Diary of a Mad County

MONDAY, June 2 In a vote falling strictly along party lines, the Republican-majority Federal Communications Commission (FCC) changes its rules to allow giant media conglomerates to own more TV stations and newspapers in any city. While this is bad news for people who like a diversity of opinion and a free country, it's terrific for people who enjoy subverting the electorate. Not surprisingly, The Orange County Registerstands to benefit, since it now becomes even more attractive to Gannett, the nation's largest newspaper chain and publisher of USA Today. The FCC ruling takes away any roadblocks to a sale, which is good news for heirs of nutty publishing coots as well as readers who couldn't get through the Reggie's interminable five- and six-inch stories. How good can it get? Well, in today's USA Today—a perennial contender for the Pulitzer Prize in Best Investigative Paragraph—the top story is that Richard Chamberlain is gay.


TUESDAY, June 3 The Board of Supervisors and Orange County Social Services—the folks who put the heart in heartless—raise the hopes of the Very Good People at the La Habra Family Center, apparently because that makes dashing their hopes a lot more fun. The Family Center, a nonprofit providing 2,000 low-income families with medical and dental services, counseling and tutoring, lost out on a $225,000 grant because its grant request was four hours late. The center had what most people with warm blood believe is a good explanation: its grant writer, Cheryl Snowdon, had cancer spread to her cervical spine, leaving her incapacitated and unable to finish the 465-page proposal. Family Center staffers and Snowdon's husband rushed to pick up the slack and did finish by the Feb. 13 deadline, albeit at 9 p.m., four hours after Social Services had closed. Because of that, Social Services said the Family Center would not be eligible for one of the 10 grants for which 14 centers applied. The agency's Maritza Rodriguez-Farr, whose disdain for tardiness is outweighed only by her revulsion for human feeling, says, "What I know is that they didn't make the deadline and others did." Eat that, cancer lady and poverty kids! Without the $225,000—and the $180,000 state grant tied to it—the Family Center will likely close in September. This morning, one of the center's supporters tells the supes that without the center, "our youth will turn to gangs and violence." But threats don't work with the board—unless you're Grand Jury eye candy/District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. He threatened to cut 18 prosecutors and 17 investigators if he didn't get a $5 million boost in his budget. The supes, announcing their 2003-04 budget last week, gave Tony a $4.4 million raise—that's showing him who's boss—and then announced they were cutting health care, probation and social services by $43 million. Rackauckas' windfall was so big that the county could have, if it wanted to (it doesn't), given all 14 agencies the $225,000 grants; could have given the misbegotten La Habra Family Center its money; and still spent less than a third ($1.35 million) of Rackauckas' raise. Of course, if they took that out of Tony's pot, it would leave only about a $3 million increase, barely enough to cover four-figure drink tabs, wrongful-termination settlements and wrongful-incarceration settlements, not to mention defending yourself—again—in front of the Grand Jury. Supervisor Chris Norby, whose staff attempted to get the Family Center its money, told me the week before there was little that could be done since the deadline was like a binding contract, that if the board were to allow the Family Center an exception they would leave themselves open to other excuses and the inevitable lawsuit. I don't know. If somebody else wants to go to the trouble of dashing off a 465-page grant proposal while incapacitated by cancer, I say the county can handle the business. The supes disagree. County Counsel Benjamin de Mayo tells them a "deadline is a deadline" and that's that. No money for the Family Center … Beyond dwindling revenue streams and state budget cuts, one of the reasons Orange County has to be so tight with its cash is that bankruptcy it went through years ago. Remember that one? The one created by County Treasurer Robert Citron and investment firm Merrill Lynch that cost the county $1.6 billion in losses, $873 million of which it still carries as debt? The one for which Citron went to jail, Merrill Lynch paid $437 million to resolve lawsuits and an additional $30 million to avoid criminal prosecution and the county cut $43 million from health care and social services? That one? So guess who's OC's newest broker-dealer? Did you say Merrill Lynch? At the same meeting where supervisors say they can't risk easing deadlines for the La Habra Family Center, they vote to jump back into bed with the company that cost them more than a billion. County Treasurer John Moorlach says Merrill Lynch will save the county money. In a rare—lone?—moment of lucidity, Supervisor Jim "Bumpy" Silva says, "If we save $1 million a year by utilizing Merrill Lynch, in another 873 years we'll be back even." Sweet line, though some observers claim Silva's lips didn't sync up to the words. Anyway, Norby says that if Merrill Lynch can do the best job, then the county needs to forget the past and move on. "Things do change," he says. "It's a different world." Let's see. Monday, media billionaires get what they want. Tuesday, brokerage billionaires get what they want. Tuesday, small nonprofit to alleviate the suffering of the poor takes it up the wazoo the same day House Majority Leader Tom DeLay says he will not consider restoring a tax credit for poor families, this after granting giant corporations every possible break. DeLay, in a bit of Maritza Rodriguez Farr-like reasoning, says, "They had their chance. There's a lot of other things that are more important than that." At last, a man who speaks the truth.


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