money from the 2004 ballot proposition to support Laura’s Law. It was sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee on a 9-0 vote.
Steinberg indicated during his testimony, broadcast on the Internet via the California Channel, that more state money for severe mental health issues may be included in the upcoming state budget.
He told the committee it was important “to put this issue [of whether Proposition 63 money may be used for Laura’s Law] behind us so the mental health community can unite and fight for more money.”
This week the Sacramento Bee reported that Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Nevada is dumping patients in California, including 28 in Orange County in recent years. The Bee reported that the Nevada hospital put the patients on buses without ensuring they would receive treatment or housing.
During an interview last week, Orange county Supervisor Todd Spitzer noted that untreated mental illness may have played a role in several violent acts that have rocked Orange County in the past two years.
He mentioned, among other tragedies, the October 2011 murder of eight people at a Seal Beach hair salon and the February rampage this year by former Los Angeles Police Officer Christopher Dorner followed days later by 20-year-old Ali Syed’s killing spree from Ladera Ranch and along the 55 Freeway that left four dead, including himself.
Spitzer, who is working to create a memorial at an Irvine park to victims of violence, said he hadn’t fully decided his position on Laura’s Law but said he’s seen the impact of untreated mental illness because a relative has had to struggle with it.
As a lawyer, he said, he’s also sensitive to the issue, because “for so long the system has basically incarcerated people as opposed to ‘this person needs help.’ ”
But, he said, in recent years the public has become more educated and “understanding” of mental health issues, and as a result more money is being directed toward treatment “as opposed to just inaction.”
Supervisor John Moorlach, head of the county’s Commission to End Homelessness, has led county efforts to work with Laura’s Law, which requires approval by the supervisors.
He said in an interview last week that he talked with Steinberg about language making it clear that counties could use the Proposition 63 money, which comes from a 1 percent tax on income above $1 million.
“I’m encouraged,” he said of Steinberg’s bill. But, Moorlach said, the Proposition 63 money won’t cover costs incurred by the courts and the public defender’s office, which county officials have estimated at $1 million to $1.4 million a year.
However, Nevada County officials said after their county implemented Laura’s Law, there were substantial savings in hospital and jail costs. Orange County health officials haven’t estimated cost savings.
In addition to Steinberg’s bill, the Senate Health Committee approved by a 7-2 vote a bill by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, that allows counties to limit the number of cases they handle each year under Laura’s Law. Orange County’s lobbyists backed both the Steinberg and Yee bills.
If the two measures clear the Senate and the Assembly and are signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, the county may begin a pilot program with a few patients.
“It’s [Laura’s Law] a tool,” said Moorlach. “If we can afford it, why not give it a try?”
Please contact Tracy Wood directly at twood and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/tracyVOC.
FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS
The Sunday papers were busy. The Daily Pilot found me in the sports section with “BASKETBALL: NAIA Division I champions recognized at ceremony on campus Friday attended by about 300,” by Barry Faulkner. I personally attended the celebration in the Vanguard gym. Here are the opening paragraphs along with a few from the middle, confirming that the team would be recognized at the next Board of Supervisors meeting for their national accomplishment.
It had been nearly a month since the Vanguard University women’s basketball team won the school’s first NAIA Division I national championship. But it was through the prism of reflection that spanned more than 12 years that brought the accomplishment to an emotional focal point for Lions Coach Russ Davis Friday afternoon.
“Since we’ve been back [after winning five games in six days, including a 72-59 title game triumph over Trevecca Nazarene of Tennessee, March 26 in Jackson, Tenn.] people have been asking me, ‘Has it hit you yet?’ ” Davis said while addressing a crowd of about 300 at a ceremony to honor the team at the school’s gym.
“Well, I’ll tell you what,” said Davis, who spoke on behalf of his team and who, along with his players, received repeated standing ovations from the crowd, “It hit me. It hit me sitting right over there [among his players on an elevated stage].”
Davis immediately choked back tears and silence enveloped the crowd, as he struggled to acknowledge two former players, Elaine Whittemore (now Elaine Foytik) and Stephanie Sick (now Stephanie McDowell), who were captains on the first of his 12 Vanguard teams.
“I’m sorry about this,” said Davis, as he continued. “To see two people who were on my first team here, who were the cement … to help get this started. They believed in the mission that we had, to do things the right way, to work hard and they would be rewarded. It’s their fault I’m emotional right now. They’re still very close to my heart and in my life.”
Davis, the NAIA Division I Coach of the Year who has guided the last six Vanguard teams to the national quarterfinals, including three straight Final Four appearances, went on to thank members of his team, the administration and several others for their part in the special season that ended with a 28-5 record and the big [approximately 15-feet wide] red banner awarded every NAIA national champion.
Vanguard President Murray Dempster and Athletic Director Bob Wilson also spoke in a ceremony attended by a handful of local political dignitaries and/or their representatives, many of whom brought official proclamations recognizing the team. The emcee was “Real Orange” co-anchor Ed Arnold.
John Moorlach, Chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, said that body would honor the team at its Tuesday meeting.
A brief video that included the pregame and closing seconds of the CBS College Sports telecast of the title game was shown, accompanied at the end by a sampling of the Queen song “We are the Champions.”
Brianna Bailey of the Daily Pilot, along with Chris Caesar, covered a popular topic with “Locals shelve annexation – Residents say they are unsure when they will file an application again or whether they will try a different approach.” Five years later and I’m still working on the “global solution.”
Residents of the unincorporated South of Mesa Drive neighborhood have withdrawn an application that would allow the neighborhood and nearby Santa Ana Country Club to be annexed by Newport Beach rather than let it expire due to lack of county support.
“Now we’re really just in a hold mode,” said Cal McLaughlin, who has led Newport Beach annexation efforts in the unincorporated neighborhood.
McLaughlin said he was unsure when the residents would reapply for annexation or whether the group would try a different strategy.
County officials earlier this month rejected the requests of neighborhood residents of the unincorporated South of Mesa Drive neighborhood to extend the application.
The Orange County Local Agency Formation Commission, which presides over annexations, voted down the extension, 6-1. The residents needed a tax-sharing agreement from the Orange County Board of Supervisors to move forward, and some blame County Board Chairman John Moorlach for blocking the board from voting on the agreement. Moorlach, a longtime Costa Mesa resident, has been outspoken in his belief that Costa Mesa has more of a right to the land than Newport Beach.
“That in effect killed the petition, and I haven’t heard of anyone resurrecting it,” said Newport Beach City Manager Homer Bludau. “[The Local Agency Formation Commission] had the last say.”
Moorlach has worked for the past year on what he calls “a global solution” to resolve the annexation clashes between Newport Beach and Costa Mesa.
The plan would divide several pieces of contested unincorporated land between the two cities, but has seen limited success so far. Moorlach said he hasn’t given up on the global solution plan just yet.
“I think that process is still out there and still open to certain dialogue,” he said. “I’m still going to move on some of those…with both city councils, and we’ll see what we can do to make everybody happy. It’s a work in progress.”
Costa Mesa officials have been working on a proposal to provide city services to the residents south of Mesa Drive. The residents want Newport Beach addresses because they will boost property values, and they claim the city could offer them better services than Costa Mesa.
Costa Mesa has a sphere of influence over both the country club and the South of Mesa Drive area and tried to annex them in 2002, but faced widespread opposition from property owners who petitioned against the annexation.
Newport Beach voted 6-1 to move forward with the annexation application in February, even though city staff recommended the city let the application expire rather than risk a land battle with Costa Mesa over who should get the property.
Santa Ana Country Club and the residential neighborhood gathered more than enough signatures last year to petition for annexation to the county agency that oversees the process.
West County journalist John Underwood also addressed this popular topic with a “The Orange Grove” submission to the OC Register’s Commentary section, titled “Reality check for Rossmoor – County is nudging the community toward incorporation or annexation.”
Rossmoor, a five-square-mile tract of homes built in 1957 at the west end of Orange County, is the largest of the remaining developed but as-yet unincorporated "islands" in a county that for some time has been trying to shed financial responsibility for such enclaves. Rossmoor has been leaning toward cityhood ever since getting the message from the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission that it would likely be annexed to neighboring Los Alamitos if it doesn’t.
"You’re 50 now," John Moorlach, 2nd District O.C. Supervisor and a LAFCO commissioner, told Rossmoor residents at a recent LAFCO public meeting convened in Rossmoor. "It’s time you moved out on your own … or go marry Los Alamitos or Seal Beach, or both."
Not everybody chuckled at Moorlach’s whimsical but pointed remark, especially some of those Rossmoor elders almost twice Moorlach’s age, out in force that day to oppose incorporation.
"We’ve been going along just fine," one elder resident said. "If it ain’t broke, why fix it?" another added.
But times have changed, and so has the county. Ever since the 1994 bankruptcy and a subsequent grand jury recommendation that the county divest itself of its many unincorporated zones, the Board of Supervisors has sought, through LAFCO, to wash its hands one by one of its fiscally draining stepchildren.
Rossmoor, too, is changing. Drive through this community of 11,000, and you notice two things right off: the extent of the remodeling, even mansionization, everywhere. Those are families, not retirees, moving into those mansions, with more progressive ideas and service expectations. And then there’s the traffic, not just at the entrances to Rossmoor but along the residential streets near the many schools and parks, which have become rush-hour choke-points.
As Rossmoor becomes a more densely populated place it is becoming painfully evident it cannot be adequately managed by the limited powers of its community-services district under the financial control of county government miles away. As one incorporation supporter put it, "The best government for Rossmoor is the one closest to the governed."
Presently, almost all of Rossmoor’s services are subject to the kindness of others, mostly the county, from cable service, parkway maintenance and county-controlled building permit process to the understaffed police protection. Rossmoor now shares one full-time county sheriff’s patrol car with another unincorporated island, Sunset Beach, miles away. On March 6 there were four daylight burglaries in Rossmoor, all of which generated 911 calls when that single sheriff’s cruiser was elsewhere. None of the break-ins was foiled nor any suspects apprehended.
Shortcomings also exist in other service areas; code enforcement, animal control and traffic, to name a few. The Orange County Transportation Authority’s current "Go Local" traffic coordinating collaboration with Los Alamitos and Seal Beach provides no seat at the table for Rossmoor even though Rossmoor’s congested streets are situated directly between the two cities.
As former Supervisor Jim Silva said, "The county is getting out of the municipal service business. Find a new home for yourselves, Rossmoor, or someone else will do it for you."
Sounds like tough love from parents who keep telling their grown, live-at-home children the equivalent of, "We’re moving you out and renting your room. Start packing."
LAFCO’s fiscal analysis recently determined that cityhood for Rossmoor was feasible, provided residents impose a minimum 7 percent utility tax on themselves. At the same time the county has a right to something called revenue neutrality, in which it may demand to be "made whole" for the loss of any tax revenue the former dependent island generated. But LAFCO has determined the county would not only break even on the divestiture of Rossmoor, it would come out about $600,000 ahead, every year.
Hey county parents! As long as you’re actually profiting from the deal to be rid of your latest unwanted ward, how about applying some of that windfall to easing the transition to cityhood? The money could be used, for example, to lower utility taxes for Rossmoor’s elderly on fixed incomes. The county showed a great deal of flexibility in 2000, when it assisted Aliso Viejo’s incorporation by assigning it an entire shopping center, prying it away from neighboring Laguna Hills. Or how about using the extra money to extend certain support services to Rossmoor beyond the obligatory few months while it grows its municipal legs, as you’ve done for other former dependents, like Villa Park.
There are many ways to force unincorporated chicks out of the nest. You can kick them out and cross your fingers. Or you can ease them out with flying lessons and a short-term parachute. Historically, where the county has taken the latter approach, survival was assured, and everyone benefited.
Does Rossmoor deserve any less, especially in these uncertain times?
And the topic of the new sheriff made it to the OC Register’s Commentary section, as well, with a piece by Steven Greenhut, titled “When there’s a new sheriff in town – Orange County Board of Supervisors has an astounding opportunity to pick new sheriff committed to fundamental and not just superficial reform.” With five years of history to provide hindsight, I firmly believe we did.
Long before federal prosecutors filed seven federal corruption charges against former county Sheriff Mike Carona, astute observers (and even some not-so-astute ones) should have noticed the disreputable way the man once described by Larry King as "America’s sheriff" was running the state’s second-largest sheriff’s department. Mr. Carona was known for his arrogance, secrecy, shabby personal ethics, selfishness, dysfunctional management skills, disdain for public accountability and poor choice in associates. The clues were abundant.
The corruption case moves along in court, but the Carona legacy will be far worse than one of a man who is accused of selling access to his office for cash and trinkets. It will deal with more serious things than a mistress and of a sheriff caught on tape trying, apparently, to get his story straight with his former associate. Carona said on the secretly recorded tape that he never took cash payments – "unless there was a pinhole in your ceiling that evening." Unless there was a camera, none of it ever happened, which is indicative of Carona’s ethics.
Yet, the worst part of the Carona legacy is revealed in the grand jury transcripts and follow-up reporting related to the beating death of John Derek Chamberlain in the Theo Lacy jail. The media have written at length about deputies who slept on the job, played videogames and watched TV when they were supposed to be patrolling the facility, used inmates to beat up other inmates, lied to the grand jury and obstructed justice. But a Register article April 20 traced many of the problems to the top of the leadership chain, where Carona refused to let the District Attorney’s Office follow protocol and investigate the death. He said: "If I don’t want you in my jails, you’re not coming in my jails."
Carona and his aides engaged in a cover-up. But as the Register pointed out, the "wall of secrecy" enforced by the Carona administration was nothing new. Another arrogant past sheriff, Brad Gates, also treated the jails and the department as his own fiefdom, leading to a federal court’s intervention in 1978, stripping control of the jail from the Sheriff’s Department in order to provide better conditions for inmates. Is it that hard to have a sheriff more interested in running a professional outfit than in strutting around like a minidictator?
I offer this short reminder of the bad old days for a simple reason: The county only is beginning to clean up the mess. Supervisor John Moorlach, whose office led the charge for the creation of an Office of Independent Review to oversee Sheriff’s Department investigations, called the Carona indictment "a most unbelievable gift." He sees a rare opportunity for the board to select a replacement sheriff (coming in early June) who will provide the progressive leadership the department has been lacking for years.
I’ll look at the specific candidates for office in a forthcoming column, but the new sheriff should, for starters, embrace openness and accountability. These are not the sheriff’s jails. This is not the sheriff’s personal fiefdom. This sounds trite, but the new sheriff needs to realize that he serves at the behest of the public. The new sheriff needs to embrace the Office of Independent Review and work with it. The new sheriff needs to embrace the concept of openness, and frankly discuss problems in the jail and the department with the public. The "it’s none of your business" approach won’t work any longer.
The new sheriff needs to bring forward a workable jail-reform plan. Inmates should not be beaten or controlled by other inmates. We’ve heard many credible stories of inmates in the jail who have been abused by deputies or left at the mercy of "shot callers" – inmates given authority by deputies to inflict discipline on other inmates. We hear frequent stories of deputies who taunt and harass inmates, of a jail system that routinely denies medication to inmates. Jails should be professionally and humanely run, period. Other local and state jails operate without these sorts of problems. Understanding the depth of the problem is vital. We’re convinced that there’s a cultural problem among deputies within the jail. The problem involves more than just a handful of deputies who behaved dishonorably in one particular situation.
We’ve heard some good proposals, such as the replacement of deputies – who are stationed at the jail for seven years or more before being assigned to local cities, and who often don’t want to be there – with fulltime correctional officers. Other ideas include the privatization of jail facilities. One reader reminds us of an effective reform from the past – the stationing of outside civil-rights monitors in the jail, who can report on bad or abusive conditions. More good ideas are needed, and the next sheriff should be an advocate for reform, not an excuse-maker for past procedures.
There’s far more to running a sheriff’s department than the jail, however. I’ve written on a number of instances in the past few years of questionable officer-involved shootings. Every time one of these tragedies happens, it’s the same round-robin: the police, or Sheriff’s Department instantly defends the deputies involved, the D.A. declares that no crime was committed, and the report on the incident remains secret. The public never gets a full accounting of what took place, and police procedures are never open to question. The new sheriff needs to recognize that such procedures and policies should not be secretive. In a free society, the public should be part of the policing debate.
Hoover Institution scholar Joseph McNamara, a former police chief of San Jose and one-time beat cop in New York City, argued in a 2006 Wall Street Journal article: "[T]he police culture in our country has changed. An emphasis on ‘officer safety’ and paramilitary training pervades today’s policing, in contrast to the older culture, which held that cops didn’t shoot until they were about to be shot or stabbed. … Concern about such firepower in densely populated areas hitting innocent citizens has given way to an attitude that the police are fighting a war against drugs and crime and must be heavily armed. Yes, police work is dangerous, and the police see a lot of violence. … On the other hand, this isn’t Iraq. The need to give our officers what they require to protect themselves and us has to be balanced against the fact that the fundamental duty of the police is to protect human life and that law officers are only justified in taking a life as a last resort."
Yes, the indictment and subsequent resignation of a slimy sheriff was great news. So is the creation of an Office of Independent Review and the release of a forthright grand jury report detailing problems in the jail. But real reform will come from new leadership. And that new leader must be committed to more than superficial change.
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