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Assembly, supervisor candidates speak up at first community forum of 2022

By SARA HALL

The first local candidate forum of the 2022 campaign season was held this week and highlighted several key issues for both candidates and residents. 

Community group Speak Up Newport hosted a “Meet the Candidates” event on Wednesday (April 13) for those running for seats in the Orange County 5th Supervisorial District and 72nd Assembly District. About 50 people attended the forum, held in the community room at the Newport Beach Civic Center, and more watched on Zoom and a live stream on the city’s local TV channel.

Most of the hour-long discussion revolved around a few key issues: Homelessness, public safety and crime, John Wayne Airport and sober living and other rehabilitation homes.

The recently redrawn supervisorial and assembly districts are currently represented by Supervisor Lisa Bartlett and Assemblywoman Janet Nguyen, who both got shifted into Newport under the new maps. Bartlett is termed out and running for the 49th Congressional District, while Nguyen will be running to represent the 36th Senate District. 

In attendance were assembly candidates Diane Dixon (R-Newport Beach) and Benjamin Yu (R-Lake Forest); and supervisor candidates Katrina Foley (D-Costa Mesa), Diane Harkey (R-Dana Point) and Kevin Muldoon (R-Newport Beach).

Another assembly candidate, Judie Mancuso (D-Laguna Beach), had a conflict and could not attend the event. In the supervisorial race, Pat Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) also could not attend, but sent her campaign chief of staff, Suzette Swallow to speak on her behalf.

Assembly supervisor candidates collage

Click on photo for a larger image

Photos courtesy of the candidates

In attendance at the meeting were (top row, L-R) 72nd Assembly District candidates Diane Dixon and Benjamin Yu; and (bottom row, L-R) OC 5th Supervisorial District candidates Katrina Foley, Diane Harkey and Kevin Muldoon

In the assembly race, Dixon, former Newport Beach mayor and current councilmember, emphasized “big problems” in California caused by failed policies in Sacramento.

She mentioned inflation, specifically pointing to gas prices and the high gas taxes in the state. There’s an affordability crisis for Californians, she said. 

“The Democrats in Sacramento have refused to take any action to give the hardworking California taxpayers a break,” Dixon said. “That’s a problem.”

She wants to get to the root of the problem and “shout from the rooftops,” if need be, to “stop the policy craziness in California.” The problem is that California is a one-party super majority state, she said, and with no debate or consensus-driven policy making. The Democrats have been in control for too long, she said. 

“We all know that’s the source of the problem,” Dixon said.

There are moderate Democrats that will work with Republicans, Dixon said, and she committed to working across the aisle. She wants to focus on common sense policy making, fiscal responsibility, local control and manufacturing. 

She also spoke about crime and suggested the laws need to be reformed. 

“Make crime illegal again,” she said.

Dixon also emphasized the state losing manufacturing jobs, which she wants to focus on bringing back.

It’s not working under the party that has been in charge for decades, she added. 

“We have to get off this far left progressive cliff that we’re falling off of that’s ruining California,” Dixon said. 

Dixon noted a “power grab” from Sacramento taking away local control on land use, planning, public safety, affordable housing and education. It can’t be a “peanut butter approach” with spreading everything too thin, she said. Newport Beach and other cities in the district are not the same as San Francisco or Los Angeles, she added. 

“I’m going to Sacramento to have a voice representing cities,” Dixon said. 

Yu also confirmed he would work with people from all parties, walks of life and different viewpoints. He has the energy and willingness to work, and no special interest connections, he said. It all comes down to common sense and working together. 

“Common sense benefits our community,” Yu said. 

He also emphasized that Sacramento needs new policy makers. 

“We need a new generation of folks who understand (the issues) to fight or us,” Yu said. 

Yu, who immigrated to New York when he was a teenager, said there are similar issues on both coasts. It’s been even more challenging during the pandemic, particularly for small business owners, Yu noted, with supply chain issues and inflation. 

“The policies can go wrong,” he said. 

Yu, who served in the U.S. Army, also emphasized veteran issues, noting that the tax exemption is minimal. Veterans are often overlooked and the programs are under-budgeted, he said. 

“As a veteran, I would say California is one of the most regressive states in terms of their programs for veterans,” Yu said.

Homeless individuals with addiction and mental issues need appropriate help to get back on their feet and become a contributing part of society again, Yu said. 

“What we need to do is (thoroughly) understand the issue and gradually solve the problem, piece by piece,” he said. 

He has firsthand knowledge of the issue, Yu said, after his military service, he was classified as a homeless veteran. He later volunteered with a program to help veterans get out of similar situations. 

In the supervisorial race, Foley, former Costa Mesa mayor and current supervisor for District 2, said she initially ran to address community needs and long-standing issues that the county was not addressing.

Her key issues include public safety, homelessness, addressing climate action, and in Newport Beach, the noise and pollution from JWA.

Foley brought on former Beverly Hills police chief and NB resident Dave Snowden as her public safety adviser. Protecting the neighborhoods is a top priority, she said, and she’s voted accordingly during her time at the City of Costa Mesa and at the county level. 

Foley also emphasized advocating for regulatory reform for sober living homes. She also spoke about this topic at the recent community meeting regarding group residential homes.

We must do more,” Foley said. “Sacramento has failed us here.” 

Both of these issues are personal for Foley, who lives across the street from a detox center and, after the residential use changed, her house was burglarized three times. It was quite scary, she said. 

They have to partner with the county and cities and put forth a model ordinance and hold the unscrupulous operators accountable. The bad operators are curbing people and contributing to the homelessness issue in the county, she added. 

There’s waste with how the funds are spent on the issue of homelessness, Foley said. A study of the chronically homeless showed serious addiction issues, which need to be addressed as one of the root causes. 

“We must do better to address those issues,” Foley said. 

The cities of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach worked together to build a shelter, she noted, and those are the kinds of model partnerships that they need to continue throughout the county.

Foley also said they should not tolerate encampments. They also need to continue to work on veterans housing and converting old motels.

She also mentioned protecting the coast and environment, pointing to the response to the oil spill last year. 

Protecting the neighborhoods is a top priority for Harkey, former mayor of Dana Point. They need to ensure that law enforcement has the resources and tools needed to help keep them safe, she said.

“We’re in a little bubble here, kind of an island in a sea of a lot of crime around us,” Harkey said. 

Reducing homelessness is a big issue in the county, particularly this district which doesn’t have a cohesive plan, Harkey said. She has been working with nonprofits, family assistance ministries and mental health organizations to better address the issue. 

They can’t force people into treatment, but you can earn their trust, Harkey said later during the Q&A portion of the meeting. 

Mental illness is an important issue to Harkey, whose sister became paranoid schizophrenic at age 50. It took Harkey five years working with officials and doctors to get conservatorship of her sister.

“I would like to work a little bit more carefully with families that are having problems to show them what I did, so that when the time came, I was able to intervene,” Harkey said. 

Her sister has since been treated, become independent and released from her conservatorship. She’s doing great, Harkey said. 

“This needs to be treated like an illness, it should not be treated like a plague or something that is not correctable, it is in most cases with medication,” Harkey said. 

Harkey also mentioned preserving the natural open space and environment, so it stays good for tourists and even better for residents. She also highlighted working with small businesses, streamlining regulations and reducing pressure from the county level, as well as improving transportation issues. 

She also noted protecting residents from over-reaching mandates, including mask and vaccine mandates, which she opposes. 

Swallow said Bates is also a passionate advocate for local control. What works here may not work elsewhere, she said, which is why it’s important to support people who know how valuable that is.

“We can make decisions that are best for our community,” Swallow said. 

Currently representing the 36th Senate District, Bates’ key three issues are homelessness, fighting high and unnecessary taxes and crime. 

Billions of dollars have been spent on homelessness and not a lot to show for it, Swallow said. They need to ensure that people are accountable and they work together to find solutions that work and are measurable, she said. It’s important to ensure that law enforcement has the funds and resources to effectively fight crime, Swallow said. 

Bates also aims to fight high taxes and abuse in government, Swallow said. There’s not any level of government or agency you can’t cut from, Swallow said. 

“Ultimately, it’s the taxpayer’s money and we need to make sure we are smart with that money,” she said. 

Swallow also emphasized Bates’ relationships with state representatives that will help ensure the county gets the “dollars that they are rightfully owed and that is fair.”

Orange County supervisors have a direct impact on crime and homelessness, Muldoon said, so those are the two major issues he plans to focus on. They can come together to agree on solutions, said Muldoon, the current Newport Beach mayor.

“When neighbors and communities are working together to solve homelessness and crime, those numbers go down,” Muldoon said. 

Sending people to jail is not the way to deal with it, Muldoon said later, answering an audience question. 

He emphasized a model Newport Beach has embraced in an effort to get to know the homeless individuals. The city works with nonprofits to help each person get the help they need to turn their lives around, Muldoon said. They also have a homelessness peace officer and recently started a mobile program with Be Well OC, which focuses on mental health 

“It’s in the best interest of the individuals and the community to get them sheltered, get them supportive housing and get them back on their feet with jobs,” Muldoon said. 

Property crimes have increased in Newport Beach, Muldoon said, which he attributed to Propositions 47 and 57, both of which several candidates said they opposed. At the same time, violent crimes have gone down.

“If we band together, we can see a reduction in those criminal activities,” he said. 

The airport is an important issue to Muldoon, who lives under the flight path. He would like to return to the “dramatic” flight path procedure that requires the planes to take off quick and steep.

“It creates less noise for those who are below and the planes are higher up so pollution can be dissipated,” Muldoon said. 

The airport was also an important issued discussed by several candidates at the meeting. 

Foley said she works 10-12 hours a week solely on JWA issues. 

They’ve also got FAA approval for a better and quieter flight path, Foley said, which took a lot of work from the committee. She also has an airport advisory team with several local residents and experts to ensure “we do something real at the airport.”

She announced an upcoming “Fly Friendly” program to reduce the noise and pollution from JWA. 

During closing comments, Foley said the good news is she’s currently doing everything mentioned at the meeting. She’s been working on the issues highlighted by all the candidates and will continue to do so, Foley said. 

“Please, just send me back, there’s so much more to do,” Foley said. 

After the candidates shared their top priorities and comments, there was a Q&A session with some interesting questions from the audience. 

Bungalow restaurant owner Jim Walker asked if the assembly candidates support the proposed bill that would reduce the full-time workweek to 32 hours.

Dixon said the answer is an “easy no,” as it’s too similar to a socialist plan in France. People want to work and have fulfilling lives, she said. 

Yu also opposed the bill, noting that the policy will exacerbate the current labor shortage. The current 40-hour week is balanced, he added. 

Balboa Island resident Dennis Bress asked all the candidates if President Joe Biden was duly elected, if they are vaccinated and boosted for COVID-19, and if women should have control over their bodies. Only Foley and Harkey answered, both said yes to all three. 

Other questions asked about the candidates personal experience working on the homelessness issue, crime and airport expansion (all opposed).

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Sara Hall covers City Hall and is a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.