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Q&A; : Steiner Sees Challenge in Economic Growth

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A day after his appointment as Orange County’s newest supervisor, Orange City Councilman William G. Steiner spent much of Thursday meeting with top county officials and with his predecessor’s staff. Former Supervisor Don R. Roth resigned the North County seat Monday as a criminal investigation into influence-peddling allegations against him continues.

In an interview, Steiner, the 55-year-old executive director of the Orangewood Children’s Foundation, shared his thoughts on issues such as AIDS, jails and the Mighty Ducks.

Q: You’ve talked about focusing on children’s issues. What can you do now at the county level, with the supervisors now looking at a $93-million budget shortfall next year?

A: “I come from the perspective that when a taxpayer invests in children, there’s a big return on investment. . . . But I realize that we have a significant budget constraint and there’s going to have to be different ways of delivering services.

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“There is a great resource within Orange County of private agencies and volunteerism, and I think the fact that the Orangewood Foundation has raised $17 million over the last 12 years--not using taxpayer dollars--shows that. My biggest contribution to this county is that I’ve been able to facilitate private sector contributions for problems that have typically been met by government. That’s a unique expertise I bring to the Board of Supervisors.

” . . . (But) you’re not going to see me focus on children’s issues for a while, I’ll tell you flat out. The challenge for me is to understand what’s going on in this county in economic development. I’m not abandoning the children. I think the other supervisors have shown an interest in that area, and they’ll be in good hands.”

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Q: You ran unsuccessfully for the state Assembly in 1991. What attracted you now to county government, especially when massive funding cuts seem to make the job tougher every year?

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A: “I felt much more comfortable in this local role versus Sacramento, because I know the lay of the land in Orange County so well. And the fact that I would be one of five (supervisors) is far more appealing than being one of 80 in the California Assembly--far more appealing.”

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Q: You could be a swing vote in efforts by (local activists) to get a countywide AIDS anti-discrimination measure passed. The board has refused until now, 3 to 2, and Supervisor Roth opposed the idea. Where do you stand?

A: “I don’t have any knowledge of that particular initiative. I can’t say.”

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Q: But what about the idea, in general, of legislation banning discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere, based on AIDS?

A: “My only involvement with the issue at all is dealing with the children at Orangewood who come in HIV-positive. That’s the extent of it. I’ll wait and see.”

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Q: Your appointment seems to put you in a tough spot on one of the county’s biggest problems--jail overcrowding. As an Orange councilman, you’ve talked a lot about the Board of Supervisors putting the city at “risk” by expanding the Theo Lacy jail. Now you’re on the board, and you’ve got to find beds for hundreds of extra inmates. Where does that leave you?

A: Steiner said he felt hurt and “betrayed” that the board had gone “back on its word” in moving last year to expand Theo Lacy, despite a 1990 agreement with the city of Orange to cap the inmate population. The city is suing the county as a result.

But just in the last few weeks--"before any appointment for supervisor, or even any knowledge of it"--Steiner said he came to realize the fight was too costly. “In the fiscal environment we’re in, we could no longer justify litigation costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, with one governmental entity suing another. But I’m a lone voice. None of my colleagues (on the council) have supported that idea particularly.”

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Q: What about more long-term jail solutions? The county still needs a jail--where?

A: “I’m going to have to talk to (Sheriff) Brad Gates and other board members to take that issue further.”

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Q: Can the county solve its financial problems without raising fees and taxes substantially or laying off large numbers of its 16,000-plus workers?

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A: “We have not raised any taxes in the city of Orange. There was a strong effort in the city to adopt a utility tax, and I did not support that. What we have done in Orange is to reduce our work force by 8% through attrition, and we are facing perhaps additional layoffs. . . . The county is on a much larger stage, and I’m sure it’s too soon to know all the answers . . . but the real challenge for elected officials is how to do things differently, recognizing there are not unlimited funds. Set priorities. Perhaps government tries to be all things to all people and then ends up not doing anything very well.”

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Q: How do you view Don Roth’s time as supervisor and the problems leading to his resignation?

A: “With a lot of mixed feelings. Don Roth was a very good supervisor for the city of Orange. . . . I don’t want to comment on the (district attorney’s) investigation, but I still must say I learned some lessons on the whole issue of good government and ethical behavior. . . .

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“I’m hoping to redefine what access is, to make sure that people can have access to me as a public official and know they don’t have to take me to lunch or take me out to golf.”

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Q: Should the county play a financial role in Anaheim in the widening of roads and other public works projects needed for Disneyland’s $3-billion Westcott expansion?

A: “I’m going to have to defer on that. One of the things I’m going to do next week is meet with (Mayor) Tom Daly to find out the whole issue around the expansion of Disneyland. . . . One thing I’ve learned is it’s much better to admit you don’t know the answers.”

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Q: What about the Mighty Ducks? Disney has taken some criticism for the name (of the future professional hockey team in Anaheim). What do you think?

A: “I like the name. I like the Mighty Ducks. It’s important not to take life too seriously.”


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