With the recent U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that residents no longer have to provide good cause to get approval to carry a concealed weapon (CCW) permit, I decided to speak on item number 14 from yesterday’s consent calendar. It was a Sheriff’s Department item that had a nexus to the CCW matter and it gave me an opportunity to thank Sheriff Hutchens for promptly adopting the change. I also asked how the ruling was impacting her department. With the increase in demand, the Board directed that an item be placed on next week’s agenda to provide additional funding for extra-help staffing in order to catch up on the increased number of requests. The OC Register covers this topic in the first piece below.
The Voice of OC attempts to cover the Board of Supervisors’ vote on the CalOptima Board composition in the second piece below. The basic change was to remove the Social Services Agency Director as a voting member and fill the vacancy with a second Board of Supervisors’ member. The vote was not to select any two particular Supervisors. However, Supervisor Spitzer agonizingly volunteered for the newly created CalOptima Board seat. I do not recall Democrats coming out in force, as no one intimate with CalOptima requested to speak on the matter. But, receiving a letter from the Chairman of the Orange County Democratic Party certainly validated a perception that partisan politics was a component of the equation. I had the privilege of serving on the CalOptima Board during my first term as Supervisor, but I would not refer to the role as “presiding over.” I chose not to engage in the before-and-after discussion initiated by Supervisor Nguyen, as that was not the matter before the Supervisors, but there are certainly alternate viewpoints from the ones she presented. There were five alternative CalOptima board structures that were submitted for consideration, with numbers four and five coming from my office. The Board selected number three, with a modification to remove a requirement that the Board office with the most CalOptima members automatically be on its board member selection committee, which came close to the two alternatives that my office provided. Because the motion did not include the rescission of the recently adopted CalOptima board member selection process, thus reverting back to the former method of having the Health Care Agency handle the process, I was opposed.
The second piece from the Voice of OC provides an update of Monday’s Orange County Transportation Authority Board meeting agenda item regarding implementation of additional bus service hours. Because actual sales tax revenues are lower than projected, the implementation of one-third of the new bus service hours has been put on hold, including service on freeway routes. As you may remember from last year’s debate on the Caltrans degradation study, the freeway route is a component of the overall solution, and I wanted that reflected in the record.
Concealed-weapon applications pour in
More than 500 forms – a year’s worth – have been filed in less than two weeks, slowing down the process.
BY SALVADOR HERNANDEZ
People are applying for concealed-weapon permits in droves in Orange County after a federal court ruled Californians don’t have to justify their need for the permit.
In less than two weeks, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department has received more than 500 applications for concealed-weapon permits – about the same number of applications received in all of 2013.
“They’ve been absolutely inundated,” said Lt. Jeff Hallock about the personnel assigned to process the applications.
The deluge of applications came after a Feb. 13 federal appeals court ruling that said applicants wanting a concealed-weapon permit in California no longer have to explain their need for one.
The decision was praised by gun-rights groups as a landmark decision, and sheriff’s officials said the applications quickly came in.
However, the large number of applications has not meant an immediate increase in approvals, officials said. Because of the surge of applications, known as CCWs, for Carry Concealed Weapon, the process for approval has been significantly slowed.
Before the court decision, applications were typically approved in less than a month, Hallock said.
Those applying for a CCW today can expect to wait until August or September until the application is processed, he said.
That’s because the number of applications submitted immediately after the ruling has created a backlog for required interviews, Hallock said.
Last year, the Sheriff’s Department approved a total of 438 concealed-weapon permits and denied 101.
In comparison, more than 500 applications were received since Feb. 13, Hallock said.
Because of the backlog, the county’s Board of Supervisors on Tuesday discussed the possibility of increasing funding for the Sheriff’s Department to provide the staffing that would review the applications.
Supervisor Todd Spitzer suggested adding temporary staff to expedite the process. “That suggestion is great,” Supervisor John Moorlach said.
Concealed-weapon permits are typically attained through sheriff’s departments in California. Until now, applicants were required to show “good cause” to be approved.
Critics claimed the requirement was applied unequally throughout the state.
The federal court ruling stated applicants did not have to explain why they needed a permit.
Sheriff’s officials are keeping a close eye on the decision, in case it is overturned or challenged in the Supreme Court, Hallock said.
Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said in the board meeting applicants are still being asked for a “good cause statement” in case the court ruling is overturned, but officials are reviewing applications according to the new ruling. “She’s committed to following the law,” Hallock said. As of Tuesday, all of the applications filed after the court ruling are still under review, Hallock said. There were a total of 906 active concealed-weapon permits in Orange County as of last week.
Staff writer Mike Reicher contributed to this report.
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OC Supervisors Appoint Spitzer to CalOptima
By NORBERTO SANTANA JR. AND TRACY WOOD
Amidst mounting political pressure and concern for patient safety, Orange County Supervisors Tuesday effectively curbed the power and influence of County Supervisor Janet Nguyen over the county’s managed health care plan for nearly 500,000 poor and elderly patients, known as CalOptima.
County Supervisor Todd Spitzer will now be one of two supervisors on the CalOptima board.
Yet there are already indications that county supervisors may have already put the $1.5 billion health care authority on a crash course for dismantling, after two years of executive turmoil following Nguyen’s dominance of the board of directors.
The underlying concern revolves around Nguyen’s efforts to raise nearly $100,000 in medical industry campaign contributions while hospital lobbyists helped her to rewrite CalOptima’s governing ordinance in 2011, a move that ultimately enhanced the industry’s position on the board of directors.
Those changes came at the same time a slew of top executives left the agency amidst toxic relations with agency attorneys, and just as compliance issues were getting more complicated.
“No doubt there’s been turmoil at CalOptima,” said a visibly frustrated Supervisor John Moorlach on Tuesday, lamenting the results of an internal legal investigation published by Voice of OC last month and withheld from Moorlach by CalOptima officials for two years.
Supervisors’ Chairman Shawn Nelson scheduled Tuesday’s discussion of CalOptima’s governing ordinance following a scathing federal audit delivered last month that criticized the health care agency for jeopardizing medical care for more than 16,000 seniors.
Nelson promised a strong review.
Yet Tuesday’s rebuke of Nguyen carried a velvet touch.
In the background is the looming presence of the 34th State Senate District election – one of California’s hottest races, which pits Nguyen against former Democratic State Assemblyman Jose Solorio.
On Tuesday, those battle lines were on clear display.
Local Democrats came out in force with Democratic Party Chairman Henry Vandermeir issuing a public statement criticizing county officials for keeping Nugyen on the board following so much controversy over her reshaping of the CalOptima board.
Despite their own votes for change, not one of Nguyen’s Republican colleagues on the board of supervisors spoke out against her directly or even mentioned the executive upheaval of the past two years that coincided with her dominance of the CalOptima board of directors.
Ultimately, and almost quietly, in a 4-1 vote with Supervisor John Moorlach dissenting, Nelson successfully implemented a change he had been advocating for years: adding another supervisor onto the panel to check Nguyen’s influence.
However, Moorlach, in turn, publicly warned his colleagues Tuesday that they should be prepared for much more wide sweeping change to the agency given the potential disruptions in management – outsourcing its functions to the state government.
Moorlach publicly asked CEO Michael Giancola to examine the possibility of moving to another model.
“You wouldn’t need a board….if we could get out of this industry,” Moorlach said.
At one point during Tuesday’s deliberations, CalOptima CEO Michael Schrader told county supervisors that he had already been advised by Sacramento officials that they are closely monitoring the situation and don’t want to see any big shifts – other than cooperation with the state audit that is now underway.
Nguyen steadfastly defended her actions on CalOptima, at one point even scolding her colleagues for past misstatements about the health care authority that few supervisors, other than Nguyen, seem interested in serving on.
Nguyen also took aim at the Democrats, saying it was sad that party officials “decided to politicize an issue that’s so important to many local people in need for quality care.”
“I want to start out by saying regardless of all the criticism I’m facing, I still stand by my actions,” Nguyen said adding that the past two years as the supervisors’ sole appointee to CalOptima has been “so frustrating” because of inaccuracies stated, “even by members of this board.”
“Enough of the nonsense,” Nguyen said. “Allow me to reinstate the facts.”
Nguyen admitted publicly that her style may have ruffled feathers of executives. But she said her actions were justified.
She argues that the position of providers on the CalOptima board was enhanced but not in an overly broad manner.
“We wanted everybody at the table,” Nguyen said, noting that her 2011 ordinance ensured that hospitals, doctors and network providers had a permanent seat on the board of directors instead of a tilt toward clinics and users.
“That’s the only thing we did. We made sure…so we have three voices and not one,” Nguyen said.
“The departure of the old leadership at CalOptima was actually a good thing,” she added.
“There were no checks and balances,” she said criticizing the period before she took over, which was presided over by Supervisor Moorlach.
Yet by most indicators at the time Nguyen joined the CalOptima board in 2011, it was recognized throughout California and nationally for being well run.
Then-CalOptima CEO Richard Chambers even served on the 21-member Congressional Budget Office Panel of Health Advisers, a nonpartisan, independent group that advises the Budget Office on national health policies, economics and insurance.
“I always found it easy to brag about CalOptima,” said Moorlach in a telephone interview Tuesday after the session.
Yet Nguyen characterized the executive culture of CalOptima as one dominated by lucrative executive bonuses, questionable building purchases and legal contracting.
She also noted “compliance has been a longstanding issue at CalOptima.”
Despite all the changes she has brought in, Nguyen said, it’s still a complex $1.5 billion agency and full of challenges.
Nguyen even challenged all five supervisors to come onto the CalOptima board of directors, saying it’s “very comparable to OCTA (the Orange County Transportation Agency).
Nelson said he’s convinced that having one supervisor on the board of CalOptima is not wise.
“If something does come up on this agency, whether appropriate or not, it unfairly singles out whoever on our board has been appointed,” Nelson said, offering Nguyen a rare protective political umbrella.
Nelson argued for adding another supervisor to the formal board of directors.
That prompted Spitzer to step up, even though he publicly discussed his disinterest in health care policy, one that mirrors a historic one from the mostly Republican board of supervisors.
“I didn’t run for office to do health policy,” Spitzer said. “That’s not my gig.”
“I don’t get up every day saying I’m going to go conquer health care policy,” he added.
Yet Spitzer acknowledged, “these are real people at the end of these services.”
He also publicly acknowledged that the state audit of CalOptima will most probably not be easy.
“We do need another regular person at bat,” Spitzer said.
“I feel like the burden is a lot on me…and maybe it should be,” he added.
Spitzer said: ”I can’t support the status quo. You have to have at least another supervisor there.”
Supervisor Pat Bates cautioned her colleagues against focusing on too many governing board changes, arguing “nobody has taken issue on the makeup of this board other than outside forces and most of those have been political.”
“We’ve made this a problem that doesn’t exist by focusing on the board. We should be focused on compliance,” Bates said.
“We need to let these audits go forward.”
Plans for Faster Bus Lines Delayed
By NICK GERDA
Orange County’s first rapid transit bus line is getting rave reviews from riders, who say they’re saving about 15 minutes each time they travel on Harbor Boulevard, according to officials.
Customer feedback “has been very positive, and the overall service is a success from the customer perspective,” declares an Orange County Transportation Authority staff report this week.
The route, known as Bravo!, “also received very high scores for reliability, cleanliness, and value.”
Meanwhile, plans to add similar lines in other areas were just put on hold.
On a unanimous vote Monday, OCTA directors chose to indefinitely delay creating two new routes. Director Janet Nguyen was absent.
Officials say the projects face a money problem.
“A potential reduction in transit funding” and “lack of future revenues” are cited in the staff’s recommendation to hold off. The new routes are expected to cost a total of $800,000 per year.
OCTA spokesman Joel Zlotnik said the agency foresees a possible dip in state transit assistance funding as the volume of gas and diesel sales decline statewide.
The agency continues to ask the state for more transportation funding, he added.
“OCTA would like to expand transit operation in all areas,” said Zlotnik.
The rapid transit routes stem from the economic recession, when OCTA slashed about 20 percent of bus service countywide.
In 2010, the county grand jury criticized the agency for committing millions of dollars to Anaheim’s ARTIC transportation hub while cutting back on bus service for poor and disabled people. A later grand jury supported the project.
In reaction to the service cuts, OCTA planned to create the three rapid transit routes, an outgrowth of its Transit System Study.
The first line along Harbor Boulevard, one of the busiest streets in Orange County, was launched in June.
The second would connect the Laguna Niguel-Mission Viejo train station with the Irvine Business Complex and South Coast Metro employment centers, with stops at UC Irvine and Aliso Viejo Town Center.
The third route would connect the Santa Ana train station with Long Beach, with stops at the Santa Ana Civic Center, Harbor Boulevard and Beach Boulevard.
In the same action on Monday, OCTA directors also reduced the frequency of stops along the existing Harbor Boulevard rapid transit route.
Starting in June, the buses will run every 12 minutes instead of 10 during peak hours and 18 minutes instead of 15 during off-peak hours.
The savings from the change would likely be reinvested in extended night and weekend service, staff say.
Nguyen opposed that change when the issue was brought to the transit committee.
As a large suburban area, Orange County faces particular challenges when it comes to public transportation.
With homes and offices often spread out in lower-density patterns than many big cities, building new, high-cost systems like subways or rail can prove expensive.
At the same time, county residents are also dealing with ever increasing traffic congestion on roads and freeways. Transportation agencies are being forced by the federal government to get cars flowing again in carpool lanes.
Adding toll lanes to major freeways is one proposal to meet that mandate.
Bus rapid transit, meanwhile, is seen by many transportation planners, including at OCTA, as a flexible and cost-effective mass transit option for suburban areas.
Surrounding areas are also considering a similar approach.
San Bernardino County’s transportation agency, for example, is building a bus rapid transit system connecting major destinations along a 16-mile route between San Bernardino and Loma Linda.
The system, known as San Bernardino Express, or sbX, is set to launch in April.
About 1 million people ride OCTA’s buses each week, according to the agency.
In response to a question from Director John Moorlach, OCTA staff confirmed that a “freeway express” form of bus rapid transit could meet the federal requirements for lessening congestion in carpool lanes.
You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.
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