Anyone who has voted in Orange County in the last 20 years will likely recognize some of the candidates for the Board of Supervisors’ District 5 seat.

All four of those running have held office before, and they have decades of state and local elected experience between them: state Senator Pat Bates; former Assemblywoman Diane Harkey; current District 2 Supervisor Katrina Foley; and Newport Beach Mayor Kevin Muldoon.

New boundaries that came out of the 2021 redistricting process outline a largely coastal District 5 that includes Aliso Viejo, Costa Mesa, Dana Point, Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Woods, Newport Beach, San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano, several unincorporated communities and the southern portion of Irvine.

The boundary changes put Foley’s Costa Mesa home in the new District 5, so she’s running for that seat rather than in the new District 2. Current District 5 Supervisor Lisa Bartlett is termed out.

The seat is nonpartisan, but political parties are nearly always involved in vetting and supporting candidates.

Two supervisor seats are held by Republicans not on the ballot again until 2024. And, two seats on the ballot are in districts that lean blue.  So it’s possible the District 5 election could decide which party holds a majority on the five-member board.

The breakdown in District 5 favors the GOP (more than 37% of registered voters), but Democrats aren’t abysmally far behind (more than 33% of voters), and the 23% of “no party preference” voters make the race harder to predict.

All four candidates said they would try to protect the county’s beaches, whether from sand loss or oil spills.

Foley – a Democrat, attorney and former mayor, councilwoman and school board trustee from Costa Mesa who won her board seat in a 2021 special election – touted the county’s quick response to the October oil spill off Huntington Beach, helping deploy booms and build berms to protect sensitive wetlands. But there’s still room to learn from the spill and improve communication in future emergencies, she said.

Bates said the spill was handled well by the local, state and federal partners, but she’d like to explore whether leaks could be spotted faster and warnings sent out sooner. As a Republican state senator (she’s also served two terms on the Board of Supervisors and three in the state Assembly) Bates said she’s worked on coastal bluff erosion issues, and a bill she introduced in February would set aside $7 million statewide for grants to remove invasive plants and species from coastal areas.

Muldoon, an attorney and Republican who’s in his second term on the Newport Beach council, said he thinks the District 5 supervisor should spearhead efforts to win funding for sand replenishment and oil spill prevention.

Harkey said she doesn’t support bills state legislators have pushed recently to ban oil drilling in coastal waters, but she would like to see offshore rigs replaced with land-based slant drilling operations. A financial adviser, former multi-term Dana Point councilwoman and Republican state assemblywoman who also won a term on the state Board of Equalization, Harkey advocates looking at new technology to detect and clean up oil spills.

“There’s a lot of new technology and I think we’re just a little bit behind the curve on implementing some of it,” Harkey said.

Several candidates questioned aspects of how the county handled the COVID-19 outbreak or had ideas on how it should manage the next pandemic.

Muldoon said the OC Health Care Agency created an effective vaccination program, and it should have a role in providing information to residents.

“Educating the public is, I believe, the smartest route and it’s a route that still respects individual liberties like the right to work and the right to travel freely,” he said. “So the county certainly has a very large role in the programs the state administers, but I don’t believe in mandates.”

Bates said in the future, local agencies should be “given much more discretion” in how they address health issues in their community, and she and Harkey agreed that they don’t think government should be issuing COVID-19 mandates.

“This is endemic now – we’re going to have to learn to live with it,” Harkey said. “It’s time to get the focus off of COVID and get it on providing care for those people who do get sick.”

Foley said she is thankful a “supermajority” of Orange County residents got vaccinated, “because that is the only way that we were able to get to where we are now.”

In the future, the county should be “a conduit for services, for treatment, for information that’s medically accurate, or if it’s vaccines, for supplying vaccines – for making sure that the public health is protected.”

Homelessness is an issue that’s evident county-wide, but Harkey said south county, including much of District 5, hasn’t done nearly as much to address it as north and central county cities.

The district needs a more coordinated effort and a “navigation center,” the term commonly used for an emergency shelter with on-site social services, she said.

“The situation is always ‘in whose city does that belong,’ and I think working constructively we can find an area that is acceptable to everyone,” Harkey said.

Muldoon said there are limits on what government can do to address homelessness, and he’d like to see more partnerships with private nonprofits and faith-based groups to serve people who are on the streets.

When they collaborate with local governments, nonprofits can do even more of what they’re good at: building relationships with unhoused people and meeting their basic needs while also “being there for them so they’re not just a case number, but they’re a person who feels cared for,” Muldoon said.

Bates said she’s requested state funding for the county’s second Be Well OC campus, a facility planned in Irvine that will treat people experiencing a mental health crisis or trying to address their addiction.

For Foley, one reason she ran for supervisor in 2021 was because she didn’t think the county was doing enough to address homelessness, and in particular it could do better at sharing out state and federal dollars with cities that deal with the issue in their communities.

Without direct access to that funding, cities have to spend money from their discretionary funds on street outreach, shelters and law enforcement.

“That takes away from improvements to parks, roads, hiring, you name it,” Foley said. “We’re not fulfilling the obligation of the county’s role in providing those services and most importantly, funding those services.”

Foley said she hopes to stay on the board to continue working on issues including homelessness, climate action, transparency and making government accessible to residents. She’d like to create a city-county program to help working families cover the down payment on their first home.

“There’s no challenge that is too hard that I won’t persist on trying to find a solution to, and no issue too small,” she said.

Muldoon said he’s running for office because he grew up in Orange County and is now raising his family here, and he wants to serve his community.

He wants to ensure law enforcement is fully funded to address a recent increase in property crimes, and as a supervisor he would work with the airlines using John Wayne Airport to help them “find a way to be a good neighbor” to surrounding communities, he said.

For Harkey, homelessness and mental health would be priorities. After having a difficult time helping relatives with dementia and schizophrenia, she’d like to work with county social services to create a program for families who who need help navigating a loved one’s mental illness, she said.

Harkey also said she intends to focus all her attention on the work rather than the next election.

“This is my last elected pursuit and I’m going to do the best that I can on the ground for the public safety issue, the homeless issue and keeping our community the place that we love to work and play in,” she said.

Bates said she understands what’s different about each District 5 community, as well as what they have in common, and having served in the state legislature she’d be effective at communicating OC’s needs to Sacramento.

Also, she’d like to see planned airport improvements, the Dana Point Harbor revitalization and Laguna Niguel Town Center redevelopment through to completion.

“I very much want to be part of those projects,” Bates said. “Those are really very close to my heart.”

Orange County’s five-member Board of Supervisors oversees a budget of more than $7 billion that funds the offices of the Sheriff, District Attorney and Public Defender, social services, 60,000 acres of public parks, beaches and open space, and the public health department that’s been leading the local COVID-19 response.

Ballots will be mailed to all registered voters in the county starting May 9. If none of the four District 5 candidates gets more than 50% of the vote, the top two proceed to a November runoff.

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