As many others do, Orange County Supervisor Doug Chaffee longs for a better world in 2021—sort of like the one he was living in before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.
“I’m dreaming that our resort areas get open and recover, and the tourism that comes with it,” Chaffee told The Epoch Times during an end-of-year interview. “I’m dreaming of not having to wear a mask, and I’m dreaming of getting this virus [under] … control, and getting back to where we can have relationships and we can get things done on a personal basis.”
But as a public official, Chaffee isn’t just wishing those aspirations into reality; he said he’s working on making them happen.
Right now, the Orange County Board of Supervisors District 4 leader is pushing to reopen Anaheim’s theme parks, keep vaccine progress moving, and ensure children are back in classrooms by next fall. Looking forward to the New Year, he said he’s optimistic those initiatives—and more—will be fulfilled.
The Unhappiest Place?
Chaffee’s district spans six cities, including Anaheim, known throughout the world for its amusement parks such as Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm.
Disneyland was ordered shut by Gov. Gavin Newsom in March during the first COVID-19 related lockdown. It has remained closed since, triggering thousands of layoffs and contributing to the City of Anaheim’s anticipated $114 million budget deficit.
Chaffee has been calling on the government to reopen amusement parks.
“It’s very frustrating that we can’t get Disneyland open on at least a limited basis. [It] has a huge impact on the area. The employees are a significant number by themselves; there are almost 30,000 that work there, some of them part-time. Then you have all the businesses that feed off of that. They’ve been hurting too.”
The city’s sports teams—including the Anaheim Ducks and The Los Angeles Angels, which play in Anaheim—weren’t as affected by the pandemic. Although live games were prohibited for much of the year, Chaffee said the teams were able to remain profitable through TV ad revenues.
Helping Students Succeed
When Orange County’s public schools switched to remote learning in March, Chaffee said he reached out to each district to see how he could help. He soon recognized a need for greater internet access in low-income areas.
His team purchased 11 WiFi trailers, at a cost of $25,000 each, to park at schools and county libraries.
“We provided the WiFi trailers to schools because they have the space for them, they have power and they can broadcast out to expand their reach to the students they’re trying to educate,” Chaffee said. “And they’re going to be good for a number of years, so it helps them now and in the future.”
As a member of the board’s First 5 initiative, Chaffee also helped lead the charge to allocate about $10 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to child care providers.
“Some were almost out of business,” he said. “I thought that was very important: if you’re going to open the county, you have to have childcare.”
Looking forward to the fall, he said he’s hopeful children are back at their desks for the 2021–22 school year.
“That is a huge thing we need to do,” he said. “We’ve got a generation of kids that are lacking social skills, so I’d like to see our schools be fully open and kids have a normal school opportunity with sports, social interaction, and learning in-person.”
Support for the Struggling
As the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the economy, Chaffee said he’s amplified efforts to help his struggling constituents. He has participated in a number of drive-thru food bank distributions, and helped distribute groceries—including about 1,800 turkeys—in Anaheim Nov. 21.
He more recently attended a grocery distribution event Dec. 19 in Anaheim.
“There’s a lot of hunger, and it’s getting worse,” he said. “Looking at that line, I was a little depressed because it seemed more people than ever were in line.”
To help, Chaffee participated in an initiative through the charity Waste Not OC. Food from restaurants was recycled and distributed throughout his district. He said his district will be launching something similar in January.
“As long as we have some money, we’ll continue to do that,” he said. “Funding is always an issue.”
The pandemic hasn’t just changed the way Chaffee’s constituents live; he said it’s had a significant impact on his personal life too.
“I’m a natural born hugger and I confess to that,” he said. “And I haven’t been able to do that at all.”
He has two grandchildren in north Seattle, and hasn’t yet met the younger one, who was born about a year ago. In-person trips to see his family have been substituted with frequent virtual visits.
His hobbies, which include scuba diving and travel, have gone on hold.
“It has affected us as a family unit, to do things as we like to do,” he said. “[Activities] are very limited.”
The unusual year has also sidetracked some of Chaffee’s initiatives, including a justice reform program he was working on.
“That’s on hold and that kind of hurts because I thought we had something innovative,” he said. “When we get past [this], we’ll get back to trying to do that.”