You could read this as a tale of the ultimate 1%er.
You could take it as a case of privilege and power, the wages of wealth disparity, a holdover of old-timey Orange County.
Or you could consider this a story of a community in action under the umbrella of a democratic society.
Let’s start with the ultimate 1%er.
That’s none other than Donald Bren in this telling. He’s the owner of the Irvine Company, the richest person in OC, and author of much of what’s most attractive there.
Bren’s persona has been assigned a role in a budding urban legend about homelessness in OC. It seems a transit center just blocks from the Irvine Company’s headquarters in Newport Center – a place that Bren has raised to world-class status for high-end retail, financial-sector might and untold other white-collar skills and thrills – recently hosted a homeless encampment.
Somewhere around six or eight homeless individuals found it within their capacity to make bus trips from other parts of OC and establish an encampment at the Orange County Transportation Authority’s Newport Transportation Center Dock 1. The transit center itself has public bathrooms and benches and shade in the area of Avocado Avenue and San Nicolas Drive, where a nearby dog park has offered similar comforts.
A number of homeless folks began to spend their days in the area, with a handful or two camping overnight on the grounds of the transit center. That was the case until recently, when OCTA, which operates the facility on land owned by the Irvine Company, opted to close the place overnight. That made anyone on the premises during those hours a trespasser and legally susceptible to arrest as such.
The move by OCTA has dispersed the homeless campers – and changes to landscaping are underway to dissuade any new concentration from shaping up at the transit center.
That doesn’t mean the homeless are gone, though. Newport Beach Mayor Diane Dixon says there are 60 to 80 homeless individuals in the city, including many who arrived after a federal order led to an aggressive clearing of encampments from the bed of the Santa Ana River.
The homeless are being allowed to camp in public places in Newport Beach for now because the city has no shelter beds to offer them. Current law prohibits Newport Beach Police Department officers – or any government representatives who cannot offer shelter to a person deemed to have no other options – from arresting them for occupying public space.
The current situation won’t stand because the encampment at the transit center led to a wave of complaints from folks who work and shop in Newport Center as well as residents of the adjacent districts of Corona del Mar, Big Canyon and San Joaquin Hills.
More than one plugged-in resident reports that the nextdoor.com private social network’s local page was inundated with hard-edged complaints about the homeless encampment. The removal of benches from the transit center and dog park – moves intended to make the places less attractive to the homeless – was decried as a white flag of surrender. The area buzzed with complaints about an obvious tear in its social fabric, a blight on quality of life along the coast.
Local politicians soon got the business from voters, and the wheels went into motion at the City of Newport Beach. A plan now is under consideration for one shelter at a relatively out-of-the-way public works facility, and talks are ongoing about two other locations near John Wayne Airport – one that would be operated by the City of Newport Beach and another that might proceed as a joint-venture with the neighboring City of Costa Mesa.
The budding urban legend, meanwhile, holds that the homeless encampment played out in view of Bren’s 9th-floor office on Newport Center Drive. A simple call from the multi-billionaire is what put the city’s personnel and resources into overdrive, some contend.
I’ve been told by knowledgeable sources that that’s not true on either count – Bren’s office doesn’t have a line of vision to the transit stop or dog park, and this isn’t a case of the richest guy in town complaining about poverty as an inconvenience.
This is about a larger community that saw homeless folks living in public spaces that were never intended to be used in such a manner, not to mention ill-equipped to provide appropriate facilities for personal hygiene and public health. The populace shone a light on tactics that treat symptoms instead of causes, decisions that eventually diminish community assets by falling into the sort of dysfunction that leads to the removal of amenities as basic as park benches.
This is about a community that spoke up and demanded more from its elected representatives.
That basic call made by the residents near the transit center in Newport Beach is correct even if some of the discussions might have strayed toward the politically incorrect.
Indeed, it’s been suggested to me that a thorough search of the postings on nextdoor.com would likely yield complaints from constituents focused on themselves and their families and homes and neighborhoods rather than the misery of the homeless folks.
Frustration or plain mean-spiritedness might have led to some ill-chosen words among the complaints.
Yet there’s a larger point to be found and lauded in a group of people who encountered a symptom of an enormous problem taking root in their own community and called on their elected officials to act.
There’s something noteworthy when you consider the situation is headed for a result that will have the City of Newport Beach join other public entities in addressing the most immediate aspect of the actual problem – homelessness, not the use of park benches by homeless individuals – in a tangible and measurable way.
Could LA benefit from this lesson from OC, where voters demanded action from elected officials?
And let me say this to anyone who will respond with a citation of the average household income in Newport Beach as evidence of a rigged game – only because I can see that coming on Twitter:
It’s still one person, one vote in this country – and that goes for LA City Council districts the same as Newport Beach.
LA’s Burning Churn
Consider this as contrast and context before you decide on what your next move should be:
There have been at least four cases of arson against homeless folks in LA County in the past six weeks.
One case involved a homeless person attempting to set another afire in Glendale, according to investigators.
Two men with homes of their own are alleged to have scorched about 40 acres of brush near the Eagle Rock district in an attempt to burn out a homeless encampment.
A man died of injuries sustained when his tent on a sidewalk in the Skid Row district of Downtown was set afire with him inside.
Another man was found burned to death and stuffed into a shopping cart at a homeless encampment in Van Nuys.
Various reports from media outlets ranging from the LA Times to LAist.com, from USA Today to KCBS-TV, carried no comment from any elected officials on any of these cases.
The coverage indicates that these incidents were part of what’s become the daily churn of life and death of LA.
There’s a very good chance that such brutalities didn’t become part of the regular churn until sometime after Angelenos got used to homeless encampments in public spaces.
And homeless folks living in public spaces didn’t become so widespread as to seem normal until local government spent years falling behind on its basic job of maintaining public health and safety.
The politicians who haven’t gotten the job done on homelessness are still subject to popular approval.
One person, one vote.
Stuck With Cedillo
An example of why LA is stuck on homelessness while Newport Beach moves forward comes from 1st District Los Angeles City Councilmember Gil Cedillo’s latest response to one of a number of questions SullivanSaysSoCal.com sent along about the $2 million he’s getting from a developer.
The money is supposedly intended to fund efforts to preserve or develop “affordable” housing in Chinatown.
Atlas Capital Group agreed to give the money after Cedillo voted to allow a project it plans in Chinatown to proceed without any units set aside as affordable.
Cedillo’s communication on the matter has been irregular and confused. At one point he claimed the now-defunct Community Redevelopment Agency of LA had been the “the single-largest source of affordable housing finance.”
SullivanSaysSoCal asked him to substantiate the claim, and here’s his response:
The fact is that redevelopment agencies were the largest source of affordable housing finance. In Council District the CRA was the largest source of affordable housing finance.
The statement is true because he said it’s true, according to Cedillo, who’s also recently taken to calling fellow elected officials who disagree with him “Trumpian.”
Here’s what I call Cedillo and his weak act when it comes to backing up claims with facts:
Last week’s column mistakenly referred to the U.S. government’s Radio Free Asia as Radio Free America.
It looks as though the Downtown-based Pacific Council on International Policy will say so long to a couple of members bound for service to the Trump Administration – no doubt a challenge amid the president’s mold-breaking approach to diplomacy.
Newly appointed National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien has been a member of the Pacific Council since 2007.
“His long career of public service as well as recent successes as Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs at the U.S. Department of State have been characterized by great integrity, commitment, effectiveness, and success and the country is lucky to have Robert as its new National Security Advisor,” Jerrold D. Green, chief executive of the Pacific Council, said in a statement.
O’Brien served as an advisor on foreign policy to U.S. Senator Mitt Romney and former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker during their runs for the White House. He also served in various role at the State Department under President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.
O’Brien is a founding partner of Larson O’Brien LLP, a law firm based in Downtown Los Angeles.
President Donald Trump also recently nominated Barbera Thornhill, president of Impact Design and a longstanding member of the Pacific Council as ambassador to Singapore.
The post could become crucial as Singapore functions as an alternative to the financial center of Hong Kong – favored by many Western corporations as a base for Asian operations. Hong Kong these days continues to chafe against China’s increasingly authoritarian central government in Beijing.
Thornhill’s firm specializes in interior design, and she has also been a busy participant in SoCal’s civic life, with serviced and donations to the Children’s Institute of Los Angeles, the Library Foundation of Los Angeles, the West Los Angeles County Council for the Boy Scouts of America, the National Children’s Chorus of Los Angeles and New York, the Getty Research Institute Council and the World Affairs Council.
Thornhill’s appointment requires confirmation by the U.S. Senate.
Jamaican Wine Plays Irvine
Back to OC for this one, which starts with the contention that there remains room for much more communications and work when it comes to race in America.
Put everything from outright bigotry to stubborn prejudices to well-intended patronization on the list.
But take heart in America’s willingness to do its part by continuing to engage the challenge of race relations from multiple angles.
Anyone who doubts that should have seen reggae star Shaggy’s performance at the FivePoint Amphitheatre in Irvine on the night of Sept. 27.
Shaggy is a black man from Jamaica who poked fun at white guys while cooing to their dates and showing off sexually suggestive dance moves in a nearly hour-long performance amid clouds of marijuana smoke.
The entire crowd ate it up.
Here’s betting black, sex and marijuana would not have combined to bring the house down 20 years ago in Irvine.
Shaggy’s routine might not have passed muster there 10 years ago.
He was a hit last week.
So keep the conversation on race going, but also realize that a lot of people have come a long way.
That could be viewed as cold comfort to folks who wonder why there was ever any distance to cover at all.
Fair enough – but history has made it so.
Give credit to Shaggy in any case. He wasn’t the headliner for the show – that slot went to UB40.
But he did more than warm up the crowd for UB40. He pushed his luck and pushed the line. Yes, he was more than a little bit naughty with his demonstration of a Jamaican Wine – and you can Google that one if you really want to know.
Shaggy led with talent, though. He sang and danced and commanded the crowd like a master showman. He tempered his toughness with humor. He leavened his star turn with appreciation.
Shaggy did more than shock – he made progress in a complicated conversation by pushing just far enough but not too far in the end.
He moved the needle in Irvine – and that moves the needle in America.
Can’t wait to see what Snoop Doggy Dogg and Ice Cube do at the FivePoint Amphitheatre later this month.
More From Vets on Westwood
A couple more missives, edited for length and clarity, as reporting continues on the Veterans Administration campus is Westwood:
Fellow Veterans and Friends of Veterans: What’s the difference between homeless Veterans supposedly not wanting to live inside on VA property because they allegedly “won’t follow the rules” and VA bureaucrats and wealthy, powerful non-Veteran entities who actually “don’t follow the rules,” i.e., obey the Congressional Act of 1887 and Trust Deed of 1888, honor a Federal Judgment, a “Settlement Agreement,” and the VA Office of Inspector General’s 120-page report on continued misuse of VA land that defrauds disabled Veterans of their benefits?
Answer: One is pure speculation and the other is absolute fact.
If you don't know which is which, you are the problem as more and more disabled veterans are dying on the streets of Los Angeles from natural death, suicide, murder, beatings, etc., while you continue to defraud war-injured veterans of their legal disability benefit – the Los Angeles National Veterans Home.
Bob Rose Brock
Old Veterans Guard
Here is another definition or two for everyone:
Transparency: Openness, accountability and honesty define government transparency. In a free society, transparency is government’s obligation to share information with citizens. It is at the heart of how citizens hold their public officials accountable.
Obscure: Dark, vague, enigmatic, cryptic, ambiguous, equivocal; not clearly understandable. Obscure implies a hiding or veiling of meaning through some inadequacy of expression or withholding of full knowledge.
VA Transparency: The false appearance of being open, honest and accountable all while being completely obscure.
AE2, US Navy
4116 days of honorable service
Congratulations to Howard Marks and Bruce Karsh, who could have met expectations with a formal close on the sale of a controlling interest in Oaktree Capital Management to Brookfield Asset Management anytime in the third quarter but managed to give the feel of a beginning rather than an end by wrapping the deal up on Sept. 30, right in the middle of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.