Orange County Officials Claim They’re ‘Shut Out’ of Leadership in SoCal Agency

April 10, 2021 Updated: April 12, 2021

The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) has elected a new slate of officers to serve one-year terms beginning May 6, but none are from Orange County.

The regional group meets regularly to discuss and implement housing and transportation issues for 191 cities in six counties, including Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, Imperial, Riverside, and San Diego.

While the election was unanimous, local officials who are SCAG members told The Epoch Times the development likely stems from the county’s resistance to mandated housing allocations associated with the state’s Regional Housing Needs Assessments (RHNA).

“This all goes back to RHNA, when Orange County just got slammed and outvoted, and everything got pushed upon us,” Anaheim City Councilman Trevor O’Neil, who ran unsuccessfully for all three positions, told The Epoch Times. “And Orange County once again was just cast aside. We still don’t have an adequate voice within SCAG.”

O’Neil said Orange County is likely being “shut out” of the SCAG slate of officers because of its historically conservative positions.

“It’s entirely political, because the overarching political ideology among Orange County elected officials is dramatically different than that of larger areas within SCAG, particularly Los Angeles,” said O’Neil.

A media spokesperson for SCAG told The Epoch Times that the group “respectfully disagrees with the characterization.”

“Representatives from Orange County have consistently held leadership roles at SCAG in many areas,” the spokesperson said via email. “As recently as 2017, the SCAG President hailed from Orange County; there has been a President from Orange County more recently than a President from Ventura, Riverside or Imperial Counties.”

Getting Elected

O’Neil said that Yorba Linda Mayor Peggy Huang “was led to believe that this would be her turn” to serve as an officer after being rejected last year, but SCAG staff found a provision in the bylaws that disqualified her from running.

He said Huang wasn’t eligible because she was appointed as a representative from the Transportation Corridors Agency (TCA) rather than the city of Yorba Linda, according to SCAG.

“We actually tried to do a bylaw change to address that, but it would have been messy to do, so we just gave that up,” O’Neil said. Eventually, he stepped forward as a candidate to represent the county, he said, but lost.

Huang confirmed O’Neil’s account. She told The Epoch Times via email that she was encouraged to apply for the second vice president position, and “went through the whole process only to find out about the ineligibility.”

She said it’s even difficult for county representatives to get elected to leadership roles at the committee level. “It is hard for OC members to get leadership positions on policy committees. If you do not get these positions, then you can’t apply for leadership,” she said.

The SCAG spokesperson said that Orange County has been well represented in committee leadership positions in recent years.

“The agency consistently prioritizes fair regional representation and compliance with due process in committee selection and nomination processes,” the spokesperson said.

A committee convenes each year to review candidates for officer positions and provide nominations to the Regional Council, the spokesperson said. The committee is made up of seven members—including at least one from each of the six member counties.

According to the spokesperson, in the current fiscal year, Orange County representatives hold three of the 17 seats on the Executive/Administration Committee, which develops recommendations to the full Regional Council on administration, human resources, budgets, finance, and operations.

All three of the SCAG policy committees (Transportation, Energy and Environment, and Community, Economic and Human Development) have had Orange County representatives serve in chair or vice chair positions at least once in the last four years, the spokesperson said.

New Officers

The new officers were nominated on March 15 and elected unanimously at SCAG’s April Regional Council meeting.

The new SCAG president, Clint Lorimore, is from Riverside County. Lorimore, a Republican from Eastvale, is currently first vice president; he will replace Long Beach City Councilman Rex Richardson.

Lorimore is a small business owner who previously worked for the State Legislature and served as the Inland Empire regional appointee of the Office of the Governor from June 2006 to June 2007. He’s a board member of the Riverside County Republican Party, and has served on SCAG for six years.

Palm Desert City Councilwoman Jan Harnik, who has served on SCAG for seven years, will move from second vice president to first vice president. A Republican, Harnik was elected to the Palm Desert City Council in 2010 and has twice served as mayor.

She also serves as chair of the Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC), as chair of RCTC’s Executive Committee, and as a member of RCTC’s Budget and Implementation and Audit committees. She serves on the Coachella Valley Association of Governments (CVAG) Transportation Committee and on the Coachella Valley Conservation Commission.

Harnik currently serves on a number of SCAG committees, including Transportation, Audit, Executive Administration, Legislative/Communications and Membership, Emerging Technologies, and the Special Committee on Equity and Social Justice.

Ventura County Supervisor Carmen Ramirez, a Democrat, was elected second vice president. Ramirez has served several terms on Oxnard City Council and seven years on SCAG. In 1998, she was president of the Ventura County Bar Association, and remains active in bar activities; from 2005 to 2008, she was an elected member of the State Bar Board of Governors, overseeing the practice of the legal profession in California.

If ratified by the General Assembly, the new officers will commence their one-year terms of office upon the adjournment of the SCAG General Assembly on May 6.