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Q & A with Santa Ana candidates for Ward 3 council seat

Five candidates are seeking to represent Ward 3 in the Santa Ana City Council election Nov. 3.

They are Jeffrey Katz, an attorney, Jessie Lopez, a diversity development coordinator, Mark McLoughlin, a city planning commissioner, Danny Vega, an electrical engineer, and Jannelle Welker, policy advisor for county Supervisor Doug Chaffee.

RELATED: Candidates for Santa Ana’s Ward 3 offer divergent views on police, rent control, face masks

Here are the candidates’ replies, some edited for space, to a questionnaire sent by the Register:

Q. What’s a top issue in the city and, if elected, how do you plan to address it? (75 words max)

Katz: Many issues have been crippling Santa Ana for decades. How does Santa Ana return to a status where it is perceived, by its residents and those outside the city, as a special place where safety, good education and great jobs is not an afterthought? Please visit to see my plans for: 1. solving homelessness 2. addressing crime and safety 3. reinvigorating the local economy 4. revitalizing neighborhoods 5. partnering with Santa Ana Unified for better education.

Lopez: Homelessness remains the single biggest issue reducing the quality of life for our residents. We must work in collaboration with other cities and the county to equitably share this burden. We cannot add new shelters to our Santa Ana community if other communities are unwilling to do their fair share. As a first step we need to end the county’s jail release procedure that funnels homeless individuals from throughout the county into our downtown.

McLoughlin: Public safety is Ward 3 top issue. A seemingly endless stream of homeless, drug addicts are wondering around increasing crime on properties. Our police need to be more proactive to deter crime in our parks and streets with increasing community policing instead of just reactive. I want to be on the public safety side of working together with police and fire to do things better. I am proud to be endorsed by both fire and police.

Vega: The homeless situation in Santa Ana is an emergency and we must treat it as such. We must crack down on camping and loitering. We also need to encourage our residents to not give monetary handouts. The hope is that we will remove a source of income that some transients use for drugs giving them more of an incentive to seek help from our shelters. Holding the county accountable is also another crucial step.

Welker: Connecting our unemployed residents to jobs is a top priority during the COVID-19 pandemic. I will work to fill the nine vacancies on the Santa Ana Workforce Development Board and oversee the contracts of the operators who connect residents with jobs in the Santa Ana Workforce Center. Since the Workforce Development Board is receiving additional federal funding during the economic downturn, I want to ensure we are using the surplus funding to best connect unemployed residents to employers.

Q. What are your plans for the city’s recovery from the pandemic? Please be specific on any expenses you would cut, or how you would bring in new revenue. 

Katz: The United States will come out ahead of “the game” after the outbreak, largely because of entrepreneurs who will build world-changing businesses during the lockdown. To capitalize and save our city, we must: 1. attract these new companies to set up operations.  2. build out manufacturing and infrastructure capabilities that are forward-looking, as the pace of technology continues to accelerate.  3. re-establish in Santa Ana industries off-shored during the last two decades. 4. promote (local) shopping and eating.

Lopez: We cannot have an economic recovery until we ensure the health and safety of our residents. The city should start stabilizing the budget by refinancing unfunded pension liability with lower interest debt. Other cities have reduced interest payments from 7% to 3.45% to save millions in payments. I also plan on insourcing 50% of the non-general plan budget to move appropriate work to existing employees at risk of being cut.

McLoughlin: Continue to secure every due dollar of Cares Act funds. City Hall has to become business-friendly, not just say so. We need to cut expenses through process improvement and technology enhancements and reduce fees and process times so we become revenue producing sooner. Commitment of funds to expand resources for our Economic Development Department so they make use of the general plan for targeting partnerships with the private sector for development of the blighted vacant properties.

Vega: The tax revenue generated from businesses will be crucial in the recovery after COVID-19. Therefore, we must be more business friendly to be able to attract more companies to want to do business here in Santa Ana. That means streamlining the process to open a business. We also must work with current business owners to see how we can help them attract more traffic to their stores, especially in downtown Santa Ana.

Welker: I would utilize the Business and Tax Office in the city to survey how many businesses are still operating since the recession began. After we know how many businesses are still operational, I would utilize the CARES Act funding to provide business license grants to businesses whose business licenses expired during the pandemic, so the city can get as many businesses online as possible and stimulate our local economy.

Q: What do you want to see in the Willowick Golf Course land? Do you support a majority of the land be designated for open space and affordable housing or for commercial development (hotels, stadium, etc)? Please be specific. 

Katz: Affordable housing with a substantial amount of green space. The stadium model is anachronistic. Commercial development should be focused in the downtown area.

Lopez: Willowick’s community vision should be respected and honored. A vision brought forth to the Santa Ana and Garden Grove city councils from the residents who have tirelessly been fighting to retain this public land. Part of my efforts with Rise Up Willowick are to ensure that publicly owned land is retained for public good. To know more about our work and vision, please read our report.

McLoughlin: If City Council learned anything, the voices of our residents need to be heard, respected and taken seriously. I pledge integrity-based decision-making and bring effective representation and voice to City Council. With over 102 acres, our youth and families are deserving of a quality community recreation sports center and open space. We need to FISCALIZE Willowick so both Santa Ana and Garden Grove receive revenue from the property. I strongly believe we can achieve both.

Vega: Santa Ana residents need more open space. We are a dense city and have seen a consequence of that through COVID-19. I would be in favor of placing a dog park, which is something our residents have been wanting.

Welker: Willowick Golf Course should be developed into market rate and inclusionary housing units, or mixed-use development if CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) and AQMD (South Coast Air Quality Management District) findings permit the use, with some land being designated as city-park open space. I propose creating divisions of housing units developed around the center of the golf course and for the land in the middle of the developed homes to be designated as open space with disability accessible playgrounds, multi-use sport fields, and outdoor gym equipment.

Q. Your thoughts on future developments, state-mandated housing goals and affordable housing in Santa Ana?

Katz: Santa Ana has exceeded its affordable housing quota over the years. Our focus should be on repairing communities that are true “neighborhoods.” We have lost sight on preserving quality of life in Santa Ana.

Lopez: I’m supportive of affordable and workforce housing construction that centers the needs of our community. The current process allows for too much special interest money to impact local building decisions. In order for working professionals to attain equity, we need to focus on missing middle housing, smaller-scale fourplexes, support for ADU (accessory dwelling unit) construction and avoidance of block scale projects.

Vega: When it comes to affordable housing, Santa Ana has met the state mandated RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Assessment) goals. I am for developments so long as the surrounding communities are OK with it. I joined the fight in the 2525 Main Street project and was not only inspired by it, but learned a lot about the power residents have. I plan on using what I learned in helping neighborhoods fight developmental projects they deem not good for their community.

McLoughlin: Santa Ana has met all the affordable housing goals to date. We need to focus on improving our mix of housing options for all income levels. I have volunteered many hours over the last three years as chairman of the Santa Ana Planning Commission, working with staff updating the general plan, last updated 1980. Next year, both the Census and general plan in hand will provide better tools to use in building future developments and housing goals.

Welker: For future developments, I propose for developers to survey the surrounding area and solicit input from constituents during workshops to discover what the needs of the community are and meeting those needs in their proposed development. I’m proud that the city of Santa Ana is one of only 15 jurisdictions in the state that has been on track to meet the state-mandated housing goals. Lastly, I’m a proponent of creating additional affordable housing units in Santa Ana.

Q: Santa Ana leaders and residents have complained that the city has taken on an unfair share of Orange County’s homeless population. How would you address this issue?

Katz: Fighting and compelling cities to take their fair share is a long battle. I prefer strategies that support our taking control of the issue. This means controlling those sources of the growing homeless population: 1. clamp down on the sale of meth which attracts the addicted homeless population to Santa Ana. 2. limit or prohibit state contracts which result in the Red Roof Inn public nuisance 3. stop releasing prisoners without housing plans straight into Santa Ana.

Lopez: We must continue the lawsuit against the county and help organize residents to voice their concerns and demand a just and equitable resolution to the systems that drops off unhoused people in our neighborhoods. Santa Ana has done its fair share in helping resolve this county-wide crisis and it is not acceptable that we are being singled-out when this is a county-wide issue.

McLoughlin: Yes, Santa Ana has done our share. We must hold other cities fully accountable for the homeless burden these other cities put on Sana Ana. The long needed lawsuit to return jail parolees to their city of origin and not our streets is in place, but the trick of the other cities renaming and re-categorizing parolees to reflect the fact they are not homeless must be more aggressively fought. I full support a similar program as “CAHOOTS”.

Vega: Irvine had hundreds of their residents show up at an OC Board of Supervisors’ meeting to speak out against a homeless tent city and won. Santa Ana residents must do the same and demand that we get that same quality of life. I would help coordinate with the residents through my social media page to show up to meetings and demand the OC Board of Supervisors hold other cities accountable. Furthermore, explore all legal options.

Welker: I will work with our neighboring cities to build more Navigation Centers in the Central Service Planning Area (SPA) in the same fashion that Navigation Centers have been built in the North SPA. Since I have existing relationships with the council members in the North SPA and the County of Orange, I can coordinate the meetings and visits, so the city and neighboring cities can work collaboratively to alleviate the burden of housing individuals facing homelessness.

Q. There’s been criticism that the POA has undue power in City Hall, pushing for police pay raises and then backing a successful recall against a councilwoman who voted against those pay raises. What are your thoughts on this?

Katz: The POA is a vendor. They work for the city and its residents. I thought is brazen for it to interfere with the relationship between a council member and its constituents.

Lopez: The POA has gone from having a seat at the table to trying to take everyone else’s away. Part of the problem is that we are spending more and more for less services. Our residents deserve to feel safe in their homes and in our neighborhoods and we must be smart when addressing crime because 75% of the calls the police receive do not require an emergency response.

McLoughlin: Yes, we all agree there are a number of things our Police Department could do to redefine public safety. Fill the large numbers of vacant police officers positions reflective of the demographics’ and language capabilities. Increase the use of new crime fighting technology and training. Continue and further expand our award winning community- policing program. Fill the large numbers of vacant police officers positions. Work with stakeholders to develop strategic public safety plan.

Vega: I strongly opposed the recall and it was unfortunate that it succeeded. The POA was able to send a loud message that elected officials better abide to their will or face the consequences. The POA, other unions, and developers have too much control of our city. We need elected officials who are not in the pockets of these groups. That is why I have not received a dime or an endorsement from any of them.

Welker: As a former strategic researcher who tracked and aggregated millions of dollars in campaign contributions and tied those contributions to favorable votes by elected officials on behalf of their contributors, I have seen how various entities have a large amount of influence in government. Santa Ana has its share of influence of money in politics as well.

Source: Orange County Register

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