NEWPORT BEACH — Orange County's homeless advocates cheered with surprise in 1988 when conservative voters helped narrowly approve two statewide ballot measures aimed at raising $450 million for low-income housing and other homeless issues.
Now, backers are hoping their winning streak holds as they campaign for the third part of the package, Proposition 107--a bond proposal that would raise $150 million more for emergency shelters, construction of low-rent apartments, loans for first-time home buyers and rehabilitation of residential hotel units.
The measure has garnered a broad array of support, from the Vietnam Veterans of California to the California Labor Federation, as well as from leaders of both parties and Gov. George Deukmejian.
Among Orange County legislators, state Sens. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) and John Seymour (R-Anaheim) have said they support the measure, but perhaps most notable is the absence of vocal opposition by other conservative county lawmakers.
"Thus far, most (Orange County) legislators have remained fairly quiet on the issue," said Tim Carpenter, the campaign's statewide field director who is based in Newport Beach.
One reason may be that the measure attempts to tackle a wide range of concerns that impact low-income families as well as the homeless.
"I think it appeals to people on a number of levels," said Susan Oakson, coordinator with the Orange County Homeless Issues Task Force, which is a member of the local campaign's steering committee. "Also, many people believe helping homeless families is just the right thing to do."
Proposition 107's emphasis on construction and rehabilitation of new apartments and shelters has also attracted support from the building industry and statewide organizations representing carpenters, construction trades, real estate agents and housing authorities.
"We believe it has the potential to help in the area of building affordable housing, and we anticipate a significant amount of money would come back to Orange County," said Mike Lennon, a spokesman for the Orange County Building Industry Assn.
Carpenter and other backers are convinced that they can increase the county's support for Proposition 107 over that given the 1988 ballot measures that dealt with homeless issues. Of those measures, Proposition 84 passed by a bare 50.9% to 49.1% margin in the county. Proposition 77, which channeled funds to earthquake safety and building rehabilitation, passed by a slightly larger 52% to 48% majority.
Statewide, both measures breezed through by wide margins.
"We believe that Orange Countians are not as conservative as the rest of the state is led to believe and that there are people here who do care," Carpenter said.
But it is instructive that backers pointedly chose Orange County as the statewide headquarters, comparing the move to establishing a beachhead in enemy territory.
"We are not taking any county for granted and by anchoring here we gave a strong signal that we are serious," Carpenter said.
Proponents say passage of Proposition 107 should be of concern to Orange County residents because a large part of homelessness here stems from the high cost of housing.
Estimates of the number of Orange County's homeless range from 4,000 to 10,000 people, according to social service officials.
A recent survey of nearly 2,000 homeless people revealed that more than a third were children. Among the survey respondents, far more cited lack of affordable housing as the reason they were homeless than did lost jobs, family problems or other reasons.
Help with the first month's rent and low-rent housing in general were the two top items listed when respondents were asked what they needed most to get back on their feet.
Specifically, Proposition 107 would mean $100 million for an estimated 2,371 low-rent apartments, $25 million for 1,875 low-income, first-time home buyers, $10 million for an additional 9,506 emergency shelter beds and $15 million to buy and restore 1,000 residential hotel units.
The ballot argument opposing 107, signed by state Sen. Bill Leonard (R-Big Bear) and Assemblyman Phillip Wyman (R-Tehachapi), contends that government intervention historically has not solved the state's housing problems and may have worsened them by requiring restrictive building and zoning standards that hike housing costs.
"As a philosophical principle, government should not be in the housing business," Leonard told The Times.
The two lawmakers also argue that passage of Proposition 107 is at best premature until effects of the two 1988 ballot measures are gauged. Very little of the $450 million from the two measures has even been spent yet, they point out.
However, homeless advocates say that all of the money from Propositions 77 and 84 will be spent or committed by next January.
So far, about $656,000 from Proposition 84 has been committed to Orange County. The money is slated for acquisition or rehabilitation of emergency shelters.
Supporters concede that it is not a huge amount--already county agencies have submitted bids totaling more than $2.2 million--but say the measures, including Proposition 107, were never intended to be a once-and-for-all fix to the problem of homelessness.
"The danger is believing that any one solution will solve the problem," said Oakson of the Homeless Issues Task Force.
"The money (from Proposition 107) is a drop in the bucket but it is a step in the right direction. We have got to see more money (by) government, private industry and nonprofit (groups) spent on homeless issues."