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Laguna Beach

OC Supervisor focuses on homelessness, fire mitigation, traffic as top issues facing district


Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley emphasized homelessness, fire mitigation, and traffic as key issues facing Laguna Beach and much of the South County in her newly redrawn district during a community forum this week. 

Foley was the featured speaker on Wednesday (May 18) at the monthly community meeting for Laguna Forward, a recently formed local political action committee. The meetings are open to the public and held via Zoom.

Foley represents Laguna Beach in the fifth district under the newly redrawn maps. The new map (identified as 5A-1) keeps Laguna in district five with Dana Point, San Clemente and Laguna Niguel, but separates it from Rancho Santa Margarita, Mission Viejo and Lake Forest. It also brings in Newport Beach, Costa Mesa and a portion of Irvine. She’s up for re-election in the new district this year.

It’s a very diverse district, she noted, but there are some common issues throughout the region, like homelessness and housing. She’s been quickly getting up to speed on a range of issues by simply getting out in the community and talking to people, Foley said. 

“It’s a very different district,” Foley said. “We’re busy getting to know everyone.”

Foley won a March 2021 special election after former supervisor Michelle Steel was elected to California’s 48th Congressional District.

“When I was elected last year, I got right to work,” she said. “And I knew…exactly where the gaps were in service between the county and the community.”

She organized a meeting with the mayors and other elected officials to hear what was needed in each city. She hosted a similar meeting when the district was redrawn. 

When meeting with local officials in the new district, including Laguna Beach Mayor Sue Kempf, Foley noted that all of the mayors at the meeting collectively agreed that the county isn’t providing enough direct funding to tackle the homelessness issue, causing the cities to dip into their general funds.

“I don’t think that’s acceptable,” she said, noting that funding comes down from the state to the county and it’s meant for the cities. “We’ve got to change the way the culture of the county works in that regard.”

OC Supervisor focuses Katrina Foley

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Courtesy of Laguna Forward/Katrina Foley

Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley 

As mayor of Costa Mesa, she spearheaded the first homeless shelter in the city in 2021 in collaboration with Newport Beach officials.

When she was elected a supervisor, she researched what the county was spending on the issue. Learning that OC spends $1.6 billion annually on homelessness, mental health and addiction treatment.

“It’s all about, ‘How is the money being spent?’ and I do think we should re-prioritize that spending,” Foley said. 

Looking ahead, she wants to work on humanely clearing encampments and focusing on changing how they address the chronically homeless. The root issues for some of the chronically homeless are serious drug addictions and some are unstable, she noted, so services need to be in place to treat, house and get them off the street. 

She’s also working with several cities to convert tired, old motels into supportive housing, particularly for veterans. It’s a good model and it’s working, Foley added. 

Answering a question about the recently released Orange County 2022 Point in Time Count of the Homeless report, Foley noted that there was an overall reduction in the county. Although it’s only a “snapshot” over a period of three days, it’s still a good sign, she added. 

“It’s positive news, but there’s still a lot more work to do,” Foley said. “What the Point in Time Count did reveal – and it’s something that we had already known because of our own studies in our own office in our own district – is that we’re not taking care of the most chronically homeless. And that’s who everyone sees, right? That’s what everyone is concerned about. And so we’re not doing a good job there. We have to really focus our efforts there more.”

In this year’s report, 2,408 persons were listed as experiencing chronic homelessness, while in 2019 there were 2,501.

She also believes the county needs to do a better job at housing veterans, added Foley, whose brother is a veteran on medical disability. The 2022 Point in Time Count reported 280 veterans versus 311 in 2019.

“I’m passionate about helping veterans,” she said. “I understand the challenges that some of our veterans who are homeless have. It’s a unique group and we need to really do better to help them.”

The Point in Time Count is conducted every two years. The 2022 count happened in late February. Orange County as a whole saw a 16.65% reduction in the total number of people experiencing homelessness since 2019. The 2022 Point in Time report noted 5,718 homeless individuals, while the 2019 report counted 6,860. 

Locally, in a May 12 press release from the city, City Manager Shohreh Dupuis noted the significant reduction in homeless individuals living within the city since 2019.

The report shows the number of unsheltered homeless individuals living in Laguna Beach has dropped by 60% from 2019 to 2022 (71 to 28 persons). The 2022 report also noted 55 sheltered homeless individuals in Laguna, compared to 76 in 2019.

OC Supervisor focuses Laguna Niguel fire

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Photo by Cyrus Polk

The Laguna Niguel Coastal Fire last week

Fire mitigation is a huge issue in the South County area, which is prone to fire hazards, Foley noted on Wednesday. The issue was particularly noteworthy following the recent Laguna Niguel fire that burned 200 acres and destroyed 20 homes. The incident comes just three months after the Emerald Fire in Laguna Beach burned approximately 154 acres.

Foley read through the city’s wildfire mitigation and safety plans, and considered how the county can help.

“There’s a lot of great work already done,” Foley said. “What is missing at the county level is help to get the funding to implement that.”

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The county can also help to partner with state agencies on certain programs, undergrounding utilities where possible, for example, she said. California has a surplus of nearly $100 million, she noted, and they need to start tapping into that for local projects.

During the Q&A portion of the meeting, resident Rick Hume noted that Laguna Beach is a small town, but approximately 6 million visitors come to the city every year and many are inland Orange County residents. This essentially makes Laguna Beach the “face” of the county for many people, he noted. 

“Many of those visitors don’t spend any money here so the city is burdened,” Hume said. “We host these folks and of course there are funds to support it, but it’s expensive. Is there anything the county can do to help us with that obligation?”

Foley sat on the Travel Costa Mesa board for many years, she noted, and that helped her understand the ebb and flow of tourism. She noted that the city does benefit from Transient Occupancy Tax from hotel stays, parking revenue, or when people eat at local restaurants, for example.

“But what the county can do, that will maybe not address that directly but will help your general fund, is the county can do a better job of supporting the cities overall as it relates to funding with our county-specific programs.

Through the funds that flow down from state and federal government, the county can support anything that falls under their umbrella of jurisdiction, like social services or public health, Foley explained. That will then free up funds that the city can use elsewhere, like programs to help mitigate the visitor impact.

Hume also asked if the toll road will ever be a free roadway.

Foley noted that she “hopes so,” but it will take some pressure on OCTA.

The supervisors were recently asked to respond to a grand jury report on the issue, Foley noted. Her responses focused on moving toward no longer charging a toll and to stop refinancing, which keeps extending the time period to pay back the loans. Although the board voted and none of her comments were included in the official response. 

“They basically just punted and said to talk to OCTA about that,” she said. 

They need to put more pressure on the move to stop refinancing, Foley emphasized. The idea is if there was no toll, drivers might use that road instead of Laguna Canyon, she summarized. 

They’re avoiding the toll plaza and jamming up traffic on Laguna Canyon Road and in town, Hume agreed. 

Although she hadn’t heard about the idea of the city purchasing Laguna Canyon Road, Foley noted it as an issue to look into. Alex Rounaghi, a policy adviser for Foley’s office, said the OCTA will play a big role in getting funding if that were to happen. 

During the meeting, Foley also mentioned public safety and addressing the county’s backlog of rape kits, responding to the 2021 oil spill of the coast, protecting open space, managing the flight paths and John Wayne Airport, and how Laguna Beach can obtain state funds through county programs and projects.


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

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