25th Anniversary Look Back
After Orange County filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection on December 6, 1994, there was a focus on replacing the County’s Executive Officer with someone of national repute. The number of names offered was impressive. The process resulted in the hiring of William Popejoy, former CEO of American Savings.
I’m sad to report that Bill Popejoy passed away (see https://www.ocregister.com/2019/10/14/banker-william-popejoy-who-worked-to-rescue-orange-county-from-bankruptcy-dies-at-81/).
I worked with him after the Board of Supervisors appointed me on March 17, 1995, until he decided to move on. It was a Master’s Degree program, as we met as county executives every week to address the numerous aspects of the recovery efforts.
The obvious answer that almost every city and county municipality turns to is a sales tax rate increase. We’re seeing it around Orange County and the state to address ever-increasing defined benefit pension plan contribution costs.
Voters defeated the sales tax ballot effort, Measure R. It failed not because Bill Popejoy didn’t try hard enough. It failed because voters were not going to enable the county to force them to pay for the dysfunctional mismanagement that created the mess.
In honor of a man who stepped out of his comfort zone to help his fellow residents, I’m providing a sampling of references in my earlier UPDATEs (including a copy of a segment that eulogizes Bill well):
In steps a charismatic, experienced and determined CEO in Orange County resident Bill Popejoy, who immediately pursued an agenda that he felt was the most appropriate for the county’s recovery. He did the dirty work of overseeing massive layoffs and instigating the pursuit of the parties that participated in Citron’s inappropriate investment strategies. He was the right person at the right time.
Unfortunately for Popejoy, the majority of the Board of Supervisors, as well as the majority of the populace, disagreed with Popejoy’s advocacy of a sales-tax increase as a response to the county’s bankruptcy. Working at cross-purposes with your bosses does not make for a healthy environment, and Popejoy stepped out.
With the county still in bankruptcy protection and need of restructuring long-time insider Jan Mittermeier was tapped for the position. She was strong, knew where the skeletons were buried, and knew the players to get a restructuring and comprehensive bankruptcy settlement agreement accomplished. She was the right person at the right time.
* MOORLACH UPDATE — Reminiscing — January 19, 2013 (Robert Citron’s passing)
Be Well Orange County
I’ve had the privilege of working behind the scenes on an ongoing effort to help those with mental illness. I’ve also been front and center on a few visible efforts, like implementing Laura’s Law (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Laura’s Law Journey — August 11, 2014, MOORLACH UPDATE — Laura’s Law Resolution Passes — May 13, 2014 and MOORLACH UPDATE — Catalyst — March 14, 2015). It has been adopted by 17 other counties in California (see MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 689 – Needle Exchange — March 1, 2019).
Senate Bill 585 (Steinberg – 2013) made my efforts possible. Former State Senator and now Mayor of Sacramento, Darrell Steinberg, was in town yesterday and it allowed me an opportunity to publicly thank him for his efforts in the mental health space. We have since worked on a number of bills, including SB1273 (see MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 1255 and SB 1273 — July 25, 2016) and SB 1004 (see MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 1004 and CIRM — September 10, 2018).
We had the opportunity to enjoy a groundbreaking ceremony for Be Well Orange County’s upcoming facility in the city of Orange (also see MOORLACH UPDATE — Recognizing Movement — June 7, 2019). The OC Register covers this critical milestone in the first piece below.
P.S. I’m still a State Senator, not an Assemblyman.
Mental Health: Make It Top Priority
On the subject of Mental Health, please attend our Forum on Saturday, October 26th at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. You’ll learn about the problems with the Lanterman–Petris–Short Act of 1967 and Solutions for our community’s mental health problems. Register by clicking on Reserve My Seat.
The Pew Foundation provides a national perspective on automatic (motor) voter registration in the second piece below (see MOORLACH UPDATE — CSU versus DMV — August 13, 2019, MOORLACH UPDATE — Rushing Motor Voter — January 31, 2019, and MOORLACH UPDATE — Motor Voter Accountability — December 21, 2018).
Be Well OC mental and behavioral health services hub touted as a place for ‘hope’ at groundbreaking ceremony
State and local officials alike praise the collaborative effort behind the one-stop shop facility.
It’s one thing for local officials to view the Be Well Orange County Regional Mental Health and Wellness Campus as a potential role model of specialized healthcare, something that someday might be emulated around the state.
But that becomes more than hometown boasting when the project gets endorsements from the author of California’s landmark Prop. 63 Mental Health Services Act of 2004, and from the state’s so-called “mental health czar” recently appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Accolades flowed during a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday, Oct. 16, in Orange, to mark the start of construction for the Be Well OC hub on south Anita Drive.
“Be Well OC, you literally are leading the way,” said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, chairman of the state commission on Homelessness & Supportive Housing and a longtime advocate of mental health services who, as a state legislator, authored and championed Prop. 63.
Steinberg — one of about 20 local, state and federal representatives who spoke Wednesday — noted that he was marking his 60th birthday: “I can’t think of a better birthday gift.”
Joining Steinberg in support of the county’s $40 million public-private initiative was Dr. Tom Insel, a psychiatrist who led the National Institute of Mental Health for more than a decade. In May, Insel was tapped by Newsom to be his special adviser on mental health.
“This is an investment that pays off in so many ways,” said Insel, who in his new role has been visiting different areas of the state to see how they help the mentally ill and homeless populations.
Insel serves as the chair of the Steinberg Institute, a public policy agency founded by Sacramento Mayor Steinberg to focus on mental and behavioral health. Insel also is co-founder of the Silicon Valley mental health care startup Mindstrong.
In speaking to the nearly 200 people gathered beneath a white tent in the middle of the dirt lot where late next year the Be Well campus is expected to open, Insel talked about “the three C’s” that he views as keys to providing mental and behavioral health services: commitment, capacity and compassion.
Commitment from local leadership, he said of Orange County, “is exactly what is happening here” and “is so exciting to see.”
Compassion, according to Insel, is equally important to help people who struggle with mental health challenges: “This is the most disenfranchised and, in many ways, the most difficult and suffering part of our population.”
Former county Supervisor and current state Assemblyman John Moorlach evoked the name of Kelly Thomas, the mentally ill homeless man who died after a 2011 altercation with Fullerton police officers. In the aftermath of Thomas’ death, Moorlach worked to make Orange County the second county in the state to adopt Laura’s Law, which provides a court process through which adults struggling with serious mental illnesses can be ordered to receive outpatient treatment.
Be Well OC represents another step to helping that population, Moorlach said, calling it an answer to many people’s prayers.
In the eyes of supporters, the county’s initiative is strong and unusual because it will offer centralized mental health services. As a public-private entity, Be Well will provide help to all comers, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay. Supervisor Lisa Bartlett noted that clients could range from homeless people to others with great health insurance, saying “we’re here to serve all of Orange County.”
The 60,000-square-foot facility is expected to house everything from short and long-term mental health treatment, to psychiatric crisis-stabilization units, residential programs and programs to help people battle substance abuse.
In 2017, the county spent $7.5 million to purchase the land and a now-demolished office complex. In January, the Board of Supervisors committed another $16.6 million to the Be Well OC partnership that includes the county’s Health Care Agency; CalOptima, the Medi-Cal insurance provider in Orange County; as well as hospital systems Kaiser Permanente, St. Joseph Hoag Health, and St. Jude Medical Center.
The funding includes $11.4 million from CalOptima and $12 million in private dollars from the hospitals.
Mind OC was formed as a nonprofit to coordinate and oversee project construction and delivery of services.
The Anita Street campus, off Orangewood Avenue and not far from where hundreds of homeless people once lived in encampments along the Santa Ana River Trail, will be the first of three planned regional hubs for mental health treatment. The goal is to build similar projects in south and central Orange County.
‘Day of hope’
First District Supervisor Andrew Do shared the story of a friend, Marry Lue, and her challenge to find help for her son.
“I dedicate today, the day of hope, to Marry Lue and to all of the families struggling with mental health,” Do said at the ceremony. He later described how his friend, who lives in Huntington Beach, at times had to corral her son as he ran naked in the street, fearful he would encounter someone and be arrested. Or worse.
“I was scared to death for him, and for her,” said Do, who added that the son, now in his mid-30s, is stabilized and living in a group home.
But Do and other supervisors faced criticism, including from a federal judge, for stockpiling county money available from the Mental Health Services Act, which generates hundreds of millions of dollars annually from a 1% tax on millionaires. Those purse strings have loosened, including a $90.5 million allocation for permanent supportive housing last year.
But Orange County is not alone in sitting on such funds. A February 2018 state audit showed that many of California’s counties had large reserves of unspent Prop. 63 dollars, something that Steinberg commented on in an interview after the Be Well OC ceremony.
“The needs are tremendous,” he said. “So the money can not sit there.”
Glitches in California Embolden Automatic Voter Registration Foes
California’s rollout of automatic voter registration didn’t go as planned.
It seemed like a good idea: Cut the bureaucracy by adding voters automatically and welcome more residents to political participation. Since April 2018, when California residents go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to register a car or get a license, they are added to the state voter rolls — unless they opt out.
But DMV officials later found more than 100,000 registration errors in the first year, including some voters registered to the wrong party. And at least one noncitizen (state officials still are investigating how many in total) was accidentally signed up — a significant error since noncitizens aren’t allowed to vote.
Across the country, proponents of automatic voter registration often laud its ability to dramatically increase a state’s voter rolls, bringing more people into the political process. Since Oregon became the first state to pass automatic voter registration in 2015, 17 other states and the District of Columbia have followed with their own version of the policy, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Among many states and different models, automatic voter registration has been shown to increase voter rolls, from an increase of nearly 10% in the District of Columbia to as much as 94% in Georgia, according to an April report from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.
But at a time when momentum around automatic voter registration is building, the latest struggles in California have emboldened critics who have long held that the system could allow noncitizens to vote, even as officials and experts point out that’s happened only a handful of times.
Republican state Sen. John Moorlach said he is not sure whether California’s registration mistakes could have changed the results of any election, but the past year has proved the state needs to make several improvements to its registration system “so we don’t make a mockery of the process.” He voted against enacting automatic voter registration in 2015.
“It seems to me if you’re voting and not a U.S. citizen, that’s a serious crime,” Moorlach said. “The irony is we’re making such a big deal in Russia’s supposed involvement in the 2016 election, and here we have actual abuse in voting and potential voter fraud and mismanagement of voter registration.”
Earlier this month, three Republican California voters, two of whom are naturalized citizens, sued Democratic Secretary of State Alex Padilla and DMV Director Steve Gordon over the errors, accusing them of “a pattern and practice of doing nothing to verify that a potential voter is a United States citizen, thus causing non-citizens to be placed on the voter rolls.”
The law firm representing the plaintiffs is run by the former vice chairwoman of the California Republican Party, Harmeet Dhillon.
The lawsuit calls on state officials to develop a better system to prevent future citizen-related errors. Mark Meuser, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said state agencies struggle to maintain databases and share information to keep voter rolls accurate.
“There’s a much bigger problem than noncitizens voting,” said Meuser, who lost a 2018 Republican bid for California secretary of state. “I’m much more concerned about the integrity of our system and people thinking their vote is diluted.”
Meuser said he thinks Californians are worried about a program that made 105,000 voter registration errors and allowed an unknown number of noncitizens to be added to the voter rolls. At least 1,500 people who are ineligible to vote were registered in the months following the April 2018 rollout, election officials said, six of whom voted in the midterm elections, according to a state review.
The California DMV would not comment to Stateline about any aspect of automatic voter registration because of pending litigation. Padilla’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
In response to the lawsuit, Padilla told the Sacramento Bee at the time, “The plaintiffs claim they are protecting voters, but this is nothing more than an underhanded attempt to bring their voter suppression playbook to California.”
DMV officials have said they added safeguards and other protections to their processes to prevent future errors.
An independent audit — ordered in September 2018 by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, and released in February 2019 — found that California’s registration program was “confusing to the public,” among other issues outlined in the 113-page report about the months after the error-laden rollout.
Automatic voter registration works, said Myrna Pérez, director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, but she stressed that states need to prevent avoidable mistakes.
Using tools ranging from public information campaigns to soft rollouts to further testing among county clerks and DMV workers, she said, states should be able to filter out noncitizens.
“Automatic voter registration has been shown to effectively increase registration in states big and small, blue and red, rural and urban, all across the country,” she said, citing Brennan Center research. “But like any policy, it needs to be designed strategically and smartly.”
Some states have taken extra precautions to prevent costly errors.
When Vermont began its new system in 2017, for example, officials prepared for potential problems with the thousands of noncitizens who work on the state’s dairy farms. Some 60,000 residents have gone to the DMV for driver privilege cards, a license available to anyone regardless of citizenship status.
The state had to make sure it was registering only citizens, said Will Senning, the state director of elections and campaign finance.
Vermont will register only DMV customers who both say they are citizens and don’t opt out of the registration, Senning said. The applications then go every night to town clerks, who approve them.
“It’s not truly automatic,” he said. “You still have a human element. Problems are not rampant.”
While designing this new process, Senning said, he was less concerned about noncitizens registering on purpose and more that they would register by accident and risk deportation. That’s why his office worked with immigration advocacy groups to share information across the state.
Since implementing the program, Senning said he has seen only a handful of instances where noncitizens were mistakenly registered, tracing them to data entry errors by DMV staff. Such errors, he said, are inevitable given the volume of applications and updates they process. He expects those errors will decrease as the state updates its registration technology.
“I believe I could count them on two hands,” he said. “Overall we have been very satisfied with the significantly low error rate.”
In Colorado, residents must indicate their country of citizenship to get their driver’s license. For noncitizens, such as green card holders, who qualify for state driver’s licenses, the computer system asks DMV customers twice whether they are U.S. citizens, said Melissa Polk, internal operations and legal manager at the Colorado Department of State. She said no noncitizen has been registered to vote under the new system.
The state has streamlined data between the DMV and the secretary of state’s office, and it will expand automatic voter registration in the coming years, Polk said, registering Coloradans who interact with state agencies beyond the DMV, like the state’s Medicaid program.
Republican state Sen. Owen Hill in April voted against the measure that expands the state’s automatic voter registration program to other state services. Keeping noncitizens off voter rolls in Colorado, he said, is a legitimate concern.
“In order to keep people’s trust in democratic institutions, I think we have to go above and beyond,” he said. “Automatic voter registration creates concerns with the overall integrity of the system.”
But the safeguards might not be enough for critics.
Simply asking DMV customers whether they are citizens isn’t sufficient, said Logan Churchwell, communications and research director at the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a conservative organization in Indianapolis led by lawyers who have worked on election law cases. The group has long opposed automatic voter registration.
While some states offer residents an option to opt out of their voter registrations on forms at the DMV or on postcards sent to homes, Churchwell fears that an immigrant, new to this country and without enough English proficiency, might mistakenly ignore the reminders and remain on voter rolls.
“Automation cranks errors into the system,” Churchwell said. “It is not designed to worry if the person is a citizen. The reality is, noncitizens are the victims.”
In rare instances, noncitizens who have registered to vote and later cast a ballot have been deported. Such was the case in 2017, when a Peruvian immigrant was deported after voting twice in Illinois illegally as a legal permanent resident. She said she was misled by DMV workers to register to vote. When she applied for citizenship, government officials discovered her voting history and returned her to Peru.
It’s outrageous to say that Churchwell and his colleagues are concerned about noncitizens, said Pérez at the Brennan Center. The group received heavy criticism for putting out a 2016 report, “Alien Invasion,” with a flying saucer on the cover. It also printed home addresses of Virginians mistakenly labeled as noncitizens who registered to vote. The individuals were all citizens; they sued the group for defamation last year.
The group’s president, J. Christian Adams, who sat on President Donald Trump’s now-disbanded voter fraud commission, apologized to the affected voters as part of a settlement agreement.
But these concerns over citizenship have led some Republican-led state legislatures to attempt to require proof of citizenship to register to vote. Some of these efforts were inspired by Trump’s unsupported claim that millions of noncitizens may have voted during the 2016 presidential election.
Earlier this year, Texas ended a botched review of its voting records that questioned the citizenship status of 100,000 registered voters. State Republican leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott, said during the review that noncitizens were voting in Texas elections. Many of the voters in question were naturalized citizens.
Even still, states continue to adopt automatic voter registration.
In the past year, the New Mexico and Maine legislatures enacted automatic voter registration, while Michigan implemented its program. Ohio Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose earlier this year called on lawmakers to embrace a similar “opt-out” voter registration system.
As more states adopt this program, they must ensure there are protections for noncitizens, Pérez said.
“It can be done in a way that makes it easier for people who are noncitizens to opt out,” she said. “We need to make sure that noncitizens are acutely aware what the rules are for voting, where they might be asked about voting and how they should say no.”
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