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Despite resistance from some Orange County residents, Board of Supervisors OKs $7.5-billion budget

Orange County Sheriff's deputies prepare for  a Donald Trump rally in 2016.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a $7.5-million budget on Tuesday, leaving some residents angered at the county’s significant investment in law enforcement.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The Orange County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a $7.5-billion budget on Tuesday after many residents spoke out against the county’s significant investment in law enforcement.

About 43% of the total 2020-21 budget is devoted to community services, while 20% is allocated toward public protection, including the Sheriff’s Department and district attorney’s office.

But some residents took aim at the county’s $890-million discretionary budget, which the supervisors have total control over. Most of the total budget was already apportioned.

Public protection makes up $490.6 million of the discretionary funding, while community services make up $154.2 million.

Pat Davis of Anaheim took umbrage with the supervisors’ favoring of law enforcement over social programs in a written submission to the county that was read aloud during the meeting.

“The ratio of monies applied to public protection and community services in no way matches the needs of the community — your community,” Davis wrote. “The times we find ourselves in, including a COVID pandemic and social unrest, are guaranteed to change our country, as you so comfortably know it ... You need to look around you and see the needs are great, and you have so many resources at your disposal. You can make significant life-saving changes. Why you don’t do so is most telling.”

School districts in more affluent areas of Orange County are planning to welcome students back for in-person learning this month, sooner than in districts serving low-income Latino households like Santa Ana.

Rona Henry of Laguna Woods wrote in a submitted form to the supervisors that there should be greater investment in permanent supportive and affordable housing.

“It’s time for the county to start seriously budgeting for affordable and supportive housing — it’s the morally right way to care for and protect our citizens,” Henry wrote.

“Moreover, following a housing-first policy where we get people housed and then address the other issues has proven to be an effective way to save on healthcare, mental healthcare and law enforcement costs. Please show foresight and planning for Orange County’s housing needs, please allocate significantly more funds for affordable and supportive housing for people with very low and low incomes.”

Supervisors didn’t address the concerns of the residents at the meeting. A vote was taken shortly after public comments.

“Their complete silence spoke volumes,” activist Briana Zimmerman said in a phone interview.

Zimmerman is a co-founder of the People’s Budget, a community coalition that took a survey of more than 1,000 residents, showing that survey respondents living in the county favor greater investment in public health and social services, while supervisors favor investment in law enforcement.

The coalition is made up of various community groups, including the ACLU of Southern California, Housing is a Human Right OC, Chispa and the Orange County Equality Coalition, among others.

“People were thoughtful, they were asking just for a response from the Board of Supervisors, and they were met with silence,” Zimmerman said.

The findings of the report are in line with a nationwide movement to defund police departments and reinvest in community programs.

The report says that residents who replied to the survey support investment of 77% of the discretionary budget to community services like public and mental health, affordable housing, rent relief and other social programs, while the Board of Supervisors’ discretionary budget allocates 17% toward community services.

The report also calls for a 10% discretionary budget allocation toward public safety, while the supervisors’ budget devotes 55% of the budget toward law enforcement agencies like the Sheriff’s Department, district attorney’s office and jails.

Zimmerman said her group will continue to advocate for the survey’s findings.

“We are here for the long haul,” Zimmerman said.

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