California Needs a Racial Bias Strike Team Against Anti-Asian COVID-19 Racism

Asian Americans in California have self-reported 832 incidents of discrimination and harassment in the last three months, including 81 incidents of assault and 64 potential civil rights violations, according to Stop AAPI Hate, a reporting center and the leading aggregator of incidents against Asian Americans during the pandemic, founded by the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council (A3PCON) and San Francisco State University Asian American Studies Department.

As California Assemblymember David Chiu, Chair of the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus, told the Los Angeles Times, “There’s not just a pandemic of health — there’s a pandemic of hate.”

Discrimination and harassment of Asian Americans in California has drawn national attention recently after a series of videos in Torrance, California, featured a woman using graphic racist language against Asian Americans. The videos have received millions of views, and reflect just a handful of the incidents reported to Stop AAPI Hate in California. The new report shows that incidents of racism and discrimination are not isolated to any particular area but are a statewide problem — Asian Americans have reported incidents in 34 counties so far. Incidents are reportedly taking place in California in retail stores, in the workplace, and online.

Anti-Asian American harassment has been further stoked by President Trump’s repeated use of the term “Kung Flu” in recent rallies and comments on Twitter scapegoating China for the United States’ devastating failure to control the coronavirus. 

I am appalled by these acts of hatred and by President Trump’s continued stoking of anti-Chinese and anti-Asian bigotry.

I first raised the issue of the COVID-19 outbreak and incidents of discrimination, harassment, and bullying of people thought to be Chinese at the Irvine City Council meeting on more than a month ago, on March 10.  I stated that we needed to do more to educate the public about how racism and xenophobia will hurt us in this crisis, and that we are all in this together.

I continue to be concerned, especially as reports increased of a surge in racially charged attacks unfairly directing blame for the pandemic on Asians and Asian Americans, while President Trump insists on using the phrase “Chinese virus” or “Kong Flu” when speaking of COVID-19.

In May, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that “the pandemic continues to unleash a tsunami of hate and xenophobia, scapegoating and scare-mongering” and urged governments to “act now to strengthen the immunity of our societies against the virus of hate.”

In response to these attacks, Stop AAPI Hate has now called on California Governor Gavin Newsom to establish a Racial Bias Strike Team comprised of key state agencies and departments that have jurisdiction over public education, implementing state and federal civil rights laws, overseeing workplace and employment discrimination, providing mental health services to vulnerable communities, and offering support to local Asian American-serving community-based organizations.

As Dr. Russell Jeung, Chair and Professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University, explains, “Without government accountability, we risk COVID-related racism against Asian Americans becoming deeply entrenched, ultimately impacting the lives of millions of people in California and around the country.”

I join with Stop AAPI Hate in calling on California Governor Gavin Newsom to establish a Racial Bias Strike Team against anti-Asian COVID-19 racism.

I further call on all my colleagues in elected office in Orange County, both Democratic and Republican, to join me in loudly and unequivocally condemning these acts of hatred, as well as President Trump’s continued stoking of anti-Chinese and anti-Asian hatred and bigotry by using the terms “Chinese virus” and “Kung Flu” in reference to COVID-19.

No one, especially not the president, should use racial or racist terms in describing COVID-19.

Sadly, no Orange County Republican elected official has explicitly condemned Trump’s racist, anti-Asian “Chinese virus” and “Kung Flu” language regarding COVID-19. Their cowardice and complicity leaves an indelible stain on their party and themselves.

All who have witnessed or experienced anti-Asian attacks are encouraged to file a report HERE.

Reports may be made in English, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Hindi, Japanese, Hmong, Tagalog, Khmer, Thai and Punjabi.

If you have experienced anti-Asian bullying, harassment, hate speech, or violence in Irvine, please also contact the Irvine Police Department at 949-724-7000.  In an emergency, call 911.  Neither the Irvine Police Department nor the Irvine City Council will tolerate any such anti-Asian attacks or discrimination in Irvine.

Please also let me know at melissafox@cityofirvine.org.

We’re in this together.  Don’t hate, stay safe, and wear a mask!

You Can Make a Difference: Volunteers Needed for “Point in Time” Count of People Experiencing Homelessness in South Orange County!

You can make a difference for people in need in South Orange County!

I have just learned that the Point in Time count of people experiencing homelessness in our area (South Orange County) is critically short of volunteers. 

The Point In Time is a biennial count of people experiencing homelessness on a given point in time during the last ten days in January.

The count provides vital information that helps the County better understand homelessness in the community and guides the way the County and its partners respond to homelessness in Orange County.

Orange County will be conducting the 2019 Point In Time count on Wednesday, January 23 and Thursday, January 24, 2019.

Please consider volunteering for this important community humanitarian effort!

Volunteers are needed in the following roles for a successful effort: Team Captains, Field Surveyors, Deployment Center Support, Videographers and Photographers. Volunteer opportunities are available in the early morning and late evening.

Sign up to volunteer and help shape homelessness services in Orange County!

Registering to volunteer will take less than 5 minutes.

Training will be provided!

Click to sign up today!

 

My Response to the Grand Jury Report on Housing Orange County’s Homeless: Irvine Offers Leadership in Providing Real Solutions for the Homelessness Crisis

Finding solutions to the homelessness crisis has been a priority for me, both as a member of the Irvine City Council and as Chair of the Irvine Community Land Trust.

At our recent Irvine City Council meeting on August 26, 2018, the City Council was presented with our city staff’s response to the Orange County Grand Jury Report “Where There’s Will, There’s a Way — Housing Orange County’s Chronically Homeless.”

Councilmember Melissa Fox preparing to lead a meeting of the Irvine Community Land Trust.

Following the staff presentation, I made the following remarks, which I’d like to share with you here:

“Thank you very much for a terrific response.

I did feel that there needs to be some additional information in the response, however, and Mayor Wagner touched on much of it, in particular the $29.2 million that we’re putting aside, as well as land, and the additional permanent supportive housing, potentially as many as 80 units, which we are set to break ground on in the very near future with the Irvine Community Land Trust.

In addition, there’s another project stacked right behind the first project for the Land Trust, which will be unique in that it will provide an ownership for affordable housing, and all of this backed by services, so we will be creating permanent, supportive housing.

Irvine has been a model in this area, and what I think the Grand Jury, and even our own response misses, is that the Land Trust concept is something that Irvine has pioneered.

No other city has a Land Trust like we have, and other cities are working to copy ours. Our executive director is a national leader, and we have a great deal of experience in the Land Trust area, so I think what we have best to contribute to the ACC-OC (Association of California Cities – Orange County) and a potential Joint Powers Agreement is leadership.

In Irvine, we don’t need an additional Land Trust.  We already have one, and we paved the way, and we already have a vehicle to receive the funds that are ready to come forward from the State. The reason that the Joint Powers Agreement for a Land Trust for the County needed to be created is that the County didn’t have one.  In Irvine, we already did.

And so I would notify, and let the Grand Jury know, that we could be of assistance and leadership in this area.  Our executive director for the Irvine Community Land Trust, Mark Asturias, is an executive director of the national Land Trust Alliance, and so he’s leading the way.

Irvine City Councilmember Melissa Fox speaking with homeless people at the former Riverbed encampment with Assembly Member Sharon Quirk-Silva, Huntington Beach Councilmember Billy O’Connell, and Santa Ana Councilmember Michele Martinez.

I also want to comment on the allegation of NIMBYism in Irvine, which I thought was very pejorative and unfair.

Irvine has never said we don’t want to help homeless people in our community. Rather, we’ve said we’ll be the first to form this Land Trust and move forward with it.

So just last year, Community Services Commissioner Lauren Johnson-Norris and I traveled with ACC-OC to San Antonio to look at what was really an exceptional program (Haven for Hope) helping the homeless community in San Antonio that has been held up as a model.  We went with many other stakeholders. One thing we learned on that trip was that neighbors are important.  And it was very important for the success of this homeless shelter in San Antonio to be located in a community that their services also served, to prevent the community members from becoming homeless.  So the shelter has to be located in an area where the neighborhood is receptive, and sees it as a benefit because they’re providing social services to the neighborhood, they’re providing schooling, they’re providing medical clinics, they’re providing dental services, and so on.

Location is very important, and what we heard our residents in Irvine saying is that there was a problem with placing homeless people in tents adjacent to the Great Park as proposed by the Board of Supervisors.  And, in addition, what Irvine residents and the Irvine City Council said is that human beings should not be housed in tents with no water, no electricity, and no transportation.

So, I think to denigrate Irvine and the residents who came together as not compassionate and full of NIMBY sentiment is absolutely incorrect, and we need to put forward that our residents came together, not only to say that they were opposed to the County’s tent city plan for a homeless shelter, but they literally hired their own attorneys to put together solution packages, and they came to the same conclusions that the experts did, that you must have permanent supportive services that go along with the housing.

They weren’t just saying we don’t want it here, they said we want to help fix this program, and I think we can reach out to that same group to work with us on this issue.

I have also traveled to Sacramento and worked with many of our legislators to increase the number of units that we can move forward with under the Land Trust by creating legislation (Senate Bill 1056) that would give us favorable tax treatment.

And so I think we have a lot to teach the cities that haven’t done this kind of work.  We blazed that path, and I’d like this report to make that clear, especially the work that the Irvine Community Land Trust has done, that prior city councils have invested in this, and that the Mayor himself has expended countless hours in looking forward to a solution, and I think that at the very least, the Mayor’s comments should be incorporated as a preface to our response.”

You can read the Orange County Grand Jury Report “Where There’s Will, There’s a Way — Housing Orange County’s Chronically Homeless,” and the original proposed response of the City of Irvine here.

 

My Trip to Sacramento to Advocate for OC Cities and Affordable Housing

I recently joined other Orange County elected officials on the annual Local Government Advocacy Trip to Sacramento with the Association of California Cities — Orange County (ACC-OC), meeting with state elected officials, department directors, and executive staff to advocate for positions on bills, discuss  Orange County’s regional priorities, and represent the voice of Orange County cities.

Among the issues we discussed were building more affordable housing, increased regulation and better supervision of sober living homes, solutions for homelessness, and reforms of the sales tax.

Among the state officials and legislators that I met with were California State Controller Betty T. Yee, Board of Estimate Member Fiona Ma, Senator Jim Beall (Chair, Senate Housing Committee), Senator John Moorlach (37th Senate District, which includes portions of Orange County), Senator Steve Glazier (Senate Committee on Jobs and Economic Development), Senator Scott Weiner (Senate Housing Committee), Assemblymember David Chiu (Assembly Housing Committee), and Susan Bransen (Executive Director, California Transportation Commission).

Melissa Fox with Dirissy Doan (Orange County Assn of Realtors) and Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva (D- AD 65) in Sacramento.

Following the ACC-OC trip, I remained in Sacramento to attend the Housing California Annual Conference and to meet with legislators on behalf of the Irvine Community Land Trust, of which I am the Vice Chair.

The Irvine Community Land Trust (ICTL) was created by the City of Irvine to provide secure, high-quality affordable housing through the operation of a non-profit community land trust, securing and retaining title to land on which permanently affordable rental, ownership and special needs housing will be constructed and maintained for the benefit of income-eligible families.

The vision of the ICLT is that by the year 2025, the ICLT will have created approximately 5,000 units of permanently affordable housing in the City of Irvine, contributing more than 50 percent of the City’s 2025 goal of 9,700 affordable units. In addition, the ICLT will conduct a monitoring program and provide stewardship for these units, insuring high-quality construction, design, sustainability, maintenance and permanent affordability. ICLT will achieve self-sufficiency by ensuring that fees and other earned income are sufficient to support the organization’s ongoing operating costs.

On behalf of the Irvine Community Land Trust, I meet with Senator Janet Nguyen, Senator Ricardo Lara, Senator John Moorlach, Senator Jim Beall, Senator Bob Hertzberg, Assembly Member Steven Choi, Assembly Member Matt Harper, and Assembly Member Sharon Quirk-Silva about legislation to make it easier to build more affordable housing.

I believe we are making significant progress in creating a more supportive legislative environment for building affordable housing.  Everyone I spoke to in Sacramento — on both sides of the aisle — is keenly aware of California’s severe housing shortage and our state’s growing housing insecurity and homelessness crisis.

I was happy to work with my colleagues in both the ACC-OC and the Irvine Community Land Trust to advocate for legislative reforms that will make it easier to build affordable housing in California, and specifically in Orange County.