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

Recognizing ‘a lot of people voted for Dana,’ Rouda says he’ll represent ‘all the people’


It’s no mystery in my mind as to why the Orange County Republican Party 

endured such monumental losses this past election.

They can blame it on everyone from President Trump to President Obama, to being

 outspent by Democrats.

But the bottom line is this: their core message didn’t resonate with voters.

As they say in the TV biz, know your audience.

Instead of reading the room and running fresh faces and ideas, party leadership stuck to its antiquated policy of protecting incumbents, no matter how flawed, at all costs.

No race exemplified this better than the one in the 48th Congressional District between Democratic candidate Harley Rouda and longtime Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher.

The party could have stopped Rouda in the primary if it hadn’t spent big bucks trying to knock out Republican challenger Scott Baugh against Rohrabacher.

Odds were good Baugh and Rohrabacher would win the primary and face off in November. At least then Republicans would’ve held onto the seat.

But Rohrabacher was an incumbent.

Baugh, former OC Republican Party chairman, broke the cardinal rule by challenging him.

I joked with Rouda after his primary win, asking if he’d sent OC Republican Chairman Fred Whitaker a thank you note for ensuring his victory.

He just laughed.

And of course Rouda took that win all the way home in November to beat Rohrabacher, ending the congressman’s 30-year run.

On Monday I checked in with the congressman-elect about his impressions of Washington, D.C., and his political to-do list.

“It’s been interesting,” Rouda said.

The first days after the election, and still exhausted from the long campaign, everything was still “a bit surreal” for him.

“At first you don’t appreciate the full magnitude of the situation,” said Rouda.

But that quickly changed.

His initial time in Washington consisted of three weeks of congressional training in D.C. and one week at Harvard in preparation for serving in the 116th Congress.

“It may be surprising to people coming into Congress,” he said. “It’s like setting up a not-so-small business — you’re given a budget,” and the next step is to set up a D.C. office and one in the district.

The federal government must approve the leases, and budgets for this aren’t released until Jan. 3 — after the swearing-in.

Rouda says on a personal level, existing members have been helpful to incoming members, sharing advice on where to live, schools, etc.

The Roudas have already rented an apartment in the Eastern Market area so he can walk the four or five blocks to the Capitol.

With 35 weeks in the Congressional calendar, Rouda typically plans to fly into Washington on Mondays and back to the district on Thursdays to work with constituents here.

It’s a bit more travel than he was used to doing when he ran his own business, but not much, he tells me.

Rouda described Rohrabacher and his team as being “very gracious” during this transition period.

Stepping foot in the Capitol for the first time is when “the significance of the job we were ready to undertake, and being one of 12,000 people to have ever served the country,” really sunk in for him.

Rouda is a history buff and it’s “everywhere in Washington.”

“I just want to stop and read every plaque,” he said.

One of the most touching moments came recently while walking with his wife on a tour of the Capitol.

On display in one of the underground areas of the building was the black, fabric-draped wagon that carried President Lincoln’s body.

“It was such a poignant moment,” Rouda says.

With all the preparation underway to take his congressional seat, Rouda’s eager to get to work.

He’ll focus on issues for which he feels there there is bipartisan support like climate change, infrastructure, gun violence, reforming drug pricing and health care, as well as addressing homelessness and affordable housing availability, which directly affects Orange County.

And he hasn’t forgotten issues facing the district we talked about before the election: rehab/sober living homes and John Wayne Airport.

He’s also responding to the state’s recent emergencies.

“I joined my fellow members-elect from California to request expanded federal support to address the impacts of the devastating November wildfires,” he said in a news release.

Members-elect hope to improve “evacuation routes and emergency protocols, greater education for community members on fire safety; increased defensible space around structures; and funding for science-based hazardous fuel treatment.”

As we ended our conversation on Monday, Rouda said, “Even though I won the election, a lot of people voted for Dana, and I will be working hard to represent all the people.”

He also wanted to wish everyone “a happy and prosperous 2019.”

So do I.

Barbara Venezia is an opinion columnist writing political and social commentary since 2007. She can be reached at

Newport should directly elect its next mayor


Last week I wrote Newport Beach should take a clue from Costa Mesa and elect its mayor, rather than having council members voting among themselves for the


It’s my opinion because the behind-the-scenes lobbying for the position of mayor, which is the norm, continues without public say-so or awareness.

At Newport’s Tuesday council meeting, newly elected member Joy Brenner and incumbents Marshall “Duffy” Duffield, Kevin Muldoon and Diane Dixon were sworn in. They joined Councilmen Jeff Herdman, Will O’Neill and Brad Avery in selecting Dixon 
as mayor, and O’Neill as mayor pro tem, each serving for a second time.

But controversy and power plays were taking place way before Tuesday night.

Within weeks after the election, my phone was blowing up with calls from political 

players in town meeting with Dixon, telling me she was lobbying hard for the mayoral

 spot to edge out O’Neill.

In November 2015 I wrote about Dixon, who was chosen as mayor pro tem acing out Councilman Tony Petros for the position. Petros was surprisingly candid about the behind-the-scenes goings on then.

It was a glimpse into this power-grabbing process that continues to this day.

Fast forward to now. Apparently Dixon wasn’t the only one wanting to do a end run on O’Neill becoming the next mayor.

I was privy to a letter last week signed by over 70 residents sent to council

 members saying, “We are concerned citizens respectfully asking that you consider

 selecting a council member other than Mayor Pro Tem Will O’Neill to be Mayor in 2019.”

“Relationships on the council, as well as between the council and community, 

have been unnecessarily strained over the past years,” the letter stated, adding

 “ the town has been faced with more scandals and discord than at any time in recent memory,” and that residents “perceive the current council as an adversary rather

 than an advocate for their best interests.”

The group felt O’Neill was a “large part of the problem, and we are very worried

 that his selection as mayor would exacerbate the conflict and disconnect between 

the council and community.”

The letter outlined examples like his part in the removal of former City Manager 

Dave Kiff, and that “O’Neill is perceived by many as hostile to residents who disagree

 with him.”

The writers claimed O’Neill “went out of his way to post partisan voting 

recommendations and negative comments about candidates running against

 incumbents on  social media, using his title as mayor pro tem.”

Tuesday morning I talked with Brenner and Herdman about the letter.

Herdman called it a “real dilemma” for him.

“I struggled with it,” he said, but went into Tuesday night’s council meeting with 

“optimism” about Dixon’s leadership and planning on voting for her as mayor (but not O’Neill as mayor pro tem).

That night, Herdman voted for O’Neill anyway.

Brenner told me she had to consider the “cards we were dealt.”

“I had to look at how do I do the best for the citizens of Newport Beach,” and 

acknowledged Dixon “is representative of getting the information to the people

 “regarding the Kiff situation, and she stood up regarding transparency.

Brenner says her role on council is to work with everyone.

Both Brenner and Herdman ran on platforms of “listening to the will of the people”.

Sounds good as campaign rhetoric, but the reality is they knew they were 

outnumbered by Team Newport votes and couldn’t choose anyone other than Dixon

 and O’Neill.

I asked Herdman and Brenner what they thought of electing a mayor in the future 

and initiating political reform.

Brenner said the issue warranted discussion.

Herdman was more definitive.

“If you’re asking me this today, my gut level reaction would be that electing a mayor 

is something we should do,” he said.

Herdman feels this way because of city policy A1, changed this past year with 

input from O’Neill, which gives the mayor more power over meetings.

“In short it gives the mayor a great deal of authority he or she did not have

 before,” said Herdman.

He’s asked for the old policy language to compare to the new one as he plans on 

pushing the issue forward.

Herdman’s hope is that this council will come together reversing the language 

to restore it to its original intent.

Personally, I think Herdman, not Dixon, actually deserved to be mayor this

 go around.

I liken Dixon’s power grab here to when Costa Mesa Councilwoman Sandy 

Genis voted earlier in the year to remove Katrina Foley and make herself mayor. 

Voters vindicated Foley and she became the city’s first elected mayor.

Newport residents should have a say in who their mayor is, and not be reduced to letter writing and behind the scenes dealmaking.

Barbara Venezia is an opinion columnist writing political and social commentary since 2007. She can be reached at

Newport could learn a thing or two from Costa Mesa about political activism

For those wondering where my column’s been, I’ve been on a self-imposed hiatus since October, as I worked on two developing television projects.

It’s not the first time I’ve been approached to write TV show treatments to sell new series.

This time I was intrigued by the celebrities attached to the concepts and the stories these shows would tell.

Though I can’t say much more about the projects, I’m happy to be back to local political-watching, and there’s been a lot to watch in 2018.

In the 11 years I’ve been covering local politics in Newport and Costa Mesa, this council election season has been one for the record books.

What were my observations?

I’ve felt for a long time that Costa Mesa voters were far more sophisticated and engaged in the political process than their neighbors in Newport.

2018 proved that once again.

Costa Mesans continued to clean house.

Historically, this city votes out incumbents residents feel don’t serve their needs. We saw that again this past election.

Not so much in Newport. With the exception of electing Joy Brenner, who beat

Councilman Scott Peotter, voters didn’t move the needle of change much in their city.

Though the jury was out on how district elections would work for Costa Mesa, I think it changed the political landscape for the better. Newport could learn a thing or two here.

Costa Mesa candidates running in their district only had to campaign within that area,

not citywide, which is the case in Newport.

District races in Costa Mesa made campaign fundraising more affordable and opened the door of opportunity to fresh faces and ideas.

Costa Mesa now has the youngest councilman, and first Latino, in its history with

Manuel Chavez.

And with the election of Councilwomen Andrea Marr and Arlis Reynolds, joining newly elected Mayor Katrina Foley and remaining Councilwoman Sandy Genis, there are more women on council than ever before.

Watching Marr and Reynolds during Feet to the Fire in September they impressed me as being strong-willed, smart and articulate.

Though they ran in alignment with Foley, it will be interesting to see if Foley will

temper her behavior as mayor. Her detractors say her “aggressive” style when dealing

with city staff and other council members — a characterization she denies and calls a fabrication by political opponents — created the political split between her and Genis.

This is why Genis says she turned on her and voted her out as mayor.

My guess is that sort of behavior — if accurately described — wouldn’t sit well with

Marr and Reynolds.

Voting for mayor was a good change for Costa Mesa, rather than having the council

appoint one of its own, which is still the practice in Newport.

Of course the race in Newport that everyone’s talking about was between Tim Stoaks and Mayor Marshall “Duffy” Duffield.

That was a doozy!

Stoaks, who is a neighbor and personal friend of mine, was the frontrunner on

election night.

Twenty-one days later the tides changed with Duffield leading Stoaks by 22 votes.

On Nov. 30 the final count came in from the OC Registrar of Voters: Duffield, 18,458,

Stoaks 18,422. Stoaks lost by just 36 votes.

This was a horse race with a near 50/50 split.

Since election night Stoaks has continued to say he was “cautiously optimistic”

because there were 480,264 votes countywide to be counted after election night.

That number included 123,195 provisional ballots.

What are provisional ballots?

“A provisional ballot is a regular ballot that is placed in a special envelope prior to

being put in the ballot box,” and are counted after election night, according to the

 California secretary of state website.

Provisional ballots are generally:

  • Cast by first-time voters who might not be able to provide proof of identification.

  • Vote-by-mail voters who appear in person at polling places.

  • Folks who’ve moved within the county without re-registering to vote.

  • Or those whose names didn’t appear on their polling place’s rosters for some

  •  unknown reason.

Looking at the more in-depth description of these circumstances on the Secretary

of State website, it’s easy to see where there could be some margin of error with

these ballots.

With a race this close, I predict there will be a call for a recount. Community

activist Susan Skinner is calling for one.

Statistically in these recounts, if errors are found, and/or ballots challenged, it is usually within the provisional ballots.

Recounts can cost upward of $20,000, depending on the number of ballots to be counted.

Interested parties have five days to challenge the results from Nov. 30.

So it’s possible this isn’t over yet. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Barbara Venezia is an opinion columnist writing political and social commentary since 2007. She can be reached at

Candidates shine and fade at Feet to the Fire Forum


Once again, the Feet to the Fire political talk show was eyeopening,

providing insights into the viewpoints and personalities of those running

for office in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa.

On Sept. 17, eight Costa Mesa City Council candidates took the stage for the first hour. Two mayoral candidates filled out the second hour.

I, along with my partners — John Canalis, executive editor of Los Angeles Times Community News, and Norberto Santana Jr., publisher of Voice of OC — asked some tough questions — and the conversations turned lively.

Of the District 3 candidates, I felt Brett Eckles proved knowledgeable, but was not as articulate in expressing his views as his opponent, Andrea Marr. He actually agreed with her several times.

Though they were cordial, which was refreshing, Marr came across as more self-assured.

District 4 is a three-way race among Manuel Chavez, Steve Chan and Michelle Figueredo-Wilson.

Chavez, the youngest candidate ever on F2F, was enthusiastically delightful, but his lack of political seasoning showed. Nevertheless, he may have a great political future.

Chan held his own, as did Figueredo-Wilson. They have very different styles, and both were knowledgeable. But Figueredo-Wilson showed far more passion and personality and seemed to outperform Chan and Chavez at the forum.

District 5 featured Rebecca Trahan, Arlis Reynolds and Councilman Allan Mansoor.

Prior to the event Trahan asked not to be seated next to Mansoor. Part of serving on the council sometimes means sitting next to someone with whom you differ. Nevertheless, on stage, her performance was less than memorable.

Reynolds, on the other hand, exuded self-confidence, challenging Mansoor on several issues, and neither seemed intimidated. I feel this race boils down to the two of them.

The next hour, the mayoral candidates — Councilwoman Katrina Foley and Mayor Sandy Genis — took the stage. Both women knew they’d be asked about the bad blood between them.

Genis has never given a substantive answer as to why she turned against her former political ally, voting to remove Foley as mayor and then promptly taking her place.

F2F could’ve been Genis’ shining moment to explain herself. But she again danced around the topic, which didn’t impress me.

When we did get to discussing issues, both women seemed close in expressed ideology — same as when they ran together for council in 2014. Listening to all of this convinced me the ill will between them is personality-driven — on Genis’ part.

But the most telling moment came when I asked them whom they supported for council.

Foley quickly named her picks, but Genis declined. I felt that was a slap in the face to council candidates — who in the previous hour gave their mayoral picks without hesitation.

All things considered, I think Foley won this round.

On Sept. 21 we held Newport’s Feet to the Fire, and it was the show I’d always imagined this forum could be. Four candidates — Tim Stoaks, Joy Brenner, Roy Englebrecht and Mike Glenn — discussed myriad issues openly and honestly, offering solutions with intelligent, measured thought.

Glenn’s opponent, Councilwoman Diane Dixon, declined our invitation, offering to send her husband in her place. F2F is for candidates only.

Stoaks’ opponent, Mayor Marshall “Duffy” Duffield, Englbrecht’s opponent, Councilman Kevin Muldoon, and Brenner’s opponent, Councilman Scott Peotter, also declined, which wasn’t surprising since they didn’t attend in 2014 either.

Ours wasn’t the only forum they ditched, as they’ve cherrypicked which ones to attend. I imagine this tactic isn’t sitting well with some community groups, who put great effort into organizing the debates.

When I see candidates who won’t show, I’m reminded of Robot B9 from “Lost in Space,” uttering his iconic warning, “Danger, Danger Will Robinson!”

In this case, the danger is in not sitting for questions when you’re running for office and gambling on the fact that voters will accept that.

Watch both forums on

Barbara Venezia is an opinion columnist writing political and social commentary since 2007. She can be reached at

Newport incumbents refuse to let us hold their Feet to the Fire


Friday’s Feet to the Fire Forum at Orange Coast College will tackle issues facing Newport Beach.

The candidates running for council are: Tim Stoaks facing Mayor Marshall “Duffy” Duffield;
Joy Brenner opposing Councilman Scott Peotter; Roy Englebrecht challenging Councilman
Kevin Muldoon; and Mike Glenn running against Councilwoman Diane Dixon.

Unlike Costa Mesa’s Feet to the Fire on Monday, where every candidate welcomed the

opportunity to appear, incumbents Dixon, Muldoon, Peotter and Duffield declined.

This isn’t surprising since they didn’t show in 2014 either. (Dixon ran unopposed,

so she wasn’t asked to participate.)

This time around Dixon initially wrote she had “a conflict on the 21st but I'm trying to work

that out.”

“The community has abundant opportunity to hear me answer their questions, which I love

to do,” she later wrote. “F2F is really not a debate — if the other candidates are not facing their

opponents. If the other incumbents would agree to participate that would be compelling for me

to reluctantly change my plans.“If not, I could possibly attend the meet and greet but I need

to depart at 7.”

Showing up for the meet and greet portion of the evening, and not facing her opponent on stage,

makes even less sense than not showing up at all.

Dixon’s opponent had his own thoughts on the issue.

“If they do not respect the public enough to be held accountable at a most widely publicized

public forum during election, then hopefully they will be held accountable at the polls,” Glenn said.

The last four years have been riddled with controversies, including former City Manager Dave Kiff’s

early exit, as well as resident lawsuits, complaints to the Fair Political Practices Commission,

the Museum House referendum initiative and a failed bid to recall Peotter.

You’d think this group would welcome any opportunity to win over voters explaining their actions.

But no.

Stoaks, my friend and neighbor, has volunteered at and attended every F2F since 2010.

“In all the years I’ve watched Feet to the Fire forums I’ve seen races change because of it,”

Stoaks says. “More than one candidate, who I thought had no shot at winning, got elected

because they did well at Feet to the Fire, changing voters’ opinion of them.”

“How can anyone vote for candidates that won't show up for a community forum to give the

voters a chance to listen to where they stand on important issues?” Englebrecht said.

He had some strong words for the incumbents.

“Unless you have a real legitimate reason for not attending the Feet to the Fire Forum you should

drop out of the campaign now, because real candidates show up and face the voters!” he exclaimed.

Will we miss the incumbents on stage?

Not at all.

Feet to the Fire’s unique political talk show format is about delving into candidate’s belief

systems and personalities. It works no matter who is there.

And from the looks of it, the people confident in sharing their vision for Newport will grace our stage.

The evening starts at 6 p.m. with a candidate meet and greet on the patio of Orange Coast College’s

Robert B. Moore Theatre, 2701 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa. That’s the time voters can ask

candidates their own questions.

The forum begins inside the theater at 7 p.m. It’s free to attend and all are welcome.


Barbara Venezia is an opinion columnist writing political and social commentary since 2007.

She can be reached at

Candidates ready to light up Costa Mesa’s Feet to the Fire Forum


It’s time to break out the flame leather pants for another run of Feet

to the Fire Forums.

With 11 forums under our belts since 2010, my partners from the Daily Pilot,John Canalis, and Voice of OC, Norberto Santana Jr., are ready for the 12th and 13th editions to the series.

We kick off Monday, interviewing candidates for Costas Mesa mayor

and City Council. On Sept. 21 we tackle Newport’s council race, which

I’ll discuss in my next column.

Costa Mesa promises to be groundbreaking since residents will directly

vote for mayor and council members representing districts — two firsts

in city history. Past elections were at-large, and the council members

themselves chose the mayor.

The first hour will be dedicated to council candidates. After a brief

intermission, we’ll spend the second hour talking with the mayoral

candidates, Councilwoman Katrina Foley and Mayor Sandy Genis.

Both have graced our stage before.

“This will be a good opportunity for residents to really see the differences

among candidates for themselves,” Genis said.

“High-density development, public safety, budget and general

approach to government” are among the topics she wants to discuss.

Foley has her own take.

“I always love Feet to the Fire because it exposes those candidates

who are unable to think quickly on their feet and demonstrate their

leadership skills in a fluid, unplanned environment,” she said.

And it looks like she’s ready to debate Genis.

“Unlike in the district races, where you will see some stark policy

differences of opinion, the campaign for mayor comes down to

leadership, effectiveness and a clearly articulated vision for Costa

Mesa,” Foley said. “Bring the heat.”

Those running for council district seats also weighed in this week.

In District 3, Brett Eckles faces Andrea Marr.

Marr’s had people ask about F2F as she’s campaigned.

“People love the opportunity to see candidates side by side and to hear

more than just talking points,” she said, adding that she looks forward

to discussing “the big picture, about our vision for the city overall,

and what we'd like to accomplish in our four, maybe eight years.”

Eckles is also looking forward to his first time on stage.

"Feet to the Fire has been a good opportunity for voters, to see in person or

on television, the candidates running to help lead our city.     I am looking

forward to discussing my plans, ideas, and solutions to a variety of

opportunities for improvement in our city and neighborhoods," said Eckles. 


"I would like to discuss plans to improve the safety of our community,

including through public-private partnerships to reduce homelessness

and reducing the concentration of sober living homes.  I would like to

discuss  our City’s financial sustainability and plans for fiscal discipline

by reducing wasteful spending and attracting businesses to improve

revenues. Finally a discussion about  plans to improve neighborhood

character of the community by enhancing our parks, securing our parks, youth development programs, and community events," he said .


In District 4, we welcome Steve Chan, Manual Chavez and Michelle


“I’m looking forward to kicking around local issues with you and the

other candidates,” Chan tells me. “The outsized impact District 4

(and District 5) has on the city as whole, and whether city policy is

on the right track in District 4, which alone has a higher population

density than (some big cities).”

Figueredo-Wilson’s excited to join the ranks of candidates who’ve

graced our stage over the years.

“I look forward to a lively discussion regarding our city's challenges,”

she said. “District 4 needs a mature leader with life experience who is

invested in the community and understands the policy complexities

of homelessness and crime.”

I heard from District 5 candidates Allan Mansoor, Arlis Reynolds

and Rebecca Trahan as well.

Did you know Mansoor, a current councilman, holds the record of being

on Feet to the Fire more than any other candidate?

“Is this ‘Rocky 5’?” he quipped.

Mansoor has never shied from discussing the issues, or sharing his strong

opinions on any of our previous shows, and this year is no different.

“I look forward to a real discussion on the very different directions

some of the candidates want to take our city,” he said. “There are

clear policy differences regarding needle distribution and toilets for


Trahan promised candor.

“I am excited about the Feet to the Fire and hope you will allow us to

have candid, open conversations on issues important to Costa Mesa

residents, and will allow us to talk about what is really going on with

the Costa Mesa elections,” she said. “In addition, I hope it can also be

a fun event where you will allow us to show our lighter, more humorous,

down-to-earth sides.”

Reynolds attended the forum in 2016 and “appreciated seeing clear

differences between candidates, as well as the opportunity to interact

with candidates before and after the event. I look forward to the

opportunity to meet more residents and share my vision for my hometown.”

Feet to the Fire’s unique political talk show format offers candidates an

opportunity to engage with the press and gives voters insights into their

belief systems and personalities.

The evening starts at 6 p.m. with a candidate meet and greet on the patio

of Orange Coast College’s Robert B. Moore Theatre, 2701 Fairview Road,

Costa Mesa. That’s the time voters can ask candidates their own questions.

The forum begins inside the theater at 7 p.m. It’s free to attend and

all are welcome. Visit

Barbara Venezia is an opinion columnist writing political and social commentary since 2007. She can be reached at

Candidates debate business ties, harsh letter at West Newport forum

Sep 07, 2018 |

The mayor and a councilman declining to answer questions about whether they

have a business relationship and a recent letter written by a political backer is the

talk of the town as the Newport City Council race progresses into fall.

First up, tongues were wagging at the West Newport Beach Assn. candidates

forum last week over a recent letter to the editor by Bob McCaffrey, volunteer

chairman of Residents for Reform. 

 In the letter, which appeared in StuNewsNewport and the Newport Beach Independent, McCaffrey likened activists Susan Skinner and Lynn Swain and candidate Joy

Brenner to Pavlov’s dogs.

I find what he wrote so offensive that I’m not even going to quote

his detailed descriptions.

McCaffrey, a leading supporter of council members Scott Peotter, Kevin

Muldoon, Diane Dixon and Mayor Marshall “Duffy” Duffield for reelection,

means big bucks to their campaigns.

The dilemma these candidates face is weighing money over morality.

In the era of #MeToo and gender equality, no woman, regardless of political

views, should be subjected to this kind of bullying and be compared to

drooling dogs.

It took candidate Roy Englebrecht at the West Newport forum to push this issue.

Though Muldoon said he tries to be “respectful and civil,” and doesn’t agree

with what McCaffrey wrote, he didn’t go as far as to distance himself from

McCaffrey.  Muldoon did, however, criticize the letter, disagreeing with its

contents at the forum.

And when Brenner asked Peotter if he would talk to McCaffrey about not

engaging in this kind of rhetoric, he stated, “I don’t think anybody tells Bob

what to do.”

I was especially interested in Dixon’s response since she’s positioned

herself as an advocate for women in politics as founder of the

Women in Networking forums.

“I deplore personal attacks and disparaging comments against anyone,

woman or man,” Dixon told me. “Such uncivil comments have no place in

our election campaign process. Such comments are beneath the people of

Newport Beach. We are better than that.”

It will be interesting to see who shows up at the planned fundraiser McCaffrey

is holding at his home for Peotter Sept. 13. Duffield, businessman Buck Johns

and county Supervisor Michelle Steel are listed on the invitation as members

of the host committee.

“I was not planning to attend the event regardless,” Dixon said.

But when I asked if her fellow incumbents attend, and continue to take

support from McCaffrey, will she rethink her endorsements of them, she

didn’t answer.

I also reached out to McCaffrey by phone and email, asking him to explain

his Pavlovian metaphor, and didn’t hear back. He is said to be out of town.

Speaking of not answering questions, Duffield should have answered when

his opponent, Tim Stoaks, asked him if he’d ever employed Peotter while both

have been on the council.

Duffield refused.

“I don’t subscribe to this type of questioning,” he said.

Stoaks, who, in the spirit of disclosure, is a neighbor and friend of mine,

wasn’t the first person to wonder about Duffield and Peotter’s alleged

business ties.

Skinner wrote Aug. 19 to City Attorney Aaron Harp and asked whether it

would be a conflict of interest if the two did, in fact, have a business

relationship of some kind.

“This becomes especially problematic as Mr. Duffield has been conflicted

out by the FPPC (Fair Political Practices Commission) of dealing with many

of the issues on the harbor, and Mr. Peotter has been advocating in his stead,”

Skinner asserted.

Harp replied, “I do not have any documents or other evidence that Council

Member Peotter has performed work for Mayor Duffield for compensation,

how much compensation was received, if any, or the nature of the work, if any.”

On Aug. 21 I sent emails to both Peotter and Duffield asking them to deny

or confirm whether they had a business relationship and explain the nature

of it.

They never responded.

I asked Harp to weigh in, as a simple yes or no would end the controversy.

“I don’t think it is as simple as you make it sound,” Harp wrote Aug. 21.

“In general, our office does provide advice regarding these type of issues for

Council Members if the advice is requested prior to the City Council’s

consideration of a matter,” Harp wrote. “Any conversations of this nature

are protected by the attorney client privilege so I can’t comment on these type of discussions, or even confirm or deny if there were any discussions.”

“Your inquiry primarily relates to past conduct,” he added. “The FPPC is the

agency that looks into matters related to past conduct and you may want to

check with them to see if they have any records related to this matter, because,

as stated below, I do not. “

What does “past conduct” mean? And, if so, if it was handled properly,

why avoid disclosing it to the community?

Get out in front of it, and it’s a nonissue. Instead, now Skinner’s filed a complaint

with the FPPC.

The McCaffrey incident, and this investigation, all could have been avoided

had common sense been applied to both situations.

Successful campaigns manage their message. The message I see Team

Newport sending: They're a directionless mess.

Barbara Venezia is an opinion columnist writing political and social

commentary since 2007. She can be reached at

‘You can’t play politics,’ says Newport’s new city manager

Aug 31, 2018

As Newport Beach political watchers anticipate the Feet to the Fire forum, one of the topics we’ll certainly discuss during our political talk show is what played into the City Council putting pressure on City Manager Dave Kiff to retire early and the hiring of his replacement, Grace Leung.

I met Leung when she participated in the Leadership Tomorrow event I moderated in Newport on May 17.

I was impressed with her upbeat personality and concise answers and opinions.

I called Leung recently to discuss her new position as Newport’s first female city manager.

I wondered why she chose not to apply for the job in Irvine, where she's been acting city manager for many months.

She started in Irvine as assistant city manager nearly two years ago and felt it would be “nice to have a fresh start somewhere else.”

Leung explained her “roots were in Sunnyvale,” where she spent 18 years, and “missed a full-service city, whereas Irvine is more of a contract city.”

“Newport has more in common with Sunnyvale as an older city with more redevelopment and revitalization” issues, which she feels are her areas of expertise.

Was part of her decision to apply in Newport based on the political atmosphere in Irvine?

Leung agreed Irvine's contentious, but it's “a fact of life in a lot of cities.”

And what about the contentious environment in Newport, where elections are pending?

Having worked on the “government staff side for over 20 years,” Leung said, “It's how we work together that matters, and let the politics take care of itself.”

She said her job is to “implement policy” created by the council.

With the controversy surrounding the pressure on Kiff to retire early, is she concerned that if new council members dominate in the November election she could be out of a job since she wasn't their choice?

Leung said she “can't play politics,” and though she understands she serves at the will of the City Council, she’ll work with all members and “just do my job.”

“I am not there to serve one side, or one person,” she said. “I’m there to serve all seven.”

City managers today walk a fine line advising council on issues. What if Leung's staff reports don't support the will of the council, and she finds herself in an adversarial position?

“I certainly dealt with this almost daily in Irvine,” she said.

Leung tells me it's important staff make recommendations that are “backed up by research and can explain all options, so they can defend the recommendations we put forth.”

“It doesn’t serve the city not to do this, and this does put staff and me in a particularly difficult position, but that's part of the job,” she said.

With Leung starting her new job after Labor Day, a chapter will open in Newport.

Feet to the Fire changes

This week I have two important updates to the upcoming Feet to the Fire forum schedule.

The much-anticipated F2F on Sept. 22 for the 48th Congressional District race is canceled. Laguna Beach Democrat Harley Rouda was quick to commit, but incumbent Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) hedged.

After talking with the Rohrabacher campaign these many months, and the revolving door of consultants supposedly in charge of this decision, the latest of those consultants, Dale Neugebauer, gave the final answer.

“We appreciate the invitation to the September 22 forum, however, the campaign is not able to accept the invitation to participate in the event at this time, and must decline,” he wrote.

It's disappointing that Rohrabacher won't face Rouda and engage him in front of the voters, but we are planning a Feet to the Fire Podcast with Rouda soon, which will post on the website.

The Newport council forum has also been moved from Sept. 20 to Sept. 21, as to not conflict with the Newport Chamber of Commerce Fire and Lifeguard Appreciation Dinner on the 20th. The annual dinner was planned over a year ago, according to Chamber President Steve Rosansky.

Moving the date will enable candidates running for office and others with an interest in attending both events to do so without conflict.

So far challengers Joy Brenner, Mike Glenn, Tim Stoaks and Roy Englbrecht have agreed to attend. Mayor Marshall Duffield and council members Diane Dixon, Scott Peotter and Kevin Muldoon have been invited but have not yet committed. I think we’d all like to see the incumbents participate, but if they don’t, we’ll do the forum anyway.

Barbara Venezia is an opinion columnist writing political and social commentary since 2007. She can be reached at

Newport, Costa Mesa candidates spar over their ballot designations

Nothing is simple these days in Newport Beach or Costa Mesa politics, not even the usually routine practice of candidates submitting ballot statements.

In Newport, candidate Mike Glenn — running against incumbent Councilwoman Diane Dixon — and Joy Brenner — opposing Councilman Scott Peotter — were both notified by City Clerk Leilani Brown that their ballot statements weren’t acceptable as submitted.

Glenn debated the ruling in emails this week with Brown.

Glenn claims Brown took issue with a comma he used to describe his profession in his ballot designation: “Operator, SaveNewport.”

“ … commas are not allowed unless part of an elected title,” Brown wrote in an email to Glenn, which I reviewed.

When Glenn argued that the Election Code allows the comma, Brown took issue with using “SaveNewport,” the name of Glenn’s blog on his ballot designation. Instead she went with his alternate designation, “Small Business Owner,” on the ballot.

Glenn wasn’t happy with the outcome.

“It made no sense,” he told me. “It obviously wasn’t about the comma in the first place.”

Brenner’s ballot submission was also questioned. Brown sent her a letter stating that the following two parts of her candidate statement would be deleted:

“We must stop playing partisan politics, which have no place in city governance. Pushed by a political agenda and outside forces. They lead to backroom deals and obscure the public’s right to know.”

And there was this: “No more deals for political cronies, no more staff reorganization that diminish public service.”Brown cited California Election Code section 13308.

“Any candidate’s statement submitted shall be limited to a recitation of the candidate’s own personal background and qualifications, and shall not in any way make reference to other candidates for that office or to another candidate’s qualifications, character, or activities,” the code states.

Indeed Brenner doesn’t confine the statement to her “personal background and qualifications,” but I don’t see where she actually makes direct reference to her opponent, Peotter, or links him to the behavior she talks about, so Brown’s decision here seems like a stretch.

Unless this ends up in court, Brown has the final say.

In Costa Mesa, Mayor Sandy Genis has her own ballot statement battle brewing.

On Aug. 15 City Clerk Brenda Green wrote to Genis: “(Councilwoman) Katrina Foley contacted me by phone late yesterday afternoon regarding your candidate statement. She also sent me the email below, which includes a letter from the City of Newport Beach City Clerk pertaining to one of their candidates.” (The letter Brown wrote to Brenner)

The email from Foley to which Green refers states: “The crony comments are nearly identical.”

Foley was referring to the line in Genis’ statement that “Costa Mesa residents have the right to clean open government and decisions free of cronyism. No backroom deals.”

But in the end, Green wrote to Genis, the phrases she was reviewing in her ballot statement were, “Only Mayoral Candidate,” “Only candidate to” and “Only Candidate.”

Genis said Green consulted with attorneys contracted by the city, who found nothing objectionable. Green contacted her and Foley again.

“My decision remains the same, and I will not seek a writ of mandate requesting material in the candidate statement to be amended or deleted, “ Green wrote Aug. 19.

A writ of mandate, in this context, is a court order to a government agency that directs it to correctly follow the law or reverse a decision that is out of compliance with the law.

That wasn’t the end of it.

Attorney Mark Rosen filed a writ of mandate petition in Orange County Superior Court on behalf of former Costa Mesa Councilwoman Wendy Leece on Aug. 20.

Let’s not forget that Leece and Genis were once friends and political allies.

“I am profoundly disappointed in Wendy Leece,” Genis said.

Leece doesn’t like the situation either but did what she thinks she had to do.

“This was not an easy decision because we’ve been friends for more than 30 years,” Leece said. “But in politics, even friends can disagree sometimes. My sister and I disagree sometimes. Words matter.”

The writ argues Genis’ candidate statement is “false, misleading, and inconsistent with the law of candidate statements” and cites, you guessed it, Election Code section 13308.

The writ takes exception with Genis’ claims that she “is the only mayoral candidate” to stand up against the Orange County Needle Exchange Program, vote to protect single-family neighborhoods from wholesale duplex conversion and vote no on high-density development in the 2015 general plan. It goes on from there.

The writ demands her “cronyism” line be deleted as well.

This is heading to court. Genis said it didn’t have to go that way.

She was open to changing a “word here and there” when she initially spoke to Green. But after Green found no objection to her ballot statement language, Genis figured the matter settled.

She said she used a very similar ballot statement the last time she ran without objection.

Genis finds the whole situation an attempt “to distract her and spend money on attorney fees that should be going to her campaign.”

She said her opposition is trying to “suppress her record on council.”

“It’s a little disgusting,” Genis said. "You don’t stab somebody in the back.”

Leece said she just wants the voters to have accurate information.

“I studied Sandy's ballot statement and believe, according to election law, some of her statements are misleading and not accurate,” she said. “A voter would be confused. My concerns are legitimate as outlined in the writ. We'll have to agree to disagree and let a judge decide.”

Agreeing to disagree is the order of the day in Newport-Costa Mesa politics.

Barbara Venezia is an opinion columnist writing political and social commentary since 2007. She can be reached at

 Council races to watch in Newport and Costa Mesa


Who’s in, and who’s out, now that official candidate filings are completed?

It certainly looks like a game of political musical chairs.

In Newport Beach, Mike Glenn came out of nowhere to challenge incumbent Councilwoman Diane Dixon in District 1.

Glenn and Dixon have some cantankerous history. He unsuccessfully sued Dixon and the city for slander in August 2017 after he claimed she falsely accused him in public of owing $619.93 in unpaid document request fees.

He lost the slander suit, but the judge ruled he didn’t owe the fees.

I talked with Glenn about his run now.

“We can’t have someone run unopposed. It removes the voice of the people if they don’t have options,” he said.

He claims to have received campaign pledges of $45,000 in just a week, which Glenn says indicates a number of residents aren’t happy with Dixon’s council history and that his candidacy “offers options.”

“I look forward to a rigorous campaign,” he said Monday after hearing he had qualified to be on November’s ballot.

Glenn confirmed he’ll be at the Feet to the Fire forum dealing with the Newport council race Sept. 20 at the Robert B. Moore Theatre at Orange Coast College.

This is the first time Dixon has faced opposition, running unopposed in 2014.

In April, Dixon was praised by many when she outed alleged shenanigans by fellow council members Scott Peotter, Kevin Muldoon, Mayor Marshall Duffield and Mayor Pro Tem Will O’Neill regarding their part in the early exit of City Manager Dave Kiff, which they deny.

But the praise for Dixon was short-lived.

Before candidate filings closed, Dixon endorsed those same fellow council members for reelection, but not before she received her own endorsement by the Orange County Republican Party Central Committee with the caveat that she’d agree to endorse those guys.

In Peotter’s race in District 6, things also took an interesting turn as candidate Mike Toerge dropped out, leaving only Joy Brenner to face Peotter.

Emails flew after Toerge’s decision, calling him a “hero” because many political watchers worried that if Toerge stayed in, he and Brenner would split votes against Peotter, guaranteeing him another win.

Toerge certainly made a commendable move here. I know it wasn’t an easy decision for him; in past conversations he relayed his passion to face Peotter again after he narrowly lost to him in 2014.

Moving on to Costa Mesa, Al Melone is out of the mayoral race. Councilman Allan Mansoor was in but dropped out to run for the District 5 seat.

That leaves current Mayor Sandy Genis vs. councilwoman and dethroned former mayorKatrina Foley to battle it out.

Will this race play out like an adaptation of the hit Broadway show “Mean Girls”?

I asked Mansoor about switching lanes.

Did he not want to get in the middle of this cat fight?

Or is he hedging his bets with a better chance of a district win against candidates Arlis Reynolds and Rebecca Trahan?

He says no to it all.

Mansoor moved to the district with his wife and three kids almost a year ago and has lived in Costa Mesa most of his life. He says his opposition to the Orange County Needle Exchange Program and a portable toilet proposal made his decision. These issues pose hazards not only to his children but the entire city, he says.

Trahan also is passionately against the needle-exchange program and feels the current council hasn’t done enough to stop it.

Mansoor says the council has been proactive on the issue. This month it decided to join Orange County in a lawsuit seeking to stop the state-approved needle exchange from operating and then put a 45-day moratorium on all needle exchanges in the city.

This will certainly be discussed at the Sept. 17 Feet to the Fire for Costa Mesa.

Mansoor has two years left on his current council term, for which he was elected “at large” — by voters citywide — in 2016. If he wins District 5 — elected by voters only in that district — it will give him another four-year term. If he loses, he still will finish the two years.

Trahan isn’t buying Mansoor’s reasoning for entering her district race, saying “it’s bad for Costa Mesa and Republicans.”

“I don’t like it; it’s dirty and he needs to stay in his seat,” she told me.

If Mansoor and/or Genis wins, the city will have to decide whether to appoint someone or hold a special election for the remaining terms on their current seats. Genis’ also expires in 2020.

Appointments could change the political makeup of the council — even after voters have weighed in — which makes those two races the ones to watch.

Also, there was an unexpected change in Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher’s campaign organization this week.

Checking in with consultant Michael Schroeder to see if Rohrabacher will agree to an interview and attend the planned Feet to the Fire on Sept. 22 about the 48th Congressional District race, Schroeder emailed, “I am no longer handling this project; please follow up with Dale Neaugebauer.”

Schroeder didn’t say whether he’ll stay on in another capacity for Rohrabacher.

Neaugebauer and I plan to speak next week.

BARBARA VENEZIA is an opinion columnist writing political and social commentary since 2007. She can be reached at

Harley Rouda thinks the sweet spot is in the moderate middle


Who is Harley Rouda?

I wanted to know more about the Democratic candidate challenging the 48th District’s incumbent congressman, Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa).

According to Rouda’s campaign website, the Laguna Beach resident is a husband, father, “successful businessman, philanthropist, attorney and tech entrepreneur.”

The day we spoke I asked if had ever held office.

He hadn’t.

I wondered why a first-time candidate wouldn’t start at the City Council, Board of Supervisors or Assembly levels.

Rouda tells me he considered running for City Council when he was younger, but was busy growing his real estate business.

During the economic downturn, “It was all hands on deck.”

He saved his business and now says he mostly does “board work.”

“With the 2016 elections it was time to get engaged in the political process,” he says.

“It was the Trump agenda and Rohrabacher’s support of it, and the type of representative he’s been,” that motivated him to make the leap to a congressional run, Rouda says.

Rouda, a former Republican who registered Democratic last year, considers himself a “moderate” and feels more are needed in government.

Which brought our discussion to partisan politics and the polarization of the two parties.

Rouda says voters need to deal with this one elected official at a time.

He says in the 2016 election cycle, his observation was both political parties were guilty of “party first, country second, debating personalities and not issues.”

“There is more we agree on and less that we don’t,” he says. “When I made the decision to run, I was tired of party first and country second. I will reach across the aisle to put country first.”

Rouda points to shifting county voting demographics, which indicate the number of registered Republicans declining as the number of unaffiliated independent voters rise.

He feels this indicates voters are moving more to the center.

I asked Rouda about local issues like John Wayne Airport and the proliferation of sober-living homes, which are important to residents in his district.

Rouda says the sober living proliferation problem is more of a county and state issue.

I agree that’s an element to the solution, but what about revising the Americans with Disabilities Act on the federal level by declassifying alcoholics and drug addicts as disabled, as his former primary opponent Republican primary candidate Scott Baugh had suggested?

“From a local standpoint there are hundreds in the 48th, and they don’t need hundreds to meet the critical needs,” he says.

Rouda says there are good and bad operators, and the bad need to be weeded out.

He says government funding for addiction needs to “be tightened up to provide accountability and locally more control, and that may require ADA modifications to address the issue.”

He says there needs to be “accountability by providers — some of the underlying issues are not having health care in place and the opioid issue across the U.S.”

As far as the airport issue, Harley says this goes way beyond JWA, Long Beach Airport and Los Angeles International Airport because flight patterns have been altered.

“We need the FAA to honor the current curfew agreement,” and we need political leaders who will stand up for that at the federal level,” he says.

He says Rohrabacher has “done a horrible job” regarding airport issues, and points to the fact the FAA makes amendments regularly all over the country, though the congressman has failed at his attempts.

Another issue we touched on was cities’ unfunded pension liabilities.

Since Rouda’s campaign is financially supported strongly by labor unions, could that close union alliance scare off moderate voters who want pension reform?

Rouda doesn’t think so, saying, “Some unions have turned their pensions around, and some have a long way to go.”

“Some negotiations need to take place to meet the anticipated obligations and the ability to stay solvent,” he adds. “Get all relevant parties to sit at the table and be honest about the facts.”

During our conversation we touched on many issues, which I plan to discuss at the upcoming Feet to the Fire Forum Sept. 22 at Orange Coast College’s Robert B. Moore Theatre.

Rouda tells me he looks forward to discussing the issues with Rohrabacher.

So far Rohrabacher’s people haven’t committed to the date, telling me it was too far in advance.

But if things work out, Rohrabacher might attend, they say.

I asked Rouda if he could speak directly to Rohrabacher what would he say about this.

“We, the people, are your constituents that you took an oath to represent, and who want to meet with you and hear your answers,” he says. “So do your job and meet with us.”

Barbara Venezia is an opinion columnist writing political and social commentary since 2007. She can be reached at

Officials say Herdman leaked candidate information, but he says it wasn’t him. So who was it?


There’s a famous quote by Ben Franklin: “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”

So who didn’t keep the secret termed-out Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson possibly applied to become Newport Beach city manager?

The drama started back in April, when City Manager Dave Kiff learned some on the City Council wanted him to retire earlier than planned.

Newport Mayor Marshall “Duffy” Duffield, Councilmen Scott Peotter, Will O’Neill and Kevin Muldoon have denied pressuring Kiff to speed up his retirement, but I don’t really buy that.

Things turned ugly at a special council meeting Monday morning to interview three of the top contenders for Kiff’s job — prompted by the leak of Nelson’s name last Friday afternoon.

Audience members chanted, “Vote them out,” after Councilman Jeff Herdman’s unsuccessful motion to table the hiring process until after the November election didn’t get a second.

“I was honestly amazed by the intense chanting that then took place,” Herdman said in a statement. “It appears to me that a revolution has been launched!”

When I first read the flurry of emails over the weekend by folks outraged over the possibility that Nelson was being considered, I found him an odd choice at best.

Nelson had just made an unsuccessful bid for the 39th Congressional District seat in the June primary. He previously attempted to change term limits for supervisors, which didn’t go over well, as many felt his motivation was self-serving.

Nelson and his chief of staff penned an explanation for their proposal in 2016, according to an article in the Voice of OC.

“Forcing an individual out of office after eight years of service (as is current practice) only diminishes a Supervisor’s and his/her staff’s ability to capitalize on the years of education and experience to achieve significant and sustained reforms on behalf of Orange County taxpayers,” according to the proposal.

This all indicated to me that Nelson’s goals in public service included higher political aspirations. A city manager position — a job Nelson has never held — isn’t generally a stepping stone in that direction. City managers are administrators, not makers of political policy like a member of the Board of Supervisors.

Couple that with the fact he’s an attorney, which can often — but not always — be more lucrative than being a city manager and the whole thing just doesn’t add up.

Line in the Sand, a political action committee, sent an email blast encouraging folks to attend the Monday meeting and “join the many others who are taking this opportunity to voice their concerns about the way the council majority is handling the city manager recruitment/replacement process and the consequences the politically-motivated appointment of an unqualified person could have for our home town … ”

The email included a link to comments on the situation and, as you can imagine, they weren’t positive.

Herdman posted his own message urging residents to attend, saying he would do his best “to ensure that the finalist for the position is qualified.”

“Two out of the three finalists that will be interviewed on Monday are outstanding,” he wrote. “The third is not, however, I fear that this candidate may be the council majority’s favored candidate, and to be honest with you, I am losing sleep, as well as quite disturbed about this possibility.”

At the meeting, Herdman found himself in the crosshairs of his fellow council members and City Attorney Aaron Harp, who accused him of violating the state’s open meeting law, the Brown Act.

“His statement violated the confidentiality he agreed to uphold and contained a number of inaccurate statements,” Harp read from a prepared statement.

When I spoke to Herdman Tuesday morning he denied being the leak.

“I hadn’t even told my wife who the finalists were,” he said. “I have never in my entire career ever breached a confidentiality agreement.”

And Herdman’s statement never mentioned Nelson’s name.

Later that day, in another posting to constituents, and again not mentioning Nelson by name, Herdman explained in the initial interview with “this candidate I knew absolutely nothing about him other than what I had read on his resume … based on his performance during the interview I did vote to place him in the top three for a second interview.”

“As a result of this leak I began receiving e-mails and face-to-face comments from people encouraging me to not consider this individual for the position,” he wrote.

After doing some “fact checking myself,” he concluded, “this individual was no longer a viable candidate.”

So if Herdman’s’ not the leak, who is?

It’s not uncommon for those seeking any position to call influential friends, asking them to put in a good word.

And you know how people love to talk in this town.

Could Nelson have inadvertently — and innocently — leaked his own name?

He wasn’t available for comment, but his chief of staff, Denis Bilodeau, told me, “I haven’t heard him speak to anyone about it.”

Nevertheless, Harp and the council should do a deep dive into this question since Herdman adamantly denies leaking.

Arguments over ballot arguments; Sacha Baron Cohen satirizes Dana Rohrabacher


Is “real” news weirder than “fake” news?

Take the spat between Newport Beach activist Bob Rush and former Newport Beach mayors Keith Curry, Rush Hill and Mike Henn and former Mayor Pro Tem Jean Watt over whose statement should be used against an as-yet-unnamed measure slated for the November ballot.

The measure, if passed, would require 55% of voters to approve a city charter amendment before the city can use a special type of financing — certificates of participation — for projects costing $50 million or more.

Rush was quoted in a Daily Pilot story saying critics could “kiss my ass.”

The online comment thread — which I verified with those who made the comments — got crazier, with Curry calling Rush “a failed Democrat Assembly candidate who recently made the crazy assertion the city had an ‘enemies list,’ and [is] a `shill’ for [political consultant] Dave Ellis and Councilman Scott Peotter.”

Rush fired back, disparaging Curry and his “friends.”

I felt this was especially disrespectful as it pertained to Watt, a well-respected 91-year-old advocate.

On Wednesday, Rush explained that his reference in the comment thread was meant for Hill, Curry and Henn, not Watt, as he had no idea she was involved.

Rush isn’t the only one Curry has a bone to pick with.

Orange County Republican Party Chairman Fred Whitaker is another.

Candidates have until Aug. 10 to pull official papers to run for City Council, yet the O.C. Republican Central Committee this week endorsed incumbent Newport council members Scott Peotter, Kevin Muldoon and Diane Dixon and Mayor Marshall “Duffy” Duffield.

This didn’t sit well with Curry, a staunch Republican.

Curry wondered in a July 22 email to Whitaker whether endorsements were made before “Duffield and Peotter voted for a property tax increase of up to $4,500 per year.”

Curry pointed out “the city operating budget is now $56.5 million higher and the unfunded pension liability is $70 million higher than when Peotter, Duffield and Muldoon took office.”

“I wanted to make sure you had all the facts so that you don’t embarrass the party by saying they are ‘anti-tax,’ for ‘cutting spending,’ ‘supportive of transparent voter rights,’ they are ‘for strong law enforcement’ or that ‘they stand up to tax raisers like [recalled state Sen.] Josh Newman.’ Because the facts tell a different story.”

Whitaker’s answer?

“They filled out questionnaires and got 32 signatures each to go directly to the Central Committee,” he wrote to Curry. “That happened at our June meeting. They met the bylaw requirements and got a unanimous vote.”

What about Dixon? Did she really agree at the Central Committee meeting to endorse her fellow incumbents, if asked?

When we spoke last, she explained her intention was to wait until after the Aug. 10 filing date before endorsing.

Last April, Dixon publicly chastised her fellow incumbents, calling out their alleged behind-the-scenes antics to pressure Newport City Manager Dave Kiff to leave before the end of his contract. I gave her kudos for championing the truth and felt she certainly heightened her political profile with this move, distancing herself from “Team Newport.”

Now her party feels she needs to lend this positive profile to those same incumbents with an endorsement.

Will she?

“I am a lifelong Republican,” Dixon wrote in an email. “I sought and obtained the Republican Party endorsement in 2014. I independently requested the endorsement again for my reelection in 2018. I support Republicans running for office in the November election.”

That statement didn’t really answer my question.

Rohrabacher appears on Showtime spoof

Then there’s Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s appearance on comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s new Showtime series, “Who is America?”

The Costa Mesa Republican appeared to embarrass himself by apparently agreeing with the pretense of arming children as a way to reduce school shootings.

Watching the satirical series’ trailer, it’s obvious to me that Cohen is heavily made up, and his accent is so off I can’t imagine anyone taking him seriously.

Rohrabacher, in a statement, called the show “false news” and said he was never interviewed by Cohen and that the editing inaccurately made it look like he supported arming schoolchildren.

“Cohen’s people apparently used footage from an interview I submitted to earlier this year for a bogus Israeli television company supposedly celebrating the country’s 70th anniversary,” according to his statement. “In that interview, which was not with Cohen, I spoke broadly of training young people at a responsible age in self-defense. At no time did I endorse training toddlers in handling guns.”

I find it funny that Rohrabacher and his handlers fell for this whole “false news” bit and yet they’re dancing around on agreeing to attend a Feet to the Fire candidates forum Sept.22 with actual journalists.

This week, Rohrabacher spokesman Michael Schroeder said he couldn’t schedule a date two months out and that they were still going through many forum requests. They “may” accept the F2F invitation at the last minute.

I feel Rohrabacher is afraid to face the real journalists of F2F, as well as his opponent, Democrat Harley Rouda, who has accepted the invitation.

Will Rohrabacher ever answer some tough questions this election season? Or just look for a friendlier forum?

Barbara Venezia is an opinion columnist writing political and social commentary since 2007. She can be reached at

Is “real” news weirder than “fake” news?

Take the spat between Newport Beach activist Bob Rush and former Newport Beach mayors Keith Curry, Rush Hill and Mike Henn and former Mayor Pro Tem Jean Watt over whose statement should be used against an as-yet-unnamed measure slated for the November ballot.

Interest high as details of Feet to the Fire forums firm up dates

By Barbara Venezia

JULY 19, 2018, 4:00 PM

Newport Beach and Costa Mesa candidates began pulling official papers to run for office on Monday. We won’t know the complete spectrum of candidates until the filing period closes Aug. 10.

Last week I shared the tentative dates for the upcoming Feet to the Fire forums at the

 Robert B. Moore Theatre at Orange Coast College.

Two of those dates have changed: the Costa Mesa and congressional forums.

Costa Mesa’s mayoral and council candidate forums are now Sept. 17, as not to conflict with the Jewish holiday on the original date, Sept.19.

The 48th Congressional District race has been moved to Sept. 22. As I mentioned last week, incumbent Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s contact Jason Pitman told me that on weekdays the congressman is in Washington. We’d originally planned for Sept. 17, a Monday.

Will Sept. 22, a Saturday, work? Campaign representative Michael Schroeder tells me I should have an answer next week. I’ll keep you posted.

Rohrabacher’s Democratic opponent, Harley Rouda, has confirmed for Sept. 22.

Moving on to the races in Costa Mesa, mayoral candidates Al Melone and council

members Katrina Foley and Allan Mansoor  as well as Mayor Sandy Genis have 

agreed to the forum. 

This race is one for the city history books as voters will directly elect their mayor for the first time. The current system allows council members to appoint one of themselves.

Genis certainly has something to prove here after the uproar of becoming mayor by unprecedented vote when the council removed Foley, a former ally, from the ceremonial post in November.

Genis sided with Mansoor and Councilman Jim Righeimer to remove Foley, which shocked many.

To this day we still don’t have details as to what prompted Foley’s removal or Genisto turn on her.

Back in November Righeimer assured me there would be an explanation.

“This will all come out in due time,” he said. "You’ll know why, and it’s not a personality issue.”

The answers never came, and this lingering question will be one Genis will eventually have to address. It’s certainly something we’ll ask about at Feet to the Fire.

This week I started contacting council candidates about their anticipated participation.

Costa Mesa District 3’s Brett Eckles and Andrea Marr are in, but no word yet from Teresa Drain.

In District 4, Manuel Chavez is in. I’ve yet to hear from Michelle Figueredo-Wilson.

In District 5, Arlis Reynolds was quick to respond yes to F2F, as was Rebecca Trahan.

Turning to Newport, I haven’t yet contacted incumbent Mayor Marshall Duffield and Councilmen Kevin Muldoon and Scott Peotter, but I will by next week. The Newport council candidate forum is Sept. 20.

I don’t expect any of them to accept the invitation; they passed on the F2F opportunity in 2014. Over their four-year term it’s been my experience this isn’t a group comfortable with answering direct questions.

Though Councilwoman Diane Dixon is running for re-election, she’s unopposed. If that remains the case, there’s no need for her to participate in the forum.

As far as challengers to the Newport council incumbents, my friend and neighbor Tim Stoaks is running against Duffield, Roy Englebrecht is looking to unseat Muldoon, and both Joy Brenner and Mike Toerge are running against Councilman Scott Peotter. They all plan to take the stage Sept. 20.

Last week’s column garnered much reader response, as you can imagine, now that this election season is in full swing.

Many speculated on candidate campaign strategies and shared thoughts on the races, which I appreciated.

There was overwhelming interest as to which candidates will say yes to the various Feet to the Fires, more so than I’ve ever seen since we started the program in 2010. People want to hear candidates engage and answer questions.

As Feet to the Fire nears, we’ll start planning what issues we’ll address. Feel free to keep emailing thoughts, and yes, high-density development is already on the list.

Barbara Venezia is an opinion columnist writing political and social commentary since 2007. She can be reached at

Newport Beach and Costa Mesa election season begins in earnest


July 16 officially starts campaign season in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa and those running for elected office need to pull official papers in their respective city clerks’ offices before the Aug. 10. deadline.

Costa Mesa’s election page suggests candidates make an appointment with the city clerk to review all documents.

The page offers links so residents can keep abreast of candidate filings, disclosure statements, ballot measures, district maps and election notices.

Newport’s city election page also has all the same information as it pertains to the upcoming November elections.

Looking at both cities’ election information pages, I found Costa Mesa did a better job; it’s far more user-friendly than Newport's.

That’s important because there’s a lot on the line in 2018 politically in both cities, and voters need to do their homework. Cities should make this as simple as possible so residents can educate themselves.

Election season is busy for me as I prepare to bring readers candidate profiles and get into the pre-production phase for the upcoming Feet to the Fire election forums.

The tentative dates for F2F are Sept. 17, 19 and 20 — each at the Robert B. Moore Theatre at Orange Coast College. There’s always a meet and greet with candidates from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. and forums start at 7:15 p.m.

The goal for Sept. 17 is to bring Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) and his Democratic challenger, Harley Rouda, together for a comprehensive conversation about the 48th Congressional District.

I’ve spoken with Mac Zilber of Los Angeles-based Jacobson & Zilber Strategies, which represents Rouda. He says his candidate will be there and welcomes the conversation.

Jason Pitkin, who represents Rohrabacher, says he will check the calendar and get back to me, as Rohrabacher is usually in Washington on Mondays.

I stressed with Pitkin how much interest there is in this forum and offered flexibility with dates in order to make it happen.

I’ll keep readers posted. Let’s see what happens.

Sept. 19 is all about Costa Mesa. We’ll explore the candidates for each district and the mayoral race. The plan is to have the first part of the evening devoted to council races, and the second to the mayoral candidates.

Voters in Costa Mesa will be asked to vote by district. If you’re not sure which district you live in, there’s a good description on the city’s website.

As of this week, the following council candidates have filed intention statements, according to the city’s website, but this field could narrow — or expand — depending on who pulls official papers.

I’ve listed them by districts and campaign websites or Facebook pages so readers can start to familiarize themselves with this new crop. Any one of these folks could wind up making decisions affecting your family’s future so be your own investigative reporter and feel free to contact them directly.

Start asking questions, as I will, in the coming weeks.

Costa Mesa Mayor
Costa Mesa District 3
Costa Mesa District 4
Costa Mesa District 5

Newport elections are a little different. No matter where a voter lives, they can vote for a candidate in each of the city’s seven districts, which is why Newporters need to do a bit more homework than their Costa Mesa counterparts. The candidates must live in whichever district they run.

Information to contact incumbents can be found on the city’s site,

Newport Beach District 1
Newport Beach District 4
Newport Beach District 6

That’s what the political landscape looks like so far.

The local political drama will start to unfold in the coming days, weeks and months with intrigue, nastiness, misinformation, hidden agendas and more. Those in power will fight to keep it, and those wanting political change will battle against them.

As I’ve said many times in these columns, people get the government they deserve. Decide what you deserve and start paying attention now. Your city’s future is literally at stake.

Barbara Venezia is an opinion columnist writing political and social commentary since 2007. She can be reached at

‘Good Morning Newport’ seeks to bring public affairs to the social media generation



“Good Morning Newport” is a new political online show created by 27-year-old Alex Crawford and his friend and business partner, Riley Hayes, 29.

Both grew up in Newport and run Everything Bagel, their own full-service video, digital and social media ad agency.

With Hayes directing, and Crawford hosting, the two posted their first episode of “Good Morning Newport” this week.

Watching the 16-minute, inaugural episode on Facebook, I was impressed with the quality of the production, writing and cutting-edge political content.

The show tackles issues dealing with recent Newport council decisions and upcoming elections in a funny, informative and entertaining way.

Crawford opens with a segment stating how six of the seven council members are represented by political consultant Dave Ellis, who Crawford says “prefers to work in the shadows … and jokes, “people are afraid to say his name,” a reference to Lord Voldemort in “Harry Potter.”

The tongue-in-cheek banter is entertaining throughout as the hosts address serious issues, such as the controversy surrounding City Manager Dave Kiff’s retirement announcement, with footage from the council meeting where Diane Dixon dressed down those on the council whom she felt were responsible for his decision to opt out of his contract early.

There’s also an interesting interview on this first episode with council candidate Joy Brenner, who says she is running because “it has become evident the City Council was not really listening to the citizens” on Museum House and other issues.

After watching the show, I called Hayes and Crawford.

I was especially interested in them because of my background in access cable with the comedy cooking show “At Home on the Range” from 1992-1998. In those days cable was the only avenue available for projects like mine; today the online creative outlets are endless for budding young producers like Crawford and Riley.

The two initially partnered for a documentary project about the history of Newport Beach dating to 1906.

Their movie project is ongoing but in the meantime it prompted “Good Morning Newport.”

To give you some background on these guys, Hayes graduated from Chapman University, where he majored in film. Crawford studied journalism in Oregon and worked on a sports radio show in Portland.

Crawford moved back to Newport to team up with Hayes and make the documentary about their hometown.

They started going to council meetings to learn more about city government, connect with residents and network.

Not a bad plan. If you’ve been to council meetings, they’re well attended by longtime residents with lots of history behind them.

So the two started talking to people and sitting in on council meetings. They soon discovered all was not well in Newport’s political arena.

Hayes was surprised to find “many of these council members didn’t grow up in Newport,” which troubled him.

“Now, more than ever, those who did grow up here need to be included” and it “shouldn’t be up to who [has] more money to lobby and special interests.”

Crawford and Hayes say they understand that council meetings can be “boring” to younger folks.

With that in mind, their intent with “Good Morning Newport” is not only to inform and inspire the next generation politically, but entertain it as well.

So the pair started taking their cameras to council meetings and streaming live on Facebook.

Though residents can watch meetings via cable and on the city’s website, Crawford and Hayes feel their generation is more apt to watch on social media.

“There are great city groups keeping government in check,” they say, and with their show, they’ll highlight these groups, giving them new exposure to a wider audience.

Realizing they “could make a serious difference in bridging the gap through an entertaining video show,” their plan is to produce two episodes of “Good Morning Newport” a month.

As they discuss current issues, they’ll also refer to the city’s rich history, which they’re continuing to discover through their documentary research.

They plan on interviewing former and current council members, as well as candidates running this year.

It’s exciting for me to see younger people interested in local politics, and if “Good Morning Newport” grows a substantial audience, I feel it could be a game changer this political season.

Barbara Venezia is an opinion columnist writing political and social commentary since 2007. She can be reached at

New private carrier, JetSuiteX, promises to voluntarily comply with airport curfew

Friends from L.A. who regularly meet me for fun at my vacation home in Las Vegas have raved about flying JetSuiteX.

It’s easy to see why.

Friends from L.A. who regularly meet me for fun at my vacation home in Las Vegas have raved about flying JetSuiteX.

It’s easy to see why.


Friends from L.A. who regularly meet me for fun at my vacation home in Las Vegas have raved about flying JetSuiteX.

It’s easy to see why.

They depart from JetSuiteX’s private hangar in Burbank and arrive in another in Vegas.

They don’t hassle with Transportation Security Administration lines (baggage is screened privately). There are 30 luxury leather seats per plane — no middle seats — 36 inches of legroom, onboard Wi-Fi and complimentary beverage service. There are no overhead bins, and instead of baggage claim, luggage is unloaded onto the runway for passengers when they deplane.

JetsuiteX bills itself as a “private jet experience at coach prices.”

On June 6, the Orange County Board of Supervisors cleared JetSuiteX to begin commuter flights to Las Vegas from Orange County. Flights start June 29.

To give you some background, there are two related companies here: JetSuite and JetSuiteX.

JetSuite offers private planes — passengers rent the entire plane. Membership fees, which range from $50,000 to $400,000, include a sliding scale of flying credits toward flights. JetBlue is the company’s main investor.

You can also sign up for last-minute, daily “SuiteDeals,” which give you the chance to fly privately starting at $536 each way.

Founded in 2008 by CEO Alex Wilcox, the aircraft fleet consists of Embaer Phenom 100, Phenom 300 and E135 jets.

“ … You can charter … a whole jet or purchase by the seat at prices near commercial fares,” according to the website.

JetsuiteX is the division that offers “the best of private travel at not-so-private fares.”

I talked this week with Rachel Porges, vice president of marketing and business development for JetSuite and JetSuiteX.

She tells me JetSuiteX will have two roundtrip flights from John Wayne Airport to Las Vegas on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and three flights on Fridays and Sundays. O.C.-to-Vegas fares range from $129 to $219, depending on day and time. All flights originate from private aviation hangars.

Since JetSuiteX is basically a hybrid of private and commercial flying, I wondered if it would voluntarily obey the JWA curfew since it is suggested — not required — for private aviation operators.

Porges says they “will absolutely adhere to the curfew,” not taking off before 7 a.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. on weekends, and landing by 11 p.m.

“JetSuiteX is considered a commuter carrier, and our flights and passengers are covered under the commuter allotment,” says Brian Coulter, vice president of flight operations for JetSuiteX.

I asked about jet noise.

“A recent noise study conducted by the airport in 2016 showed that the Embraer 135 jets flown by JetSuiteX are as quiet, if not quieter, than general aviation airplanes,” Coulter says. “In fact, they qualify for operations at any time, though we are definitely going to operate them only within the airport's recommended ‘daytime hours.’”

What about passengers with limited mobility?

“We have wheelchair ramps available for boarding and an aisle chair, should they need it,” says Porges. “In fact, avoiding the long lines and walks and jetways at airports is typically one of the best benefits JetSuiteX offers for anyone, especially relevant for limited-mobility or disabled individuals, and for parents with children.”

There’s no extra charge for traveling with dogs or cats. Animals must travel in approved carriers that fit under the seats immediately in front of their pet parent passengers.

I was a bit disappointed in this, since I drive to Vegas at least twice a month with my two dogs, Stasha and Rocco, and would love an option to fly with them without stowing them in carriers.

I was hoping the policy would include purchasing seats for them, allowing their car seats to strap in for safety. They are 30 and 40 pounds, respectively, too big for the required pet carrier, which is 12 inches by 12 inches by 9 inches.

I bet there are plenty of travelers like me with well-behaved dogs who’d happily pay top dollar for this option. As innovators in the airline travel space, maybe a flight a day for those with animals is something the company should explore?

Safety was another issue I raised with Porges.

Does the private line comply with commercial standards?

Porges states that JetSuiteX complies with all standards for commuter carriers, include passing major airline audits and Department of Transportation fitness tests.

She referred me to the safety page on the company’s website, which outlines its compliance and touts that “JetSuite is rated Platinum, the highest safety rating achievable in civil aviation, from independent safety auditors … . ”

JetSuite also claims it’s the only light jet charter company with in-flight, real-time satellite weather mapping and safe taxi technology installed on every plane. The company website touts high levels of certification for its captains and awards of excellence from the National Airline Transportation Assn.

I might have to try it — but only if there’s a way to accommodate Stasha and Rocco.

4:06 p.m.: This article was updated with additional information on JetSuite X’s safety record.

Friends from L.A. who regularly meet me for fun at my vacation home in Las Vegas have raved about flying JetSuiteX.

It’s easy to see why.

Friends from L.A. who regularly meet me for fun at my vacation home in Las Vegas have raved about flying JetSuiteX.

It’s easy to see why.

Friends from L.A. who regularly meet me for fun at my vacation home in Las Vegas have raved about flying JetSuiteX.

It’s easy to see why.

Rohrabacher’s anti-LGBTQ comments fall

On indifferent Republican ears


Think before you speak.

Roseanne Barr and incumbent Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa)

 are two examples of public figures unwilling — or unable — to take this

 wise advice.

Barr blew up her career this week over a racist tweet.

Rohrabacher, addressing a group of Realtors, may have done the same 

when he said it’s OK for homeowners to decline to sell their properties to buyers 

whose LGBTQ “lifestyle” doesn’t align with their beliefs.

Or maybe not.

 Judging from the OCGOP’s lukewarm reaction to his discriminatory

 comments, it may not affect him at all.

Disney-owned ABC took appropriate action, quickly canceling a hit TV

 show, which sent a strong message that its star’s inappropriate behavior

 would not be tolerated.

This week I asked the chairman of the Orange County Republican Party, 

Fred Whitaker, if the party would take any action against Rohrabacher

 following his statements since the OCGOP endorsed his re-election.

“Dana Rohrabacher is the endorsed candidate for election to the 48th

 Congressional District for both the OCGOP and the CAGOP and has 

been since December,” Whitaker said in an email. 

“Congressman Rohrabacher has issued a statement on the bill in question.

 I refer you to that statement.”

The bill to which he refers, House Resolution 1447, “the Fair and Equal 

Housing Act,” would expand protections based on sexual orientation and 

gender identity. 

It’s already illegal not to lend, sell or rent property based on race, color, 

religion, gender or national origin.

The Realtors had asked Rohrabacher to support the bill expanding those 

protections to the LGBTQ community.

While Barr’s statement had dire consequences in the entertainment business, 

no one in Republican politics is publicly distancing themselves from 


On May 23, before Rohrabacher made his comments, Orange County 

Supervisor Michelle Steel penned a lengthy endorsement commentary in 

the Daily Pilot touting her support for Rohrabacher, a “trusted friend,” 

“godfather to her second daughter” and “… the best man for the job.”

I called Steel’s office this week to see if she still supports Rohrabacher in 

light of his stance. I didn’t get a response.

I don’t know Rohrabacher personally, but I spent a substantial amount of

 time with Barr in the early 2000s and never heard her make a racist 

comment until that tweet appeared.

She’s a comedian with no filter, which is an unfortunate part of her complex personality.

Tweeting in the middle of the night on Ambien was just plain stupid, and

 she’s old enough to know better. 

But at least she apologized.

When I first read Rohrabacher’s comments, I thought they were stupid as

 well and figured he’d recant.

He didn’t. 

He’s unapologetic.

Rohrabacher’s campaign spokesman told CNN that the congressman 

“does not believe the federal government should force those with strong 

religious convictions into a personal or business relationship that is contrary 

to their religion.”

Rohrabacher himself told the Orange County Register that he meant what he said.

“We’ve drawn a line on racism, but I don’t think we should extend that line,” Rohrabacher said, according to the newspaper. “A homeowner should not be 

required to be in business with someone they think is doing something that is immoral.”

So what does former Assemblyman Scott Baugh — Rohrabacher’s chief 

Republican opponent in the 48th Congressional District primary — think of

 his opponent’s latest comments?

Was he jumping for joy in his living room as I imagined?

Baugh said, “It’s an absurd position” Rohrabacher is taking here since

 “selling real estate is a commercial transaction.”

Though I don’t condone what Barr wrote, let’s face it, she’s just a comic,

 not a 30-year congressman who can‘t figure out that housing discrimination 

based on sexual orientation is similar to racial discrimination, 

that “the line” he describes between these two fair housing issues needs

 to be erased.

Unlike ABC’s swift actions, the OCGOP is choosing to do nothing about


At least the National Assn. of Realtors withdrew its endorsement.

Will voters follow suit Tuesday and kick this guy to the curb?

Think before you speak.

Roseanne Barr and incumbent Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) are two examples of public figures unwilling — or unable — to take this wise advice.

Think before you speak.

Roseanne Barr and incumbent Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) are two examples of public figures unwilling — or unable — to take this wise advice.