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Opinion

Commentary: A state senator’s take on federal judge’s weekend homeless hearing

Marianne Van Riper, David Carter, Brooke Weitzman
U.S. District Judge David Carter, center, walks with Brooke Weitzman, attorney for the plaintiffs, right, and Marianne Van Riper, Orange County Counsel’s Office senior assistant counsel, left, during a tour of a Southern California homeless encampment in Santa Ana on Feb. 14.
(Amy Taxin / AP)

Saturday morning I decided to sit in on Judge David Carter’s homeless hearing for a brief period. I have been working with Judge Carter as a liaison with the state and its efforts to find funding for the homeless.

I have recently met with Elaine Howle, the state auditor, to review her most recent audit report on the status of the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) created by Proposition 63 in 2004.

This past week, as a follow up, I also met with Toby Ewing, the executive director, of the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission, to corroborate the audit findings.

The audit report found some $2.5 billion in unspent funds to assist those with mental illness has accumulated since the passage of Proposition 63 in 2004.

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This is the case for all 58 counties and the state. There has been a paralysis and lack of leadership by the Department of Health Care Services as to what and where these funds can go, frustrating all parties.

Both of these meetings were disconcerting. I am no longer an executive who can provide guidance and direct staff to get something accomplished. I am now a legislator in a state so large that managing it is next to impossible. You thought Caltrans was messed up.

Well, serious improvements can also be made to the Department of Health Care Services, which directs MHSA funding.

I now must provide directives through legislation. Fine, but I am only allowed 20 bills per year. And my executive brain is screaming in a legislator’s body. So one of my bills this year is to establish an executive position to help run this state, Senate Bill 1297, but more on that at another time.

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I dropped by the hearing after it had been proceeding for about an hour, but Judge Carter brought me up front, and I listened to his reactions to various components of the state auditor’s MHSA audit report.

He also provided PowerPoint slides showing various pages. His lecture also included available locations, with Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa being the most prominent one of which he was aware.

Judge Carter had invited mayors and city managers to be present and then, around 11 a.m., took them for a tour of the nearby bus depot, a location that I worked to provide as a roof for the homeless while still a county supervisor. In the meantime, it has been made available and currently has some 400 residents.

Due to other commitments, I left midway through the walk. The Voice of OC provides their take in “Federal Judge Expands OC Homeless Housing to Include Longtime Santa Ana Civic Center Camp,” (March 17).

It was a federal judge who may have started this dilemma with the mandate for the state of California to reduce its inmate population.

Instead of building more prisons, which is cost-prohibitive, thanks to the high cost to staff them with the providing of public safety-defined benefit pensions and other employee benefits, the governor in 2011 backed and signed Assembly Bill 109, “Public Safety Realignment,” which released supposed nonviolent inmates prematurely to the 58 counties.

The ironies continue. But, I digress.

As you know, after reviewing my recent 10-volume series, cities are not flush with the cash needed to address this immediate housing requirement for the homeless.

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The MHSA provides a funding opportunity, and I worked side-by-side with Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon in 2016 on the passage of AB 1618, “No Place Like Home,” to securitize this tax revenue source. We announced the initiative at Skid Row in Los Angeles.

De Leon even allowed me to provide input on constructing the bill. It passed and was signed into law, but has not been implemented because it is tied up in Sacramento County Superior Court on validation concerns.

Senator de Leon is trying to request $2 billion from the governor, which would be replaced once the bonds are issued. This would start the process of counties submitting grants for immediate housing construction now. I also informed the president pro tem to tell the governor that there are $2.5 billion in funds that can be used as collateral for the cash advance

JOHN MOORLACH (R-Costa Mesa) represents the 37th District in the state Senate.


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