Barbara Venezia...
Stirring the pot of controversy
 one column at a time...

OC Press Club to honor Tom

 Johnson with lifetime

 achievement award


In an era when journalism is challenged on many levels, “The Orange County Press Club exists to support, promote, and defend quality journalism in Southern California,” reads its mission statement. “We believe that a free press is crucial to a free society.”

OC Press Club board member and Voice of OC Publisher Norberto Santana Jr. tells me it’s important to “ensure a vibrant OC Press Club, especially in this era of fake news and questions about our trade.”

Santana says there’s value in journalists coming together by recognizing our craft, helping younger journalists get started and advocating for transparency and First Amendment issues.

The press club, founded in the 1950s, has about 175 members, according to Board President Roger Bloom.

Bloom, who worked for the Orange County Register and Daily Pilot, served as club president from 1992-93 and says, “I’m kind of like the Jerry Brown of the press club; every 20 years I come around.”

The annual Press Club Awards Dinner takes place May 15 at the Balboa Bay Club. Local journalists will be honored for achievements in about 50 categories, including print, advocacy, blogs, broadcast and photography.

Even my Stasha the Wonder Dog, who “writes” a monthly column “Stasha Speaks” for Stu News Newport, entered the Best Lifestyle/Family Blog category.

Bloom welcomes the entry, quipping, “We’re a big tent club. If you’re interested in journalism, we’re not going to count the number of your legs.”

Entrees were submitted in March and then parceled out to be judged by press clubs in Cleveland, Idaho and San Francisco. The OC Press Club judges these clubs’ awards as well.

Winners don’t know if they’ve won prior to the dinner, but let's face it, this isn’t the Oscars and protocols here are a bit different.

“We let people know it might be worth their while to show up, but we don’t tell them if they won or not,” Bloom says.

The most coveted award is the Sky Dunlap Lifetime Achievement Award. It’s the highest honor bestowed by the club and is named for John William "Sky" Dunlap, 1912-1968, who owned and published The Globe, an independent O.C. newspaper, with his wife, Velma Bishop .

Past recipients include Frank Mickadeit, formerly of the OC Register; Gustavo Arellano, editor of OC Weekly; and Steve Churm, former chief executive of Churm Media.

This year’s winner is my mentor, the man who gave me my first writing job: Tom Johnson, former publisher of the Daily Pilot.

Johnson is now publisher of Stu News Newport, a twice-weekly online news source launched in September. He also serves as president of the Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce and is the on-air radio personality on KOCI with Stu News Newport, a Sunday program to which I contribute.

He’s received many awards for his involvement in the community, including Newport Beach Citizen of the Year, 2011; Costa Mesa Man of the Year, 1998; and Newport Beach Commodore of the Year, 1999.

Johnson also was publisher of the Daily Pilot from 1991-2008.

He certainly is well-deserving of this award and respected by his peers.

“The Daily Pilot continues to benefit from the foundation Tom Johnson put down so many years ago when we were on Bay Street,” says John Canalis, who oversees the Pilot as executive editor of Times Community News. “He lifted what was then a struggling paper and turned it into one that is not only financially viable but also journalistically sound and deeply connected to the communities it serves. The work he did here was lasting.”

Santana adds, “Tom represents the best of our field and local community. With deep roots in Orange County over the course of so many years, he’s worked energetically both as a publisher and writer, across numerous platforms (print, online, radio, mainstream, and nonprofit) to get people news about their community, I admire his dedication to his craft and community as well as his accessibility and adaptability over his career.”

Johnson has a long legacy as a newsman in O.C.

"I'm very pleased and excited that the club will be honoring Tom Johnson for his decades of service to journalism and the Newport-Costa Mesa community,” says Bloom, who worked with Johnson at the Newport Beach Independent. “Tom is a great man who embodies the spirit of professionalism and service, and countless people's lives are better because of his efforts.”

The public is welcome to attend the dinner. Tickets are $65 for nonmembers and can be purchased at OC Press Club

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at



Recall effort illustrates

 differences between social and

 economic conservatives

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve written about the effort to recall Newport Councilman Scott Peotter, what it takes to recall a sitting councilman and the ramifications of the Orange County GOP’s support for him.

Readers weighed in.

In a nutshell, the comments I received were split down the middle between those who feel the city shouldn’t spend the money on a recall vote -- an estimated $300,000 — and those who believe it should.

But what I found interesting is that those objecting to the cost weren’t necessarily Peotter fans. They’d just prefer to vote him out in 2018, when he’s up for reelection, rather than go through the process of a recall election in 2017.

From where I sit, Peotter isn’t popular either way with those who wrote to me.

That being said, the next phase of this battle will be waged in the court of public opinion.

On April 18, Peotter filed his official response to the recall with the city, as required. In it, he claims the recall will cost $500,000 (which is highly disputed) and that the recall makes no sense for a city $500 million in debt.

“Recalls should be used for malfeasance, not policy disagreements or fulfilling campaign promises,” he writes.

Peotter calls the recall “sour-grapes by former Councilman Keith Curry, who dug us deep in debt with expensive projects like the Taj-Ma-City-Hall and massive growth of pension debt.”

Peotter says he “defeated Curry's hand-picked candidate, Michael Toerge, in 2014,” whom he calls a “recall candidate who declared his candidacy in the recall rather than wait a few months for the regular election.”

Peotter touts that he’s delivered his election promises regarding fire rings, the so-called dock tax, an audit of the $150-million Civic Center, the Taxpayer Protection Act and eliminating the business tax.

In reality, fire rings and the dock taxes don’t impact the majority of folks in Newport, so I’m not sure how much this argument will help his cause.

And as far as the Civic Center goes, or what he calls “Taj-Ma-City-Hall,” that might have struck a chord with voters three years ago, but will it now?

Peotter’s Team Newport members spent about what this recall will cost on a study, which basically found the city overpaid for the construction and found nothing criminal, just a lack of oversight, which, quite frankly, I could have told them — and did, in columns -- for free.

Couple that with the fact that many have now visited the Civic Center, enjoying concerts and such, that public perception seems to be turning from disdain to civic pride.

Marina Park is another project Peotter has criticized, though many locals fought for and are proud of it now as well.

Peotter hasn’t lived in Newport very long, which is why he’s probably missing the fact that folks here expect a higher standard of services and facilities.

That’s not to say people want their tax dollars spent foolishly, but they do want their money spent on projects that add value to the community, such as parks, community centers and such.

Let’s face it, Peotter’s detractors want to fire a kill shot here and tank his political career, which a successful recall vote would do. I doubt he would get elected to any position, in any city he chooses to move to next, with the stigma of a recall following him.

Changing his public persona won’t be an easy task for his handlers, as Peotter continues to stress his conservative values, as his strong point.

The political landscape in Newport and Orange County is changing. Many Republicans around here are fiscally conservative, yet liberal when it come to social issues; Peotter isn’t.

This crowd will be a hard sell for his camp.

Peotter could play the unfunded pension liabilities — the amount the city owes toward its pension obligations — card, but this can’t be solved on a city basis exclusively; the bigger solution remains in the hands of Sacramento.

As I see it, this recall effort will be a tough battle for Peotter.

The political strategy will be interesting to watch, as it unfolds on both sides.

The opposition is now “carefully designing and formatting the petition and expect to be on the street by May 11,” says spokesperson Lynn Swain.

She tells me she’s “overwhelmed at the amount of residents that have volunteered, donated and endorsed the recall.”

At this point there’s no doubt recall is Newport’s new reality.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at

Copyright © 2017, Daily Pilot

O.C. GOP takes a risk in

 supporting recall target Scott 



Now that the recall effort to remove Newport Beach Councilman Scott Peotter is underway, each camp is lining up supporters.

Squarely in Peotter’s camp is the Orange County Republican Party, whose Central Committee voted Monday night to unanimously oppose the recall.

Earlier in the day, several folks copied letters to me that they sent to O.C. Republican Chairman Fred Whitaker, asking the committee not to support Peotter.

One of those was former Newport council candidate Fred Ameri, who among others, signed a letter stating that “thousands of Iranian (Persian) American Republicans in Orange County” find Peotter “unacceptable.”

The letter recapped the issue in 2016 when “Council Member Peotter's brother, Bruce, went to court in order to force council candidate Fred Ameri to run under his given first name “Farouk.” This action was quickly rejected by the courts, as Ameri was well known as Fred for decades.

“Scott Peotter,” the letter stated, “failed to denounce this effort,” which Ameri said had racial overtones.

The correspondence included a photo of the campaign signs that popped up around town in Farsi, which the Persian group says Peotter also failed to “denounce.”

“The party should not interject itself in these local issues to defend an indefensible elected official ...” the letter urged.

I reached out to Julian Babbitt, executive director for the Republican Party of Orange County, on Monday morning to ask if the Central Committee would be considering Peotter’s past controversies before making a decision at the meeting that night.

I never heard back. Not even when I called the next day.

Former Newport council candidate Phil Greer, who is in favor of the recall, attended the meeting.

He confirmed that the Central Committee voted to support Peotter and oppose the recall. He said no one spoke for or against the issue before the vote, and only committee members were allowed to speak.

Of Ameri, Greer said, “Fred was there and wanted to speak, but they wouldn’t let him.”

So much for the concept of free speech. Ironically, the next day a Peotter supporter, Newport Democrat Bob Rush, sent out an email blast titled, “Save Free Speech in Newport,” touting Whitaker’s official statement.

“The OCGOP stands firmly with Councilman Scott Peotter in opposition to the proposed recall,” the statement read. “Scott has a right to his opinions and the First Amendment. This recall is simply an attempt to overturn the 2014 elections that Scott won on a platform of reduced spending, debt reduction and shrinking the size of Newport’s city government.”

I guess free speech is relative with these guys.

If you thought the Museum House controversy was strange, this Peotter recall has the elements to surpass that tenfold.

Of course, on the pro-recall side, there aren’t as many colorful characters. Former Assemblywoman Marilyn Brewer, Harbor Commissioner Paul Blank, Citizens of the Year John and Elizabeth Stahr, Mary Roosevelt, Lloyd “Bud” Rasner, a former city Aviation Committee member, and Linda Rasner, a member of the Corona del Mar Residents Assn., are among those who want to oust Peotter.

As time goes on, we’ll see more folks line up on each side of this recall, but timing is everything in politics, as is risk vs. reward.

Is the timing right for the Republican Party to show support for Peotter and risk ostracizing moderate Republicans in Newport?

The public’s contribution to the defeat of the Museum House project is a major factor influencing Newport’s current political climate. The fact that ordinary citizens took back control of the issue of high-density development is powering an uptick in community involvement. I believe this is what’s fueling the fire of recall now.

Can the Republican Party risk ignoring this?

And symbolically, the recall sends a message that remaining tone deaf to voters’ voices could be a slippery slope to political oblivion.

I’m seeing a new awakening of civic pride in Newport among ordinary folks.

Couple that with the fact that there are deep pockets here who’ve shown they’ll spend what it takes, roll up their sleeves and engage their neighbors, all to steady their city’s governmental ship, should send shivers down the spines of politicians with their own agendas in play.

A power shift is in the wind.

Voters did it successfully in the last election cycle in Costa Mesa; Newport could be next.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at

Copyright © 2017, Daily Pilot

What it takes to recall a

 Newport councilman


Councilman Scott Peotter could make history as the first council member to be recalled in Newport.

In 2003 Mayor Steve Bromberg urged Councilman Dick Nichols, who made inappropriate remarks about Latinos, to resign or face a public recall.

In all instances nothing ever came of the recall rhetoric.

But this time it could, as the Daily Pilot reported, with the Committee to Recall Scott Peotter serving him notice at Tuesday’s council meeting.

May 2015 Bob “Stop the Dock Tax” McCaffrey and his organization, Residents for Reform, floated the idea of recalling Councilman Keith Curry, who supported projects he opposed.

And in July 2015, after Peotter created controversy with his now-infamous email blast expressing his opposition to the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage and questioned the LGBT movement’s use of the rainbow flag, recall rumors surfaced.

Why recall Peotter now, when 2018 elections are so close?

Lynn Swain, spokeswoman for the Recall Peotter Committee, says there’s concern that “in two more years Scott could change the character of our city forever,” especially since there is talk about updating the city’s General Plan.

So how exactly does a recall work?

The recall committee has to first serve the target and then files a notice of intention with the city clerk within seven days. Then the notice is published.

The target has seven days to file an answer to the recall charges with the clerk. Next, the proponent has to file proof of publication of the notice within 10 days of the recall target filing an answer. The proponent also has to submit two blank petitions to the city clerk.

The recall petition, which only Newport Beach voters can circulate, requires signatures of 15% of registered voters gathered in 160 days.

With an estimated 53,000 Newport voters, petitioners would be wise to gather about 10,000 signatures.

Those signatures are sent to the clerk, who has 30 days to certify them.

The Newport council has to certify the petition and call for an election.

The nomination process for new candidates begins, and an election would be held not less than 88, or more than 125, days after the City Council calls for an election.

Recalls cost money.

The group initiating could spend tens of thousands of dollars.

Leilani Brown, Newport’s city clerk, says she budgets about $100,000 for a municipal election, but “special elections can be more, especially if the city is the only one holding the election.”

For the Museum House referendum, about $300,000 was budgeted.

Swain wouldn’t say what her group’s budget was, but is confident they’ll meet their goals.

A “professional campaign manager” is already on board, she says.

How will they get 10,000 signatures?

Will they hire signature-gathers?

Swain says they have a budget for this, but “with five months to gather the names we may or may not use it.”

Will Line in the Sand join this effort? After all, the political action committee was successful gathering over 14,000 signatures for the referendum against the Museum House in just two weeks in December.

Line in the Sand spokesman Tim Stoaks, a friend of mine, tells me his group is “staying in their lane,” remaining focused on high-density development and environmental issues.

“However many Line in the Sand supporters are involved in the recall,” Swain says.

Swain’s group has a recall website listing reasons they feel Peotter is unfit for office. I won’t go into all of those now, but instead let’s look at how this could all play out.

Who replaces Peotter, if this recall grows legs?

Names being floated are former Planning Commissioner Mike Toerge, Harbor Commissioner Paul Blank and Friends of the Corona del Mar Library chairwoman Joy Brenner.

Toerge, who lost to Peotter in 2014, confirmed his name will be on the recall ballot. He already had plans to run against Peotter in 2018, as I reported in January.

Blank tells me his name will be “among those signers of the ballot statement calling for the recall, but I’m not a candidate.”

Brenner says she will be a candidate if, in fact, a recall occurs. The 51-year Corona del Mar resident feels “compelled” to serve and has been being urged to run for office by friends and neighbors since the 1980s.

Now is the time, she says.

Of course there are still a lot of if’s here.

If enough signatures are gathered, there could be additional candidates.

If the recall progresses, Peotter could opt to resign, then the council would just appoint someone of its choosing.

If Peotter survives the recall, he still has to run in 2018 and fight again for his seat.

Regardless of what happens here, the stigma of a recall is hard to shake for any politician moving forward.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at

Copyright © 2017, Daily Pilot

A Cure for Sepsis?

Over the years I've shared some of my personal life with readers.

One column in particular, back in 2014 about how my husband, Stan, almost died from sepsis, struck a chord with many readers, as I explained how common this deadly condition is.

This past week, an interesting article about Dr. Paul Marik, head of the general intensive care unit at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in Virginia, piqued my interest, as he claims to have found an effective treatment for sepsis.

If you don't know about sepsis, you should. It kills millions worldwide, and is the third largest contributor to deaths of adults over 65 in the United States.

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences estimates that between 28% and 50% of patients with sepsis die, "far more than the number of U.S. deaths from prostate cancer, breast cancer and AIDS combined."

"Sepsis is a major challenge in the intensive care unit, where it's one of the leading causes of death," according to the institute's website. "It is also a leading cause of people being readmitted to the hospital. Sepsis arises unpredictably and can progress rapidly."

Often misdiagnosed because patients present fever, chills, rapid breathing and heart rate, rash, confusion and disorientation and other flu-like symptoms, the malady can go unchecked and untreated. A patient in full septic shock can die within 24 hours.

Sepsis can be caused by kidney or gall stones, an operation, even a tooth extraction. This condition is caused by an overwhelming immuneal response to infection.

Immune chemicals released into the blood to combat the infection trigger widespread inflammation, which leads to blood clots and leaky vessels. This results in impaired blood flow, which damages organs by depriving them of nutrients and oxygen.

In severe cases, one or more organs fail. In worst-case scenarios, blood pressure drops, the heart weakens and the patient spirals toward septic shock.

Once this happens, multiple organs — lungs, kidneys, liver — may quickly fail, and the patient can die, which is why Dr. Marik's protocol is a potential game-changer.

Marik has faced many sepsis life and death situations in his career, but it was in January 2016 that things changed, according to a press release on the Eastern Virginia Medical School Magazine site in March.

Trying to save a dying patient, Marik tried something revolutionary. As the site explains, Marik had recently read about "Vitamin C as a potential treatment for sepsis, and recalled that steroids, a common treatment for sepsis, might work well in concert with the Vitamin C."

Both were safe and FDA approved, so he intravenously administered the Vitamin C and steroid combination. Within hours his patient was recovering. Two days later the patient was well enough to leave the intensive care unit.

Two more near-fatal patients were given the protocol and survived.

Marik and his team quickly adopted the combination therapy as standard practice.

Nicknamed the "Marik Protocol," I wondered if Dr. Andre Vovan, executive medical director for acute care at Hoag Hospital, was aware of the findings.

Dr. Vovan tells me he knows of Marik, and "we are getting in contact with him."

He went on to say that Marik is well-published and well-respected, "the real deal," in this field.

Hoag has a sepsis nurse in the emergency room 24 hours a day and has a high survival rate, I'm told.

Vovan's keeping an eye on Marik and his team, as they continue to collect data.

But there haven't been any clinical trials as of yet because those could cost millions, and National Public Radio reported March 30 that the treatment, while promising, needed more study before anyone could reach conclusions about its effectiveness.

But that's not slowing down Marik

Vovan says in the next month or so he will be meeting with the sepsis collaborative of the 17 hospitals in the St. Joseph network, which includes Hoag, to discuss the treatment.

Vovan says this could push forward organizing a clinical trial.

But as Marik points out in his article, "pharmaceutical companies have conducted more than 100 clinical trials and spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the last 25 years in an unsuccessful search for a sepsis treatment."

Dr. Vovan remains optimistic about Marik's findings.

"He is putting all the patients in a data base, and it is good evidence that he's on to something," says Vovan.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at


Pet Expo is fun but rescue is at its core


On April 28-30 one of my favorite events comes to the OC Fair and Event Center: America's Family Pet Expo.

Billed as the "World's largest pet and pet products expo," the annual event is produced by World Pet Assn. Inc., a 65-year-old nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting responsible pet care.

Last year, nearly 40,000 folks attended, breaking previous records, organizers tell me. (Disclosure: My husband is a member of the Fair Board, which oversees the event venue).

With a tagline, "Fur to Feathers, Scales to Tails," the 2017 expo will feature returning attractions, as well as new surprises.

Back are fan favorites like the Splash Dogs, exotic birds and the petting zoo, as is the popular Cook's Racing Hogs & Dogs.

New attractions include the Catit Cat Activity Center (adoption and rare breeds) and Mini Horses.

The Orange County Turtle and Tortoise Club will allow guests to interact with Sulcata tortoises.

There's even a chicken coop exhibitor who'll give tips about getting into the hobby of raising "fancy breed chickens" for organic eggs.

Pet Expo has something for everyone.

There's Repticon, a reptile show and sale offering hundreds of common and rare species of reptiles.

If reptiles aren't your thing, there's always the Police Dog Demonstrations or the Aquatic Touch Tank.

This year, in advance of the expo, kids ages 5 to 16 can design and create entries that reflect their personalities or showcase their favorite hobby in the Kids Aquarium Contest.

Ten-gallon aquarium kits, complete with a filter, lighting, heater, thermometer and net, are donated and sponsored for each entrant by aquatic companies. See more at

And along those same lines there's the "Hobbyist Aquascaping" contest.

"This new feature will consist of intermediate-to-advanced aquariasts in a competition to create the most appealing natural aquarium," says publicist Jennifer Petro Becker.

Using a variety of live plants and other natural decorations, participants will create miniature underwater jungles.

Pet Expo attendees can watch the process of setting up a fully functional, planted aquarium from 10 a.m. April 28 to noon April 29. Ribbons and cash prizes will be awarded to the top three aquascapers at 5 p.m. April 29.

Of course the most important aspects of the expo for me are the pet adoptions.

With booths set up by local shelters and animal rescue organizations, more than 500 pets found forever homes last year. An estimated 10,000 pets have been adopted over the life of the event.

The Newport Beach Animal Shelter will have a booth with dogs, cats and hopefully a few kittens looking for homes, says NBPD animal control officer Valerie Schomburg.

Speaking of the shelter , there's a nonprofit organization, Friends of the Newport Beach Animal Shelter, forming in town that's intent on raising money for augmented healthcare to make animals more adoptable, as well as pay for shelter needs the city can't.

I'll keep you posted as more develops. I plan on supporting their efforts.

Pet adoption is an issue close to my heart.I adopted Stasha, "The Wonder Dog," a Chihuahua Lab mix, at the 2012 Pet Expo. She was just 5 months old at the time.

Stasha and the rest of her littermates had been found on the side of a road; their mom was killed by car. A Riverside shelter rescued and brought them to Pet Expo hoping to find their "fur-ever" homes.

Over the years, Stasha and I have had many adventures. She's even followed in my footsteps, becoming Newport's only canine (albeit pseudonymous) "columnist" on the Stu News website and archived on my website, Stasha barks about all things dog related, though I have to type for her since she doesn't have thumbs.

 Kidding aside, I can't imagine life without this little fur ball. Each year I write about the expo I hear from readers who attended the event because of the column and adopted a pet as a result, and that warms my heart.

Pet Expo is great family fun, but if you go, you can't bring your own pet.

General admission is $15; seniors 60 and over, $13; children 6-12, $10; children 5 and under, free.

Active and retired military personnel get free admission with an identification. Show hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 28; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. April 29; and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 30.

The fairgrounds are at 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa. Parking is $8. To purchase tickets online, visit


Venezia: Decision on public record requests is huge


The California Supreme Court's March 2 decision regarding public record requests was a game-changer for the media and residents requesting documents from cities and other public agencies.

Moving forward, text and emails regarding official business sent by public employees and officials — even on their personal devices or accounts — will now be a matter of public record.

As a columnist, I frequently ask for documents when researching a story.

On occasions, what I've received seemed incomplete, causing me to ask if there might be more information found in private email correspondence.

Over my 10 years as a journalist, it wasn't uncommon to see some councilmembers list their personal email addresses on city websites.

Newport and Costa Mesa make available official email addresses and contact numbers, but in the past, these cities haven't always required councilmembers to use them and haven't had official policies regarding their use.

On occasions, what I've received seemed incomplete, causing me to ask if there might be more information found in private email correspondence.

With the Supreme Court ruling, cities must get up to speed.

"The court said that communications sent on personal cell phones and computers must be disclosed to the public, if they "relate in some substantive way to the conduct of the public's business," the Times reported.

Newport City Manager Dave Kiff says since the 2016 election, however, the city attorney has asked that every City Council member use their official city email address when communicating city business.

But without an official policy they can't force compliance.

Both Newport and Costa Mesa officials tell me they've been closely following the court case.

Looking at both cities' websites this week, there are official email addresses listed for all councilmembers.

But the fact remains there's no real way to stop people from communicating via personal email, even though it's been suggested that they shouldn't. Technology has moved faster than city policies.

Costa Mesa City Manager Tom Hatch says currently there are no rules on the books regarding this, but his city will look into updating policies following the court decision.

But what about other public agencies, such as the OC Fair Board?

My husband, Stan Tkaczyk, sits on that board.

Currently, members don't have official email addresses.

In light of the court ruling, CEO Kathy Kramer tells me she is working with the state and legal advisors to address the issue, which will be discussed at the April board meeting.

How big a deal is this whole public-document request issue?


Requests for documents are steadily rising. Costa Mesa has a full-time staffer on the task. So far this year, they've had 198 requests compared with 136 this time last year.

In 2016, Mesa had 783 document requests.

What's all this costing taxpayers?

Costa Mesa Public Information Officer Tony Dodero tells me the city doesn't officially track the hours spent on the task, but "the amount of staff time devoted to hunting down these requests is clearly a significant use of city resources and a cost to taxpayers."

Newport Beach, on the other hand, has a handle on what requests are costing them.

Jennifer Nelson, Newport's assistant city clerk, says her office tries to keep track of every document request, "but it's virtually impossible, since not all requests come through the City Clerk's office."

That being said, she estimates staffers spend an average of an hour on each request. Based on the volume the past few months, Nelson estimates city staffers have put in 170 hours, at a cost of about $4,500 per month, or $54,000 annually, filling document requests.

That doesn't include the cost of materials, as some requests are hundreds of pages, though whenever possible they deliver documents electronically.

On top of costs here as well is the Orange County Fair Board, which began detailed tracking in June. .

The board makes public at each meeting what the organization spends on these requests monthly in an effort to bring more transparency to the agency, says Kramer, who gives the reports.

Kramer says her organization has hired one full- and one part-time employee just to take care of public record requests.

Since June, the requests cost the fairgrounds more than $23,000 — an amount calculated on hourly employee pay. (The figures doesn't include benefits or legal costs). -

Talking to both cities and the fair management, requests for documents can range from just a few pages, to hundreds even thousands.

And oddly enough some requesting documents never even show up to pick them up.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at

Is Moorlach right this time



State Sen. John Moorlach is ringing a warning bell regarding California's financial health.

This is the same guy who predicted the Orange County bankruptcy in 1994. At the time, no one was really taking him seriously, and we all know how that turned out.

Fast forward to today. Should we again be listening to this Costa Mesa Republican?

Californians pay the highest rate of personal income tax in the country, yet according to a March 1 article in the San Francisco Chronicle, "More than 1 in 5 Californians live in poverty, the highest rate in the country when you factor in the higher cost of housing and living in the state."

Reading Moorlach's email updates, he's concerned on several fronts. Prison costs and unfunded pension liabilities are among the factors contributing to California's fiscal house of cards.

So I called him last week to chat about his concerns in Sacramento, and to discuss legislation he's planning to bring forward.

Crime is one topic he's hot to talk about after attending a recent budget and fiscal review hearing. At the meeting, reasons for the increase in costs for our prison system were discussed, even though populations have decreased. And Assembly Bill 109 and Propositions 47 and 57 — a bill and two voter-approved referendums, respectively, that allowed early release of inmates — were also touched on.

"I took on the Department of Finance at the beginning of the three hour-plus hearing," Moorlach says, noting that "$1.155 billion of the $2.141 billion in increased costs were due to normal increases in wages and pension contributions."

He says each inmate costs California $70,000 a year, a cost that can be reduced to as low as $29,500 by outsourcing the prison population.

"If they were serious about reducing costs, the answer was sitting right there," he says.

The Senate recently voted to approve three bills related to the Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) between the governor and nearly two-thirds of the state's employees, through their respective bargaining units. Senate Bills 28, 47 and 48 will cost $2.7 billion.

Moorlach voted against all three.

And one wonders how the state doesn't have enough money to fix roads and dams, but does for paying employees higher benefits?

Moorlach says cities should have more control over their pension funds and wants to propose a plan in which they can exit the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) without a huge payout.

Leaving CalPERS is expensive for cities. CalPERS computes a city's pension liability at a 2% to 3% investment-return formula, then the city gets a massive bill that must be paid immediately because the pension system was making contributions based on a 7.5% assumption, Moorlach says.

He's proposing to change that calculation formula.

He's working on a bill that would calculate what a city paid into CalPERS over the years, what it made in investment income and what it paid in retiree benefits. The sum would be paid in full to the respective city to start its own retirement trust fund that meets federal codes, making it responsible for their own pension liability destiny.

Moorlach also explained the day an employee starts with a city they get benefits that cannot be legally reduced.

He wants to introduce a bill that can tier the benefits so they can be changed prospectively.

"We need to give tools to these cities," he says.

Moorlach says residents are starting to realize "unfunded pension liabilities are going to run us over."

Yet in his home town, he says, "it's a crazy move in Costa Mesa to lower pension input."

What he's referring to is a newly approved contract that decreases the amount city employees pay toward their pensions from 17.04% to 12% by year three. The proposed contract is expected to cost taxpayers $5.65 million more over the life of the agreement than the previous one.

Moorlach will most certainly continue to ring this financial warning bell. Let's see if anyone will listen.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at

Fighting to preserve her 

husband's legacy


This week I spoke with Huntington Beach resident Elizabeth Gilbert, who continues to seek justice on several fronts for her late husband, Newport Beach urologist Ron Gilbert, after his tragic murder in 2013.

Gilbert's husband was shot to death in January 2013 as he entered his exam room of his medical practice by Hoag Hospital. He was allegedly killed by a first-time patient, Stanwood Elkus, 75, of Lake Elsinore.

In addition to seeking justice, Gilbert is now fighting for her husband's legacy, the company he started and a product he developed, which she alleges in court papers has been stolen.

Before his death, Gilbert developed a premature ejaculation drug, Promescent, an FDA-monograph-compliant lidocaine spray available over-the-counter and marketed through his company, Absorption Pharmaceuticals.

Elkus was arrested, pleaded not guilty and remains in jail awaiting trial.

The case has had many delays, and Gilbert says on March 10 there will be a continuation hearing.

On Feb 21, Gilbert's widow and Absorption's CEO Jeff Abraham, filed suit in a Nevada federal District Court against Reckitt Benckiser, seeking more than $150 million in damages and demanding the corporate giant stop selling Duration, which the complaint alleges is too similar to the formula in Promescent.

"When I lost Ron four years ago, I knew that his legacy, in addition to our beautiful sons, was the remarkable product he created to help couples who struggled with intimacy," Gilbert says.

She says her husband's life's work was "literally stolen out from under us."

I've written about Abraham and Absorption Pharmaceuticals before.

In 2013 Abraham relocated from Huntington Beach to Las Vegas, because O.C. held too many memories of his friend's senseless murder.

Since then we've become friends, and he's repeatedly told me his goal has been to grow the company, eventually selling it and ensuring the Gilbert family's financial future as his business partner intended.

When Reckitt Benckiser approached Abraham interested in buying Promescent in 2014, he thought he'd finally achieved that.

"We already had an exciting offer on the table valued at approximately $150 million for our business, but Reckitt Benckiser asked us to hold off because of its stated desire to acquire Promescent," said Abraham.

What is Reckitt Benckiser?

The company's roots date to 1823.

Headquartered in Slough, England, Reckitt Benckiser has operations throughout Europe, North America, South America, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East and Africa.

Key brands include Durex, Gaviscon, Mucinex, Scholl, French's, Lysol, K-Y, Airborne,, Clearasil, Air Wick, Calgon, Vanish and Woolite, as well as over-the-counter pharmaceuticals and products for hair removal, denture cleaning and pest control.

On Forbes' list of the "World's Most Innovative Companies," Reckitt Benckiser lists at No. 51, with market capitalization of $68 billion, 34,700 employees and $13.56 billion in estimated sales.

It was Reckitt Benckiser's office based in Parsippany, N.J., that first contacted Abraham.

"At Reckitt Benckiser's request, we shared our proprietary sales, marketing and technical data as part of due-diligence during acquisition negotiations," he says.

In the complaint, Gilbert and Abraham claim Reckitt Benckiser never intended to buy their company, but instead "intended to steal our proprietary information so they could launch a competing product using our marketing strategy and other trade secrets."

The complaint also claims Reckitt Benckiser tried to "destroy Promescent as a competitor by having our listing on hidden from the general public and stealing shelf space at key retailers."

I reached out to Reckitt Benckiser for comment on the pending lawsuit and allegations. Lynn Kenney, North American communications director, called, saying due to the ongoing litigation she couldn't comment here, but at least I got a call back.

I'd never heard of Reckitt Benckiser, but was surprised at how many of their products are in my home.

I dug a little deeper and discovered Gilbert's not the only one questioning Reckitt Benckiser's business practices.

In October 2016 Colorado's State Atty. Gen. Cynthia Coffman and 35 other state attorneys general, including the one from California, filed an antitrust lawsuit against Reckitt Benckiser, the makers of Suboxone, a prescription drug used to treat opioid addiction, "over allegations that the companies engaged in a scheme to block generic competitors and cause purchasers to pay artificially high prices," states the Colorado Attorney General's website.

"Attorneys general allege that consumers and purchasers have paid artificially high monopoly prices since late 2009, when generic alternatives of Suboxone might otherwise have become available," according to the site. "During that time, annual sales of Suboxone to//pped $1 billion."

Gilbert and Abraham tell me they've entered into a legal battle of "David vs. Goliath" proportions, but are committed "to preserving Ron's legacy."

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at

Copyright © 2017, Daily Pilot


Developer responds to my Museum House columns

I've kept a close eye on the drama in Newport Beach regarding the controversial Museum House project.

On Feb. 3, I wrote about how last July Museum House developer Bill Witte, chairman and chief executive of Related California, spoke at a real estate conference where he shared some sound advice with his peers about how to maneuver projects that communities opposed.

Herbst claimed I "advocate against development" and that my column "was predicated around the assertion that Bill Witte did not follow his own advice of engaging in community discussions when bringing Museum House through the entitlement process."

I questioned how Witte could hand out such reasonable advice yet wind up in the middle of one of the ugliest battles over a development project in Newport history. I wanted to ask Witte about this and more at that time, but he was traveling.

This week I heard from David A. Herbst, managing partner of Vectis Strategies, a public relations firm representing Related.

Herbst also said I was "factually incorrect," and that Witte and his team held more than 100 meetings with various community groups, local leaders and stakeholders, receiving feedback "before and during the entitlement process."

First, let me say, in my 10 years as an opinion columnist, many development projects have moved forward in Costa Mesa and Newport that have never made it into my columns. That's because there wasn't anything objectionable or terribly controversial about them.

And, quite frankly, Museum House wouldn't have made my columns either, if not for Line in the Sand's referendum campaign to put the project before voters, the ugly campaign trying to stop the initiative, the Irvine Co.'s objection and lawsuit (later dropped) and other controversies.

The stage was set for high drama, and that's exactly what played out. And that's what I wrote about.

I've never voiced an opinion about the project itself, only on the controversy that transpired.

And I'm not alone in the feeling that very public, and often ugly, debate over the project mattered here.

My husband, Stan, initially a Museum House supporter, changed his mind about the project after being confronted and told not to sign a petition to put the project on the ballot by two young, aggressive men in front of the Westcliff Plaza CVS on Irvine Avenue. This happened after he stopped at a Line in the Sand petition table to chat with the ladies there.

Former Newport Councilman Keith Curry, who originally voted for the project and then later signed the referendum petition, tells me he never thought this was "a bad project, but they handled their politics all wrong with the community, the worst I've ever seen."

Based on his years as a councilman, Curry says he sees development as a "delicate dance" with the community and feels it's the responsibility of the developer to manage that.

"It was managed very poorly," he said.

Also, the Feb 3. column never stated Related didn't meet with the community, as the letter to me implied. (Related most certainly did meet with the community). However, the fact remains that this whole project got totally out of hand.

Herbst said that Witte "even met privately with SPON's leadership numerous times. This included meetings with Jean Watt, Susan Skinner, Nancy Skinner and Tim Stoaks. Unfortunately, SPON was unwilling to offer any ideas except blanket opposition to Museum House."

Stoaks is a spokesman for Line in the Sand and — full disclosure — is also my neighbor and friend. He confirmed Witte did meet with his group. Line in the Sand has objected to the height of the project and argued that it didn't follow the voter-approved general plan.

"It was obvious to us that they wanted to build their project, as is, and were not open to compromise," Stoaks said.

Looking back at the events that bring us to today, it seems obvious Related California and Line in the Sand were never going to see eye to eye here.

I believe there were judgment calls made as strategies were being developed on both sides of this battle, that I imagine, in hindsight, some would come to regret.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at

Copyright © 2017, Daily Pilot

Fire cannot extinguish Chef Bruno's goodwill

This week I received sad news about two men who hold special places in my heart.

A Saturday fire destroyed the iconic Anaheim White House Restaurant, owned by Huntington Beach resident Bruno Serato.

And on Monday Newport's Ralph Rodheim lost his long battle with Lou Gehrig's disease.

In times like these, we hold on to memories of better times.

 I first met Chef Bruno back in 2010. Public relations man Frank Groff invited me to meet his client, Serato, who had started a nonprofit organization, Caterina's Club, named after Serato's mom.

Serato had been quietly feeding motel kids nightly at the Boys and Girls Club in Anaheim.

Later that year I joined Serato as he cooked and delivered the meals to the kids. It wasn't long before he'd receive national and international attention, as well as numerous awards for his selfless endeavors.

And then there was the time I offered to cook for this master chef at my home, enlisting the help of my buddy Frank Mickadeit, the former OC Register columnist who now practices law. Now that was a hoot.

With the recent fire I, like many, was concerned about Serato. Not wanting to bother him, I reached out to Groff to see how things were going.

He explained GoFundMe pages popped up as soon as news of the fire broke. Groff coordinated the efforts, asking folks to take them down, and he started one main page, which collected over $100,000 in just the first four days toward the $350,000 goal.

Groff says the money will go to rebuilding costs that insurance won't cover. Though Serato had insurance, insuring full replacement costs for a building built in 1909 would have been prohibitive.

The GoFundMe efforts here will also go to helping employees. Every penny raised over the stated amount will be donated to Caterina's Club.

But it wasn't only the building that was lost; a lifetime of memories, photos of celebrities who dined there and Serato's coveted 2011 CNN Hero Award, were too.

Groff is reaching out to CNN to get a replacement.

"He's doesn't want people feeling sorry for him," Groff said. "He's the most selfless man I know."

The fire happened Saturday. By Monday, Serato was feeding the kids through the use of other restaurateurs' kitchens.

"It keeps his mind focused on the kids, so he doesn't have to think about the fire," Groff said. "I know when he goes home at night it's difficult for him, as he sits alone."

But the good news is Serato is receiving an amazing outpouring of love and support.

Sophia Loren called him, and her son, conductor Carlo Ponti Jr., closed his recent concert telling his audience about Serato's good works feeding over 1 million children.

Groff and Judy Walker, of Golden Rule Charity, will hold a Feb. 20 fundraiser at Highway 39 Event Center in Anaheim with 100% of net proceeds going to the Anaheim Whitehouse and its employees. Twenty chefs and restaurants serving bite-size tastes, beer and wine will be on hand. Doors open at 5 p.m. for $75 VIP ticket holders, and 6 p.m. for those who pay $50 for general admission. For more information, visit

My thoughts this week also focused on the passing of Rodheim, who was also giving and loved by many.

Our paths crossed many times, and what I remember most was his amazing smile and radiantly expressive eyes.

In 2006, he invited me to lunch, though I barely knew him. I'd just announced my bid for City Council against then-Councilwoman Leslie Daigle.

Rodheim shared a cautionary tale of his bid for council, and how devastated he and his family were by the lies and ugliness launched at him during that campaign. I sensed the hurt and anger still lingered, as he urged me to rethink my decision to avoid this same experience.

Months later, when my race got nasty, just as Rodheim described, I dropped out. But I never forgot how he candidly bared his soul, warning me of what was to come, and hoping to save me from it.

On Rodheim's Facebook page, his wife, Penny, posted her thanks for the kindness and support folks have shown since her husband's passing and asked friends to send photos or short videos of Ralph to These will be used in his upcoming memorial.

I will never forget the kindness he showed me.He was a lovely man. Rest in peace, Ralph.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at



A cautionary tale for



I wasn't surprised that the Orange County Registrar of Voters notified the Newport city clerk's office that it certified the required 5,619 signatures from Line in the Sand's petition effort to bring the Museum House project to a referendum vote of the people.

Considering the group gathered almost 14,000 signatures, odds were this would be the outcome.

The big question now is what the controlling entity on the City Council, Team Newport, will do with this hot potato issue.

Will they rescind their prior approval of this project?

A move in this direction makes the most sense in my book, especially if these folks hold out any hope of saving their seats on the council come reelection in 2018.

And if they let the referendum move forward, I doubt voters would approve this project, considering all the negative press surrounding the efforts on behalf of Museum House supporters to block signature gathering and such.

With either option, the future for the Museum House project looks grim.

But high-density development isn't just a Newport issue.

In Los Angeles for example, there's the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, which seeks a two-year moratorium on developments that require zoning changes, which is headed to L.A. voters on the March 7 ballot. And Costa Mesa voters in November approved their own smart-growth initiative.

Last July, Museum House developer Bill Witte, chief executive of Related California, spoke about the issue at a real estate conference at downtown L.A.'s Omni Hotel.

An article in The Real Deal, a respected L.A.-based real estate magazine, states that "Witte warned the audience against the 'typical default response from a developer' of trying to get existing projects grandfathered in, sans restrictions — and waiting until the next cycle if it's not possible. He also suggested avoiding the urge to rage against the machine."

Witte's advice to his audience was to encourage community discussions, as well as speaking with elected representatives.

"I think it behooves all of us to really kind of step back from our entitlement and our financing and try to band together, to have neighborhood discussions, to try to resolve these matters," he said, according to the article.

"He encouraged developers to accept that there are certain areas that are protected from dense development, and where it is ill-advised to try to build something out of scale," according to the article.

So I called Witte's office Thursday to talk about the article and other recent Museum House developments but was told he was traveling on business. I wasn't able to speak with him by my column deadline, but I do hope to speak to him soon and will report his perspective when I hear from him.

If we talk I would like to ask how a seemingly reasonable guy gives good advice on how to bring controversial building projects to success, yet winded up involved in the ugliest battle in Newport's recent history over this Museum House?

In my opinion the Museum House referendum battle is one for the history books. It's the poster child for what not to do when dealing with a project facing fierce community opposition.

If so, what's happened in Newport should serve as a cautionary tale to other developers.

I believe this Museum House saga will create a shift in how developers proposing projects behave moving forward in Newport.

Are we already seeing this in Costa Mesa?

I was on the KOCI 101.5 FM show, Stu News Sunday with Tom Johnson this past weekend, as was newly elected Costa Mesa Councilman John Stephens.

We discussed the controversial project in his town to replace a College Park commercial center with a multistory housing development, and how developer Steve Sheldon withdrew his application ahead of the council's meeting.

Stephens praised Sheldon's move here, as it was evident by residents' concerns that more discussion was needed, which Stephens plans on having.

As I've said before, it's not enough to just listen to residents' concerns; leaders need to actually hear what's being said and initiate compromise.

And that seems to be what Stephens is aiming for here — and not just when it comes to development. Fireworks are another subject he's tackling.

"Tee up with John" is what he's calling a meeting planned for 6 p.m. Thursday at the Costa Mesa Council Chambers.

Stephens explained he wants to start community a dialogue to explore ways of keeping illegal fireworks off Costa Mesa streets during Fourth of July, while preserving the safe and sane fireworks fundraising revenue stream for many local organizations.

We chatted about his ideas on how to balance this issue, and he's got some interesting solutions.

Seems in Costa Mesa at least, communication is becoming the pathway to good government.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at

Copyright © 2017, Daily Pilot

Dog beach issue is on a tight



It's been a year since I first wrote about the controversy over Newport's unofficial dog beach by the Santa Ana River jetty.

Since the land is owned by the Orange County Flood Control District, and the river is controlled by the State Lands Commission, throw in the city of Newport Beach, and this becomes a jurisdictional stew of multi-bureaucracy confusion over enforcement.

Add to that dog lovers who want to keep this property off-leash, and others who do not, and we could see another battle like that of the fire rings, especially now that the state Coastal Commission is involved as well.

To recap, in March Newport's Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission rejected a proposal to have the city's animal-control officers enforce leash restrictions. Commissioners felt this task should fall to the county.

Newport city officials and county Supervisor Michelle Steel, who supports the dog beach, began looking for a solution.

An ordinance to legally designate the area for dog lovers passed the Board of Supervisors' first reading, "but stalled in May over concerns from two environmental groups that having unleashed canines in the area could harm two at-risk bird species," the Daily Pilot reported.

Last June, county staff presented a dredging proposal, which had been in planning stages for more than a year.

Though dredging the area would most likely remove the sandy swath on which off-leash dogs love to romp, the tides should restore the sandy beach. And no one really knows how long that will take; could be weeks, months or longer.

It's pretty hard to predict nature, but it's easy to predict that this project will continue to ignite controversy.

On Dec. 14, West Newport resident Bruce Boyd sent emails to county and city officials, stating his neighbors would be most impacted by the dog beach.

Boyd's letter explains why he and the 71 neighbors who signed his petition are against the dog beach.

"We are very concerned about the nearby areas that are protected for the least tern and the snowy plover," he wrote of the birds.

And, he claims, there is a "declining living environment," where children are afraid to play, due to the "the increasing number of dogs, not only on the beach but also on the sidewalks, streets, parks and surrounding areas."

Advocating for the dog beach is former Newport council candidate Mike Glenn and resident Jonathan Pedersen.

Last year, Glenn started an online petition in favor of the project, garnering 5,841 signatures so far.

"They have a petition with 71 (and only 33 households), so we are looking at about 82 times more people — literally a 99% issue," says Glenn.

Glenn and Pederson argue that if the Coastal Commission is taking the position that it needs to give permits to cities and counties before allowing dogs anywhere, then its default position appears to be a de facto ban on all dogs from all beaches.

That, of course, is now what's happening in practice. Dogs are allowed off-leash in Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach, for example, and beach cities up and down the state have a tapestry of laws allowing pooches.

Right now leashed dogs are allowed on all Newport beaches before 10 a.m. and after 4:30 p.m.

But the off-leash area remains in a gray area.

"If the Coastal Commission believes that we need their clearance for that — we never got it," says Glenn, arguing that dogs and their owners have been using this beach for decades without issue.

"With endless miles of coastline between the bay and the ocean, we are talking about the last remaining 300-foot stretch of land to keep open for our dogs," says Glenn. "All we want to do is to keep a very, very small stretch of land as its historic use."

Glenn and Pederson take exception with any Coastal Commission objection, saying there is no land alteration, change of use, scientific proof of an impact to water quality or proof of limited public access.

The issue is clearly heating up. It will be interesting to see what stand Newport's council will take here with an election year looming in 2018. We've seen how passionate dog lovers are.

Newport's unofficial dog beach issue could now impact the entire coastline. And in dog-friendly California, get ready for the fur to fly.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at


It's been a year since I first wrote about the controversy over Newport's unofficial dog beach by the Santa Ana River jetty.

Since the land is owned by the Orange County Flood Control District, and the river is controlled by the State Lands Commission, throw in the city of Newport Beach, and this becomes a jurisdictional stew of multi-bureaucracy confusion over enforcement.

It's been a year since I first wrote about the controversy over Newport's unofficial dog beach by the Santa Ana River jetty.

Since the land is owned by the Orange County Flood Control District, and the river is controlled by the State Lands Commission, throw in the city of Newport Beach, and this becomes a jurisdictional stew of multi-bureaucracy confusion over enforcement.

What does criticism of city

 manager even mean?


Newly elected Councilman Jeff Herdman tells me some members of the majority voting bloc are at least somewhat critical of City Manager Dave Kiff.

Herdman says he met with Councilmen Marshall Duffield and Scott Peotter shortly after he won election in November.

st week, I talked about big changes in Costa Mesa's leadership with Mayor Katrina Foley steering the City Council majority in the opposite direction of the past several years.

This week it looks like Newport Beach is discussing leadership issues as "Team Newport" mulls 2017.

"They both expressed their dissatisfaction with Dave," Herdman says.

What dissatisfaction means here is unclear. Herdman didn't offer me specifics.

Nevertheless, Herdman, who is not on Team Newport, is definitely on Team Kiff, calling him a "top-notch city manager."

"The city would be at a great loss without him at the helm," Herdman says.

I agree. So I reached out to Duffield and Peotter and asked them what was going on.

I heard back from Peotter, who says, "Dave Kiff is still the city manager, and as Dave would say himself, as long as he is doing a good job, I suspect that he will remain the city manager."

I called Kiff as well.

He says he hasn't been approached by anyone on the council to leave.

That makes sense. Kiff is a highly popular city manager and well-respected. In fact, at last year's mayor's dinner, when dignitaries were being introduced, Kiff received louder applause than anyone else.

Former Councilman Keith Curry found him to be an "outstanding city manager."

If Kiff were to leave, Curry says, the departure could cause "our best department heads to leave" as well.

That's a potentially big problem. I don't think it would be good for the city or Team Newport to replace Kiff until he's ready to retire.

This isn't the first time I've heard tongues wagging about some members of Team Newport's issues with city administration since they took over the council in 2014.

And let's face it: Kiff hasn't had the easiest time with at least some in this group, particularly the 2015 brouhaha over Peotter's anti-gay marriage email blast.

Through that whole controversy I never heard Kiff, who is openly gay and married, complain or show anything but professionalism.

I am not sure how all of this will affect the voting bloc. Team Newport, which also includes Mayor Kevin Muldoon and Councilwoman Diane Dixon, is up for reelection in 2018.

My bet is they leave Kiff alone. Considering this group's waning popularity among Museum House opponents (the Team Newport members all voted in favor of the proposed condominium tower), taking on Kiff could be a nail in the proverbial political coffin.

And from what I'm hearing, some impressive names in town are already exploring starting council campaigns this year with the goal of winning the majority from Team Newport in 2018.

One is Mike Toerge, who ran against Peotter in 2014 and lost by 872 votes. He filed a Form 410 (Statement of Organization Recipient Committee) for Mike Toerge for City Council 2018, according to the city's website.

Toerge tells me he's remained involved behind the scenes in city issues and after his loss filed papers in March 2015 anticipating a 2018 run.

He says his Corona del Mar-area district hasn't been well-served by Peotter and thinks residents "deserve better."

"Every time we are faced with a hard decision, we need to look at the validity of the opposition's argument with respect, instead of calling people whiners and belittling them," Toerge says.

Toerge has a long history in Corona del Mar, serving on the residents association there for 20 years, two as president. He also served for 11 years on Newport's Planning Commission.

But there are those who feel that if Toerge had opposed Measure Y in 2014, he would have garnered the votes needed to beat Peotter. Some of them blame Toerge for Peotter's win.

Are they willing to forgive?

Will Line in the Sand, which pushed Measure Y to defeat, turn to Toerge in 2018?

He says he signed Line in the Sand's recent petition to bring the Museum House project to a referendum, and he called the antics against the petition effort "despicable."

"We should be supporting democracy," Toerge says. "Over 13,000 people signed the petition. Let them vote."

Even though Peotter hasn't publicly stated whether he will seek reelection, it seems Toerge and others are busy planning for 2018.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at

Dennis O'Neil was a class act. We need more like him


When I got the news this week from former Newport Beach City Manager Homer Bludau that Dennis "Denny" O'Neil had died, I was saddened.

"Beyond his role as an elected leader, O'Neil was always a voice of reason, insight and could cut through an issue to a logical conclusion," Bludau wrote.

I couldn't agree more.

O'Neil was a fan of my columns and let me know that whenever our paths crossed. And like many in Newport, I was a "Denny fan."

Sometimes we weren't on the same page politically, but I admired the way he'd articulate his opposing opinion in such a gentlemanly manner.

O'Neil was a class act, a quality unfortunately I'm not seeing much of today.

That's been painfully obvious as the referendum process on the Museum House project has unfolded.

As I've written about the antics surrounding the controversy, many readers have weighed in. Folks are troubled, and in many cases disgusted, by efforts to thwart the referendum petition process.

And now the Orange County Museum of Art is suing to try to disqualify the more than 13,000 signatures Line in the Sand gathered because, basically, the font on each of Line in the Sand's roughly 1,000-page referendum petition — documents that the City Council insisted be included in each packet — was too small.

Give me a break!

OCMA's press release was laughable.

"The circulated petition contains literally hundreds of instances of text so small, it is virtually unreadable," it states. "An analysis from Dr. Lawrence R. Stark, associate professor at the Southern California College of Optometry, found the average petition text size was equivalent to 6.6-point font, which he described as 'likely too small for fluent reading.' California's mandatory elections code requires documents to be at least 8-point font size."

Let's be real here. People who signed this petition weren't concerned with the fine print. They were focused on having a say in this project.

And who the heck is Dr. Stark? Was he paid to lend his expertise?

I found his professional profile and phone number online. So I called to ask. I didn't hear back.

This lawsuit is nothing more than a Hail Mary, last-ditch effort to block voters from weighing in. It screams desperation, and this isn't doing much to change Museum House supporters' public perception as bullies in this fight.

I'm hearing from folks who share my husband Stan's opinion, initially feeling the Museum House project had merits and weren't opposed to it.

But following the ugliness of men blocking petition signature gatherers, which my husband experienced firsthand, and this petty lawsuit to prevent the referendum from going before voters, they've changed their minds.

It's the lack of civility that has caused the shift in support.

Heck, even former councilman Keith Curry, who initially voted for the project, decided to sign the Line in the Sand petition after this negative campaign unfolded.

I have to say that I've never seen anything like this in local politics before, where a project's proponents have so poorly managed their public outreach that they've turned some who were on their side against them. With every move they seem to shoot themselves in the foot.

We'll see how they fare with this lawsuit, but from where I sit, they're failing miserably in the court of public opinion.

Covering this controversy has made me question the city's direction and the council leading that charge.

This week, when I received my invitation to the 36th annual Mayor's Dinner, which is Feb. 10 at the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa, I had to think about it.

Do I attend, as I have for many years, or just send a donation to the fine organization, Speak Up Newport, that puts it on?

Tickets are $85, or $1,200 for a sponsorship table of 10, and can be purchased at

The event traditionally honors former mayors, and I'm sure they'll have an appropriate tribute to O'Neil.

The dinner includes a State of the City address by the incoming mayor.

Past mayors have given rousing speeches of their vision of the future.

But Newport politics is a mess right now, which falls squarely on the shoulders of "Team Newport."

In good conscience, I can't see myself sitting through a speech making believe everything in this city's OK.

All things considered, it's best I go the donation route this year.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at

Copyright © 2017, Daily Pilot

Election and new mayor bring

 change to Costa Mesa


After  writing about the last edition of the DP 103 list of most influential people on Sunday, boy, did I hear from readers!

Overwhelmingly they weren't happy that this longstanding tradition in the Daily Pilot is going bye-bye.

With the paper's expanding coverage of neighboring cities, many felt this was just another sign that the DP is moving too far away from its roots of focusing on Newport Beach and Costa Mesa.

As it was explained to me, this expanded coverage is precisely why the list was put to bed — there are just too many influencers to cover in each city. Thus the list will be replaced by "Unsung Heroes."

I get that people dislike change, but change is pretty much the only thing we can count on as time marches on.

And nowhere around here are the winds of political change blustering more these days than in Costa Mesa.

In this past election cycle, it's as if residents went to their windows — as newsman Howard Beale did in the 1976 movie "Network" — and yelled, "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

The political ideology shift was radical.

In one corner we have reelected council member Sandy Genis and newly elected John Stephens — both pretty much aligned in their thinking with new Mayor Katrina Foley.

In the other corner we have remaining Councilman Jim Righeimer and returning member Allan Mansoor.

And if their first meeting was any indication, I predict these two factions will continue to butt heads.

Talking with Foley over the holidays, my impression was that she understands the message voters sent in this election — they're looking for change and a council that will listen to them.

And by all accounts, Foley has hit the floor running to set that tone.

Some of her changes that have been approved already are ceremonial and easy to accomplish, like changing Chief Executive Officer Tom Hatch's title to city manager and moving all public comments to the beginning of each council meeting and end splitting them between the beginning and end of the meeting.

And she wants to make the council meetings more user-friendly for folks who work and want to attend.

"We will no longer be requiring speaker cards be turned in by 6 p.m. to be able to speak at a meeting," she says.

She's also repurposing the mayor's office to be an "Office of the City Council" where members can meet with the public.

Foley envisions rotating art displays, featuring local artists, high schools and Orange Coast College students, decorating the walls of City Hall's fifth floor.

"We are the City of the Arts and I'm going to give that real meaning," Foley says.

But I feel she'll meet resistance when she brings up using those six new ambulances the city purchased rather than contracting for ambulance services.

She says this could generate $2 million to $4 million for the city rather than a private contractor.

The idea will certainly come up at a future council meeting, and I'm sure there will be a lively discussion between the two factions on this subject.

No doubt Foley's city still faces some difficult issues that will take long-term strategies to resolve.

How will she solve the homeless encampments in parks and the drug issues there?

Faced with the same problem in Los Angeles, one councilman, Mitch O'Farrell, is going as far as to suggest a city ordinance that would ban adults without a child near playgrounds.

As crazy as that may seem, there are already similar ordinances in Santa Monica, New York City and Hollywood, Fla., as these cities try to curb issues of homeless people and drugs in their parks.

Though I feel that solution is a bit far-reaching, I have to believe O'Farrell's actions are a result of a constituency fed up with these problems.

Issues facing our cities aren't necessarily unique, as we saw with the sentiment against high-density development among residents at council forums in Newport and Costa Mesa this past election season.

I asked Foley if what is happening in Newport with the referendum signature-gathering controversy over the Museum House project isn't a bit of déjà vu for her. After all, her city faced several ballot measures last election season for which signatures were gathered by residents unhappy with the City Council's direction on high-density housing and such.

"Newport Beach has long been the envy for many, in part because of the low density. It's a great place to live, but you have to listen to the residents," she says.

Does she have advice for Newport's leaders?

"My best advice is to collaborate and not just have the attitude 'We can do whatever we want.' It will come back to bite you in the end and the residents will throw you out," she told me.

Sounds like some good neighborly advice, which I'll bet the Newport council will ignore.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at

Copyright © 2017, Daily Pilot

Who's hot, and who's not, on 

DP 103's final list


The DP 103 list of most influential people is out for 2016 — and apparently this year marks the end of the tradition.

The list has certainly had a good run, and I've had some fun writing about those who've sizzled — and fizzled — over the years.

No. 1 on my sizzle list this year — and on the DP 103 too — is Newport Beach activist and Line in the Sand founder Jean Watt.

Watt was on fire this year. At age 90 she inspired and mobilized her grassroots movement to gather more than 13,000 signatures in just two weeks, bringing the planned Museum House project closer to a vote of the people in a referendum.

Watt knocks out City Council member and former Newport mayor Diane Dixon for the top DP spot this year, as Dixon moves down to No. 15.

Dixon was No. 1 in 2015 with her meteoric rise to mayor pro tem — and then mayor this year — after being elected in 2014.

But she fizzled in my book in 2016 as she claimed to be studying every issue and listening to all sides, yet remained tone deaf to the public's political landscape regarding the unofficial dog park, fellow council member Scott Peotter's various rants and the Museum House condominium tower.

Ranked 12th on the list is my favorite "frenemy," political consultant Dave Ellis.

A regular on the list for many years, Ellis was No. 100 in 2013, 61 in 2014 and 78 in 2015.

No. 1 on my sizzle list this year — and on the DP 103 too — is Newport Beach activist and Line in the Sand founder Jean Watt.

Watt was on fire this year. At age 90 she inspired and mobilized her grassroots movement to gather more than 13,000 signatures in just two weeks, bringing the planned Museum House project closer to a vote of the people in a referendum.

Ellis certainly sizzled this year, proving that as far as the political influence game goes in Newport, he's top dog. He actually rated higher than most of the City Council members he helped get elected, with the exception of Mayor Kevin Muldoon, who is No. 4.

And I feel Muldoon wouldn't have ranked above Ellis this year if he hadn't been anointed the new mayor by his "Team Newport" cohorts on the council. Muldoon held spot 30 on the 2015 list and 36 in 2014.

Faced with the possible referendum on the Museum House project, being mayor in 2017 is pretty much a sucker's bet, as they say in Vegas. Was he smart to accept this position?

If Muldoon votes to move ahead with sending the 1,100-page petition document mandated by the council to each of the 53,131 Newport voters, the cost could bring the price tag of the election to upward of $2 million.

And if he suggests deleting the document pages, his fellow Team Newport members may not agree, which could make him appear politically impotent.

My guess is voters won't forget this whole referendum debacle with Team Newport, but as mayor, Muldoon will be the face of this mess, regardless of how it plays out.

Team Newport could go from being the heroes of the 2014 election to the zeros of 2018 when they are up for reelection.

Another person Newport residents won't soon forget is 26th on the list this year — Councilman "Two Ton Eddie" Selich.

I jokingly call him this since it was Selich's idea that the council include the 1,100 pages of background documents for the Museum House project on all the petitions for a referendum — resulting in the signature drive producing nearly 2 tons of paper.

Selich, who is now termed out of the council, has said of Museum House that "one more high-rise will not change the look and feel of Newport Center."

So was this a spiteful act aimed at the public, with the outcome poorly calculated by Selich and Team Newport?

Or was it an ingenious way for Selich — who's not a member of Team Newport — to jam up Team Newport after he left office, since they would inherit this public relations nightmare?

Moving my attention to movers and shakers in Costa Mesa, the DP 103 list certainly reflects the wind of change in that city.

Costa Mesa residents flipped the ideology of their City Council majority with the reelection of Councilwoman Sandy Genis, who came in at No. 8, and the election of newcomer John Stephens, No. 16.

Costa Mesa's newest mayor, Katrina Foley, hits No. 3 on the list. She ranked seventh in 2015 and No. 1 in 2014.

This is Foley's first crack at mayor, and she's already making some important changes that the council is scheduled to vote on at its next meeting.

Tom Hatch would lose the title of chief executive officer of Costa Mesa and rightfully return to the title of city manager.

All public comments at council meetings would be heard at the beginning of each meeting, and council members' comments will be heard at the end.

The mayor's office, previously a "private space," Foley says, will now be the Office of the City Council, where members can meet with the public.

Though these changes are mostly ceremonial, they do send a message that there's a new sheriff in town, so to speak, and things will be different under her watch.

I could go on and on about this final DP 103 list, but it's time to put it to bed and ring in 2017 with all its amazing possibilities, and I predict there will be many.

Happy new year!


BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at

Copyright © 2017, Daily Pilot