Barbara Venezia...
Stirring the pot of controversy
 one column at a time...
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12/22/16

Museum House opponents


 deliver signatures early


Line in the Sand founder Jean Watt celebrated her 90th birthday last week, and by all accounts there's no slowing down this powerhouse community advocate.

Leading the referendum signature battle against the proposed Museum House development, Watt and her group collected an estimated 13,837 signatures, and on Wednesday delivered about 360 referendum petition packets to the Newport Beach city clerk's office. The petitions each weighed about 10 pounds, measured 11 inches by 17 inches and were about 2 1/2 inches thick. It amounted to nearly two tons of paper, most of which were inside the 65 boxes delivered to the clerk's team.

They'll need 5,800 verifiable signatures to bring the Museum House project to a vote of the people.

The group did this all in just two weeks, delivering ahead of the Dec. 29 deadline, and in the face of unprecedented criticism by the opposition, including an email blast this week from Councilman Scott Peotter.

Line in the Sand is an offshoot of SPON, or Still Protecting Our Newport. In Peotter's email he calls them "Still Pouting and Whining in Newport-SPAWN" and depicts the movie poster from 1983 film "The Deadly Spawn," with monster tentacles and fangs coming to Earth "to eat human flesh."

He attempts to expel what he calls lies about the Museum House project.

I have no problem with a councilman disagreeing with constituents, but mocking them in this manner is shameful, disrespectful and unbecoming of the office.

During this petition war, Line in the Sand has spoken to thousands of residents.

Member Karen Tringali said her sense was that many who considered Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA) a separate issue, were resentful of how these two issues — development and a new location — were combined. They felt the City Council wasn't listening to the community.

Tringali says her group doesn't have an opinion on OCMA, but rather on what to do with the property.

"This is a land-use issue for us," she said, and a case of representative government not listening to residents, "which is why we have to go for a referendum of change."

But is OCMA really a separate issue here?

They're the ones who want to sell their property to the high-rise developer Related California LLC, so they can move from Fashion Island to the Segerstrom Center.

I called Todd D. Smith, OCMA director and CEO. Early in this fight, Smith sent an email to supporters announcing the council decision to approve the project, warning, "A group of residents has decided to repeal the council's approval by circulating a petition to 'referend' the Museum House."

"We cannot let this effort succeed," Smith wrote, urging supporters not to sign petitions and asked they text or email and "let us know the time and the location where the petitioners were."

I asked Smith why he wanted this information.

Smith said he wanted to alert his partner, Related, so they could mobilize their forces, as the opposition was doing, and pass out their own information.

That's when I asked about the aggressive young men who were harassing petitioners and signers outside of stores, and if he thought that was an OK strategy.

Smith said there were also "documented cases opponents have given out false information, and we have our people telling us they have been harassed by paid petitioners as well."

In my book saying "they did it too" isn't cool. You can't light a match and then blame someone else for the fire.

I've heard stories of petitioners and signers being harassed, countering by getting in the faces of those who aggressively approached them.

But petitioners working for the project set this tone initially, so Related and OCMA shouldn't be surprised that their operatives have experienced blowback.

Smith wanted to expel some rumors about OCMA.

He said the museum wasn't in financial distress, as some have insinuated, and that wasn't the motivation to seek out Related to buy its property.

"We are a solvent nonprofit and look to the Segerstrom Center to build on that."

And, he said, there's a "logical audience for us there," as OCMA is the visual arts component the center is missing.

Smith points to "cross opportunities" at the Segerstrom Center, where the museum would have higher visibility, as there is a lack of pedestrian traffic at their current location, making it difficult to grow.

"We've been a good neighbor in Newport for 55 years" he said.

I am sure neighborly isn't the word some would use to describe them now, especially after this highly negative campaign to stop the referendum effort.

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BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2016, Daily Pilot   To read Peotter's  Email Blast click here
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Museum House battle is getting ugly

12/16/16

With signs saying, "Don't sign the petition possible identity theft," posted by supporters of the proposed Museum House — hired workers allegedly intimidating petitioners and signers who want to put the development on the ballot — it's madness in Newport these days.

And even with the recent Irvine Co. lawsuit aimed at regulating some of these practices at its shopping centers, and folks calling the cops, the craziness continues.

I continue to hear from readers witnessing legitimate petitioners from Line in the Sand — and those wanting to sign petitions — being intimidated by aggressive young men​ at different locations.

At the Newport council meeting Tuesday night, one resident even described being confronted by seven or eight "thuggish, quasi-gang member-looking men" who punched him, blocked his car, ripped his shirt and ​cut his ear after he intervened when seeing them harass "two senior citizen ladies" sitting at a referendum petition table at the Eastbluff shopping center.

The man making the claim — a Museum House supporter — told the Daily Pilot after the meeting that he said some things to the council that he shouldn't have, and that he didn't want to further discuss the incident or press charges. Newport police told the Pilot that officers responded to a 911 call and spoke with some participants, though all declined to press charges.

And when one resident wrote to the council before the meeting complaining about tactics being used in this fight, then-Mayor Diane Dixon wrote back, saying of the project developer, "I have been assured that Related is not behind these unsavory tactics."

At the council meeting, Dixon called for a stop ​to these tactics by all parties. She also claimed there were three factions in the referendum fight, including a "mystery third party" and wasn't clear on where they stood.

 

Last week I wrote it was war, as the developer, Related California LLC, battles opposition to its project by Line in the Sand (the political arm of Still Protecting Our Newport, or SPON) and Santa Ana-based nonprofit group Citizens Against High Rise Urban Towers.

Who's behind Citizens Against High Rise Urban Towers is unknown, but they're obviously against the project, as their ads indicate.

The land-use consultant for Museum House, Patrick Strader, complained on my Facebook page that the Towers group is using "dark money," meaning there are independent expenditures, or IEs, funding opposition of his project.

Strader also complains that I've lost my objectivity in writing about this battle. As an opinion columnist, not a news reporter, my opinion is that the tactics being used to stop the petition drive are shameful.

Whatever merits this project did offer are overshadowed by the unsavory lengths supporters are willing to go. I also question a council comfortable enough to get in bed with anyone backing this project.

I'm not alone here.

"I have never seen such dishonest and flagrant tactics used to suppress voter participation in the referendum process as those employed by the political consultants of the Museum House project," outgoing Councilman Keith Curry, who first voted for the project and then withheld his support, told me Wednesday.

Coming off a brutal council election, and now this even uglier referendum battle, my sense is voters are growing weary of the negativity.

It didn't have to play out this way.

The fact that outgoing Councilman Ed Selich initiated that the petition be over 1,000 pages to include EIR documents should have been enough of a roadblock to appease the developer.

Each petition weighs approximately 10 pounds, making it difficult for some of the older Line in the Sand folks to handle them, as member Nancy Skinner pointed out at the council meeting.

Explaining the undue burden placed on her group, Skinner called out Selich for smiling during her comments about it at the meeting.

Considering the average petition printing of this nature normally would cost approximately $3,000, I'm told printing costs for these petitions are now upward of $40,000, another obstacle in referendum efforts.

Facing these challenges, it's no wonder Line in the Sand hired help to get the petition signatures, something the opposition has complained about.

So it's OK to hire people to thwart the process but not to pay people to sit at tables and help gather signatures?

This fight is nowhere near over.

If enough signatures are gathered to put the project to a vote, each side still has to convince the majority of the 53,131 registered Newport voters in order to prevail.

Fasten your seat belts, folks. If you thought the signature battle was a nasty ride, wait till you see what unfolds before a potential Election Day.

The worst is yet to come.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com.

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Museum House debate veers


 from fair play

12/09/16


Last week I predicted the fight over the high-rise Museum House project — approved by the Newport City Council — would get ugly, and it has.

It's war, as the developer, Related California LLC, goes to battle against Line in the Sand (an offshoot of SPON, Still Protecting Our Newport) and a Santa Ana-based nonprofit group, Citizens against High Rise Urban Towers.

And anticipating $21.7 million in developer fees for schools and public safety, the Newport Beach Police and the Newport Beach Fire Fighters associations are also in the mix, supporting the project with a mailer and urging residents not to sign SPON referendum petitions.

Now, convincing the majority of council members and public safety unions to support this project is one thing, but convincing an entire city the project is a good idea is another, especially with the anti-high-density-development voter sentiment we've seen the past two election cycles.


So it's not surprising project supporters are aggressively fighting referendum efforts.

But the battle is getting a bit bizarre.

Join the conversation on Facebook >>

On Dec. 2, two mystery men at Westcliff Plaza collected signatures supposedly for the referendum, but they didn't appear to be from either legitimate group, and didn't have the approximately 1,100 pages the council required be attached to the petitions.

One of the potentially bogus petitioners was questioned by Line in the Sand member Tim Stoaks, who is my neighbor and friend.

When the guy refused to provide any background info, Stoaks called the cops, who took the man's driver's license information and nothing more, according to Stoaks.

It was only when a Daily Pilot reporter showed up, that the bogus petitioner absconded.

These guys were back this week, only this time they were trying to convince people to rescind their signatures supporting the referendum.

At best these shenanigans are unscrupulous, and at worst, could they be a form of fraud?

I talked to police union President Vlad Anderson since his union is front and center in this controversy now.

He said he doesn't agree with "anything that breaks the rules or anyone compromising our credibility."

I wondered when the union got involved in supporting Museum House.

Anderson said discussions started with union consultant Peter Mitchell about three months ago.

I shared my concerns with NBPD Chief John Lewis.

Is there an investigation into all of this?

"We're seeking clarification here to see if any laws are in play," said Lewis.

He assured me the department takes all calls seriously and will continue to look into this.

On Dec. 3, Newport residents also found tags hanging on their doors paid for by OCMA Urban Housing LLC, an affiliate of Related Cos. of California, with a form to rescind petition signatures, and a website, savethemuseum.com.

When I visited the site Dec. 5 there was something labeled a "Rogues Gallery" picturing 10 Line in the Sand members, including Stoaks and longtime community activist Jean Watt.

The following day, "Rouges Gallery" was replaced with "Meet the Grinch's [sic] Trying to Steal Christmas."

This past week I also received a robo call, two more fliers and saw a TV ad, all in support of the project.

With his aggressive campaign in play I had a few questions for the land use consultant for the Museum House, Patrick Strader.

How much would the developer spend fighting referendum efforts, and what political consultants — if any — had been engaged?

Was his organization behind the bogus signature-gathering?

And how much had the developer and Strader donated to independent expenditures (IEs,) political action committees (PACs) and council candidates this election season in Newport?

Strader would only agree to an interview if I also touted the benefits of his project in this column.

When I explained the column dealt with the referendum fight, not the merits of the already-approved project, I never heard back.

Could this referendum battle get uglier?

You bet.

Worried about potential harassment against volunteers seeking petition signatures, Line in the Sand shared concerns with Newport City Manager Dave Kiff.

"Our intent is to protect the public forum so that signature-gatherers can work in all public spaces and private property, where they are exercising their first amendment rights without harassment," wrote Kiff

Kiff confirmed he's discussed the harassment concerns with the city attorney, staffers and police and welcomes calls to his office and the nonemergency number of the NBPD to report incidents.

Moving forward, referendum supporters should only sign petitions where the approximate 1,100 required city pages are present and go to the Line in the Sand site lineinthesandpac.com, for listings of legitimate signature-gathering locations.

Collecting signatures for a referendum shouldn't be this messy. The referendum process is being blatantly corrupted.

Will the council do anything about it?

Voters are watching.

--

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2016, Daily Pilot

Voters will remember who supports high-density development

The political landscape in Costa Mesa and Newport Beach has usually reflected trends.

One trend evident with voters in both cities in the past two election cycles has been opposition to high-density development.

The difference between these cities moving forward is that Costa Mesa has had a power shift to support that direction with the reelection of Councilwoman Sandy Genis and Councilman-elect John Stephens.

But in Newport, the fight continues with the high-rise Museum House approved this week by its City Council.

If you think the 2016 Newport council races were nasty, the fight over this project could get just as ugly.

And it's already started, as evidenced by a misleading ad taken out by OCMA Urban Housing LLC, an Irvine-based division of Related California dedicated to the Museum House project.

It used a quote from Line in the Sand supporter Susan Skinner, making it look like she supports the project, even though she is publicly opposed.

This misleading tactic is eerily familiar to one used this past election, where a mailer against Newport council candidates Jeff Herdman and Phil Greer, both endorsed by Line in the Sand, stated it was time to draw a line in the sand against them.

This questionable play-on-words strategy shows me there are those who fear Line in the Sand's influence — and its efforts against high-density development.

During the election I heard development supporters refer to Line in the Sand and founder Jean Watt as "noise in the background" and "housewife politics."

Say what you will about Line in the Sand and Watt, but it does have an extremely organized ground game.

And I'd be cautious about underestimating what "housewives" can accomplish when they put their minds to it, as we saw in 2014, when Line in the Sand helped defeat Measure Y.

But Line in the Sand has an uphill battle now that the City Council has approved the Museum House project.

The only recourse to stop it is a referendum effort, which means it'll need to gather 8,000 signatures in the next 30 days to put this to a vote of the people.

I checked with my neighbor Tim Stoaks, a member of the group. He said the council's vote wasn't surprising.

In anticipation of the yes vote, for the past month Line in The Sand has been securing permission to put signature-gathering tables in front of all the major supermarkets in the area.

Line in the Sand's website, lineinthesandpac.com, is compiling a list of private homes, where folks can sign petitions in a more private setting.

Referendums usually occur when a tone-deaf council is out of touch with constituent reality.

It's something we've seen before, and each time it results in council members writing their own tickets to political oblivion, come next election cycle.

It happened in 2014 with Newport Mayor Rush Hill and this past season with Costa Mesa Mayor Steve Mensinger.

One could argue history is about to repeat itself.

Pushing through an important issue at the end of the calendar year hasn't gone over well with voters in the past.

Remember the infamous dock fees that were pushed forward at the end of the year and the basis for the rise of Team Newport's campaign in 2014 resulting in Hill's ouster?

I find it ironic that the same "team" is now pushing forward the controversial high-density Museum House project during this holiday season.

So how do I see this shaking out in the long game in Newport?

If the referendum goes to voters, I see it passing, based on the anti-high density development temperament we saw in the last two election cycles.

And the fact that the Irvine Co. is against this project too is even more of a red flag here.

There's no doubt the Museum House will bring millions in revenue to the city, but at what price is it OK for a council to change the very nature of this beach city solely for money?

It's not like Newport's broke.

2018 is another key election year here, and the majority of Team Newport — council members Diane Dixon, Scott Peotter, Marshall "Duffy" Duffield and Kevin Muldoon — are all up for reelection.

2017 is when the field of those considering running against incumbents starts to take shape and garner support.

With that in mind, council members took a huge gamble with their political futures backing this project, and one that might have sealed their political fates.

--

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2016, Daily Pilot
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Six events that will get you
 into the holiday spirit

11/24/16

Thanksgiving marks the start of the holiday season, and so this week I take a much-needed break from the political scene and turn my focus to a few of my favorite events to ignite the holiday spirit.

Check out the Costa Mesa Home Tour from 3 to 8 p.m. Dec. 1. I love looking at creatively decorated homes, and the 2016 tour features some of Costa Mesa's finest decked out for the holidays and chock full of design and style tips from some of the top O.C. designers.

Tickets are $50 and can be purchased online costamesahometour.com.

This past summer, Costa Mesa Councilwoman Katrina Foley approached me with the idea of including Heroes Hall in this fundraiser, and I was delighted to.

Supporting Heroes Hall is a passion of mine, as I sit on the foundation board and my husband, Stan Tkaczyk, is an OC Fair Board member.

For added fun, enjoy musical performances and designer demonstrations at the reception hosted by Room & Board SOCO, which begins at 6:30 p.m.

Check out the YouTube promo video of this year's tour, youtu.be/AzKwPKDlJg8.

——

On Dec. 2 and 3, one of my favorite musical groups, MenAlive, Orange County Gay Men's Chorus, comes to Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, with its annual holiday concert, "Christmas Vacation."

These guys put on quite a show, singing and dancing to some of your favorite Christmas music.

There are three performances: 8 p.m. Dec. 2 and 3 and 8 p.m. Dec. 3. Reserved seats start at $39. Check out their special "$30-Under-30" tickets, available one hour before each performance with valid ID. Tickets are available at menalivechorus.org.

——

And it wouldn't be the holidays without the Snoopy House Holiday Display, which is slated for Dec. 10 to 23.

Since 1996, the Snoopy House has been a tradition in Costa Mesa, attracting about 80,000 annual visitors.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the fun begins from 5:30 to 9 nightly in front of Costa Mesa City Hall, 77 Fair Drive.

In addition to displays featuring scenes with "Peanuts" characters, Santa will be on hand to take photos from 7 to 9 each night.

For information, check out the city's promo for Snoopy House 2016 at youtu.be/lcZUS0jvHQg.

——

No holiday would be complete without the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade and Ring of Lights, set for Dec. 14 to 18.

It's the 108th year of the nation's longest-running lighted holiday boat parade, deemed "Newport Beach's Christmas Card to the world."

The parade is hosted annually by the Commodores Club of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce. To view the 14-mile route of the harbor each season, visit www.christmasboatparade.com.

——

Don't forget about Orange Coast College's Poinsettia sale, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 9. Preorder and pick up from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 8. This is a really good idea, since they do run out at the public sale. Go to bit.ly/2fD4PMt.

——

And last but not least, I highly recommend Winter Fest, Southern California's largest winter experience, Dec. 16 to Jan. 1 at the OC Fair & Event Center.

Winter Fest is the newest attraction on the local holiday scene.

In its second year, the event has added 15 new attractions, including a two-million-light "Festival of Lights" show.

There's also an outdoor ice skating rink and live shows with kids' favorite characters, including Barbie, Bob the Builder, Angry Birds and more.

Winter Fest offers private rink-side cabanas, starting at $69 per session, perfect for hosting holiday office, birthday or family parties.

Mirage Entertainment, which produces Winter Fest, is a big supporter of Heroes Hall. As a co-chair of Heroes Hall Haunted Halloween Costume Gala last October, I worked with Mirage as they donated their services to create an amazing haunted "Sleepily Hollow" experience for the event.

And their generosity continues with Winter Fest.

Buy an adult ticket, $15, or the Heroes Hall combo package, $25, including one adult ticket plus an ice slide fast pass, and $5 of each purchase goes to the museum. Buy tickets online at winterfestoc.com, using promo code HEROES.

During opening weekend, all active-duty military and veterans with a valid Military or Veteran ID get in free with a guest.

There's also a similar offer for first responders.

Ho, ho, ho, the holidays are here, so get out and enjoy!

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2016, Daily Pilot
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Thanksgiving marks the start of the holiday season, and so this week I take a much-needed break from the political scene and turn my focus to a few of my favorite events to ignite the holiday spirit.

Check out the Costa Mesa Home Tour from 3 to 8 p.m. Dec. 1. I love looking at creatively decorated homes, and the 2016 tour features some of Costa Mesa's finest decked out for the holidays and chock full of design and style tips from some of the top O.C. designers.

Tickets are $50 and can be purchased online costamesahometour.com.

Proceeds benefit the Costa Mesa High and Middle Schools Foundation and the Heroes Hall Veterans Museum at the O.C. fairgrounds.

Thanksgiving marks the start of the holiday season, and so this week I take a much-needed break from the political scene and turn my focus to a few of my favorite events to ignite the holiday spirit.

Check out the Costa Mesa Home Tour from 3 to 8 p.m. Dec. 1. I love looking at creatively decorated homes, and the 2016 tour features some of Costa Mesa's finest decked out for the holidays and chock full of design and style tips from some of the top O.C. designers.

Tickets are $50 and can be purchased online costamesahometour.com.

Proceeds benefit the Costa Mesa High and Middle Schools Foundation and the Heroes Hall Veterans Museum at the O.C. fairgrounds.

Thanksgiving marks the start of the holiday season, and so this week I take a much-needed break from the political scene and turn my focus to a few of my favorite events to ignite the holiday spirit.

Check out the Costa Mesa Home Tour from 3 to 8 p.m. Dec. 1. I love looking at creatively decorated homes, and the 2016 tour features some of Costa Mesa's finest decked out for the holidays and chock full of design and style tips from some of the top O.C. designers.

Tickets are $50 and can be purchased online costamesahometour.com.

Proceeds benefit the Costa Mesa High and Middle Schools Foundation and the Heroes Hall Veterans Museum at the O.C. fairgrounds.


Auto show is worth the drive


 to L.A.

11/18/16

November brings two of my favorite events: Thanksgiving and the Los Angeles Auto show.

For a car lover like me, this show is 800,000 square feet of automotive heaven.

Wednesday I was among press from around the world getting a glimpse of the latest in what automakers have to offer for 2017-18 and beyond with futuristic concepts.

The 2016 show at the L.A. Convention Center runs from Nov. 18 through 27. And technology is certainly at the forefront of this show, as new words like "autonomous cars" (self-driving) and "embedded connectivity," enter our vocabulary.

This year the press and trade days merged with the Connected Car Expo to become AutoMobility, the industry's first trade show "converging the technology and automotive industries to launch new products and technologies and to discuss the most pressing issues surrounding the future of transportation and mobility," according to a press release.

I stopped into the SBD seminar on Wednesday in the Technology Pavilion. It was fascinating.

SBD, or Secured By Design, estimates that in 2020, some 30 million cars are expected to be sold with embedded connectivity, and it estimates cyber-attacks by 2020 will expose the auto industry to $70 billion in losses. A lot of the discussion at the seminar was about how the industry was developing technology protecting against this possibility.

As I toured the Technology Pavilion, Hyundai was demonstrating "Bluelink" technology, which links to Amazon Alexa. Tell Alexa to start your car, set the temperature and more before you leave the house.

The car show is massive, but there were some highlights for me:

  • Alfa Romeo's all-new SUV and its 2018 Stelvio models.
  • The 2017 Nissan Rogue: Rogue One Star Wars Limited Edition. The show floor display here was awesome.
  • If you're a Porsche enthusiast, as I am, you'll be impressed with what's in store for 2018. I especially liked the changes made to the Panamera executive model.
  • The new Mazda prototype race car, the RT24-P, is on display. The car will compete under Daytona Prototype international rules in the Prototype class, and is slated to make its racing debut at the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona in late January.
  • Since I'm a Mini Cooper fan, the newly upgraded Mini Countryman was interesting and nicely done.
  • To celebrate the launch of the 2017 Lexus IS sports sedan, Lexus created a customized Sriracha IS, and supposedly used Sriracha sauce in the paint. The car has some cool "foodie finishes" that caught my eye.
  • I also liked the new convertible Range Rover and Volvo's take on the station wagon.
  • In Concourse Hall visit Galpin's Hall of Customs. There are some really fun custom cars.
  • New this year to the show is the "Go" exhibit featuring the latest technology devices in personal mobility: electric scooters, bikes, mobility apps in the South Hall Atrium.

There is so much to see, but there are things you should know before you go.

General admission is $5 to $15, depending on day of the week.

VIP tours are $35 to $85 and already sold out online.

The show is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. Adult tickets are only $12. It's smart to get tickets ahead of time online.

Take advantage of "Early Entry Fridays," 7 a.m. Nov. 18 and Nov. 25, and enjoy complimentary coffee and two hours of extra car time before the show opens for the general public, but purchase of tickets is online only. 

Convention Center parking is limited and runs $20 to $25. I recommend visiting the parking and directions site page  to reserve a space with SpotHero.

If you don't want to hassle with driving, Uber is the show's official ride-share partner. Download the Uber app and use promo code LAAUTO16 to receive up to $15 off your ride to the show.

The show has a new bag policy for 2016. All bags, purses, backpacks, camera bags and diaper bags larger than 12 inches by 15 inches by 6 inches will not be allowed inside the show.

For all medical needs, baby bottles or factory-sealed plastic bottles (one per person) of 1 liter in size or less containing water are permitted. Service dogs are permitted.

Outside the L.A. Convention Center, test drive nearly 100 of the latest models. Weekends, especially this one, are crowded. Weekdays are better.

Whether you're in the market for a new car, or just an auto enthusiast, this year's L.A. Auto show won't disappoint!

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com.

To give you some background, the L.A. Auto show was founded in 1907 and is the first major North American auto show of the season.

I attend the press days before the show opens, which is always exciting, and this year was no exception.

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Plenty of surprises in this 


campaign

11/11/16

As the dust settles, and we close the book on campaign season 2016 in Newport and Costa Mesa, we owe everyone who ran a debt of gratitude, as they all put their hearts and souls into their campaigns.

Making a decision to have your life filleted in public is not an easy one, considering how ugly campaigning in these cities has become. The 2016 council races, in my opinion, were among the worst I've covered, and I wonder if this will further discourage good people from running next time.

As with all races, there are those who prevail, and those who for some reason don't resonate with voters. Though the outcome wasn't what they expected, that doesn't mean they're discouraged from the process.

For instance, chatting with Newport candidate Fred Ameri Tuesday afternoon, he told me he would certainly consider running for a county or state office.

Quite frankly, I was surprised by his answer since he faced such ugly racism, starting with the lawsuit challenging the use of his nickname on the ballot (which he won) to someone placing a sign, with his name written in Farsi,in front of his own English-language sign.

Though Ameri ultimately lost to Will O'Neill, in my book he made a formidable effort. It's just unfortunate that this race had to be the one to show us what dark places some will go to discredit a candidate in this town.

Election night is party time, as candidates watch results with family and friends.

I stopped into at the Back Bay Bistro in Newport Dunes, where Newport candidate Phil Greer was gathering with supporters, Councilman Keith Curry and his wife, Pam, among them.

As early numbers were coming in, Greer was running second to O'Neill out of the blocks.

But Greer and his wife, Arlene, were upbeat and proud of the campaign they'd run. Without hesitation, Greer said he would run again and enjoyed the process, adding that he met some great people.

Guests there speculated that if Ameri had stepped out of the race, as some felt he should have after his showing at the Feet to the Fire Forum in April, Greer might have prevailed on election night.

Another party I hit Tuesday night was at Aurora Mediterranean restaurant on the Balboa Peninsula. Newport Candidate Mike Glenn was surrounded by supporters. Glenn ran an interesting campaign, the majority being online, and only bought into a few slate mailers. Ultimately that wasn't enough to garner him a win.

At the party, Glenn reflected on losing the Line in the Sand political action committee endorsement to Jeff Herdman, who won the in this race.

Glenn told me he felt he put on a good campaign, though he'd be hard pressed to run again, only because he felt he couldn't raise enough money to compete.

Line in the Sand endorsed Herdman and Greer, but only brought home one win. The PAC will now start a referendum to stop the Museum House project (more on that in coming weeks).

Herdman spent election night with his family, and says he'll plan a victory party for his supporters. He called his campaign experience "outstanding."

Another party stop was Al Forna Café in Costa Mesa, where Costa Mesa Councilwoman Sandy Genis and candidates John Stephens and Jay Humphrey were watching the election results with a packed house of supporters.

Among the guests was Councilwoman Katrina Foley, who was confident of wins for Genis and Stephens.

Genis had a neighbor and friend pass away earlier in the day, and so the celebration was bittersweet, she said.

Stephens told me he's looking forward to continuing the momentum of volunteerism he's seen during his campaign and hopes to get those folks further involved in the city.

My last stop of the night was the Republican headquarters party above Skosh Monahan's restaurant. The place was packed, as Republicans chanted Donald Trump's name.

When I didn't run into Costa Mesa Mayor Steve Mensinger or candidate Allan Mansoor, I left. But I had spoken to both earlier in the day.

With Mensinger, I sensed a weariness in his voice, as we discussed his campaign highs and lows.

I asked if he'd ever considering running again. He said no because of how ugly things had gotten.

His probable defeat — the results haven't been finalized at this writing — later in the evening was surprising, as unseating an incumbent mayor, and someone who has served on council since 2011, is tough to pull off.

Another surprise was Mansoor's win.

The voters have now spoken in both cities. It's time to get to work putting this election season in our rearview mirrors and move these cities forward.

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


Event seeks to match vets to

 jobs

11/4/16

I'm weary of the campaign chaos this election season.

But regardless of how you feel about the nastiness we've seen in Newport/Costa Mesa this go around, voting is a freedom to be grateful for and one to be taken seriously.

So it's only fitting this Veterans Day., Nov. 11, we honor the sacrifices of those who've served proudly in our military to insure those freedoms with an event at the O.C. Fair & Event Center, 88 Fair Drive, in Costa Mesa.

The "Veterans + Labor" event, 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., is free, as is the parking, if you enter through Gate 3 or 4.

This is the fourth year Southern California labor unions have organized this Veteran's Day celebration inviting veterans, their families and the entire community to celebrate our nation's heroes.

But they're doing more than just throwing a one-day party. Throughout the year they're addressing another important issue: jobs, as statistics show the unemployment rate for returning veterans is over 10%.

"We need policies that support good, family supporting union jobs for veterans. Building off the wonderful work that's been done through Helmets to Hard Hats and other regional programs, we're developing a set of policy principles that will help veterans find a path to good jobs that utilize their skills and training," states the site veteransandlabor.com/goodjobs.

The seven-point policy addresses the diverse veteran population as they work to create jobs, matching returning vets training and skills, protecting jobs guaranteeing they'll be there when they return from active duty, streamlining job and housing services, and ensuring veterans receive the benefits to which they're entitled.

The "Veterans + Labor" event last year drew over 10,000 people, and organizers hope to top that number as the public gets its first look at the new Heroes Hall Veterans Museum at the fairgrounds.

There will also be military vehicles and gear on display, as well as live music from the Swing Cats, a 10-piece band. Kids can make thank you cards for veterans, and at 11:30 a.m., there will be the West Coast unveiling of the U.S. Postal Service "Distinguished Medal" postage stamp.

Union members, community groups and veterans' organizations will be on site to provide resources to veterans, including information about jobs, health insurance benefits, counseling, college and legal assistance, health screenings and free clothing.

They are also holding a food drive, and attendees are urged to donate non-perishable food items. Last year, the drive collected two tons of food.

The dedication ceremony for Heroes Hall will commence at 1 p.m. Veterans will be available to discuss the importance of preserving their experiences for future generations, as the museum will be an interactive space where the stories of our military can be curated and shared.

Heroes Hall is a project both my husband, OC Fair Board member Stan Tkaczyk, and I strongly support. I sit on the non-profit's foundation board along with foundation President/and new OC Fair Board Chairman Nick Berardino, Lezlee Neebe, Doug La Belle, Doug Applegate, David Brahms, Carina Franck-Pantone, Pat Lavin, Bobby McDonald, Darrell Miller, Julio Perez, Aaron Read and Eric Spitz.

Berardino, a Vietnam veteran, has been the driving force behind the museum project currently under construction and slated to open early 2017.

With more than 3,600 square feet of exhibition space, along with a veterans' memorial courtyard, garden and outdoor mini-amphitheater, this museum will honor O.C. veterans of all wars and will be instrumental in educating over 100,000 K-12 students each year about the county's rich military history.

"One of the greatest lessons to teach our children about commitment and sacrifice in life can be told through the stories of our veterans," says Franck-Pantone.

Last year, Franck-Pantone and I were instrumental in starting the museum's first support guild, The Super Heroes Guild, which had its first fund-raising event a Halloween Costume Gala Oct. 22, raising about $30,000.

The guild will have a booth at the Veterans Day celebration, and I'll be there signing up new members. Stop by, say hi, and join.

Membership donations will be used to fund ongoing operational exhibitions and educational programs, as well insuring the museum's admission remains free.

"With Heroes Hall, finally veterans will have a 'home' for our stories to be told and passed down in one of the most imaginative and interactive ways possible," says McDonald, a Vietnam War veteran (Navy), and chairman of the Orange County Veterans Advisory Council.

This past year the foundation raised over $300,000 for Heroes Hall and will continue those efforts so generations never forget "freedom isn't free," says Berardino.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com.

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 Don't expect anything to come

 of campaign gaffe


10/28/16

In  last week's column, I suggested that voters need to be their own investigative reporters, examine campaign disclosure forms for candidates, independent expenditure (IEs) and political action committees (PACs) in order to uncover the sources of mystery money that fund these entities.

But Newport resident Dick Weaver, treasurer for council candidate Jeff Herdman, apparently was already doing this.

Alleging inconsistencies in campaign disclosure forms of Herdman's opponent, District 5 Newport council candidate Lee Lowrey, Weaver's attorney, Mark S. Rosen, sent a letter Oct. 20 to Newport's city attorney, Aaron Harp, and Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.

Weaver requested of the attorneys that "action be taken or a special prosecutor be appointed because of Mr. Lowrey's violation of the Newport Beach campaign contribution law."

In a nutshell, Lowrey's June 30 campaign report shows he received a contribution from an entity listed as SCCBT, the Southern California Coalition of Business and Taxpayers, in the amount of $250.

On Sept. 13, Lowrey received another contribution from SCCBT for $1,000, which totals $1,250, an amount over the $1,100 legal contribution limit.

Rosen alleges that "Lowrey tried to cover up this amount on the Sept. 13 contribution by listing a cumulative total of $1,000, ignoring the first contribution of $250. He also spelled out SCCBT's full name in the Sept. 13 contribution but only identified it by its initials in the June 30 contribution."

The candidate, however, called the episode an attempt by his opponents to do political harm to him right before the election.

"I'm not worried about it at all," Lowrey told the Daily Pilot. "They wanted to make a big deal out of this, but it's not. I understand people are grasping at straws toward the end of the campaign season."

I reached out to Lowrey for additional comment but didn't hear back.

Lowrey, however, in his interview with the Daily Pilot, said this contribution was an error by his treasurer, Lysa Ray, and once discovered she refunded the excess amount about two weeks ago. That would have been the beginning of October, but Lowrey's report campaign finance report filed this week shows the refund check was written Oct. 20 — the same day Weaver filed his complaint.

Now, throwing Ray under the bus was probably Lowrey's only political move here, but Ray's a seasoned campaign treasurer. This isn't her first rodeo working for veteran political consultant Dave Ellis' clients this campaign season, or last, so I'm not buying that she's sloppy one here. (Ray did not return a request for comment from a Daily Pilot reporter earlier in the week.)

Lowrey's also the founder and chairman of the powerful Atlas PAC, so he's certainly hip to campaign contribution laws.

That being said, in 2012, two former mayors from Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley filed complaints with the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) alleging that Atlas PAC failed to disclose funding sources when sending out an attack ad against council candidate Jill Hardy, according to the Hungtington Beach Independent.

In that case, Atlas treasurer David Bauer chalked it up to human error, saying he would correct it.

Sound familiar?

Lowrey's background is in real estate finance. A business partner of Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, he co-founded Newport's Arbor Capital Partners, which focuses on real estate investment and development in Southern California, according to his campaign website.

In a city like Newport, which is grappling with the issue of high-density development, Lowrey may not be a popular choice with some voters, noting his background.

News spread quickly this week about the complaint against Lowrey. Emails I received raised interesting concerns, like one from resident Dr. Donald W. Wise.

Wise emailed friends questioning Harp's role in the Lowrey campaign finance issue.

"City Attorney Aaron Harp's hands might be tied from taking any action," Wise wrote. "Harp reports directly to a City Council that is controlled by Team Newport constituents, some of whom have donated money to ... Lowrey's campaign."

Ellis saw the email and wrote back just three words to Wise: "Be VERY careful."

I and several other people were copied on this exchange, so I called Ellis and he said he wasn't able to talk at the moment.

Nevertheless, Wise is a former Marine and not easily rattled. And I do believe Harp's hands are tied because Lowrey is not a sitting councilman, at least not yet.

I thought this would all be discussed at Tuesday's City Council meeting but nothing came up, at least in open session, so I assume the council will just let this issue die of inattention.

But voters may not.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2016, Daily Pilot
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Venezia: Voters need to be investigative 



reporters these days



By Barbara Venezia


10/21/16



Local government is literally what happens outside your front door, which is why every City Council election should be taken seriously.


Being your own investigative reporter is key to becoming an educated voter. 


Knowing who is behind and against candidates and issues is as important as understanding candidates’ positions.


I’ll take you through a few simple steps I took this week as my mail-in ballot sat on my desk.


Wanting to know more about ballot measures and candidates, I turned to the pamphlet put out by the Orange County Registrar of Voters.


Most probably don’t take the time to even flip through this. I read it in less than 20 minutes.


The arguments for and against each ballot measure, and the candidate statements, was interesting and, in some cases, eye-opening.


For example, looking at the District 2 Newport Beach council race between candidates Brad Avery and Shelley Henderson, I noticed Avery submitted a candidate statement and Henderson didn’t. In my book that’s an indication of a poorly organized campaign effort by Henderson, since the county gives candidates plenty of time to submit a statement.


Taking it one step further, I always look at a candidate’s online presence, and in this case Henderson’s was telling. Looking at her Facebook and campaign website, shelleymhenderson.com/, nowhere on either did I see anything tying her to Newport or issues facing this city, leading me to question why she’s even running in my town.


I also took time to delve into the cities of Newport and Costa Mesa, (Costa Mesa) website pages dealing with campaign-disclosure statements.


Following the money was revealing and raised even more questions for me. When looking at these pages it’s important to pay special attention not only to candidate disclosure statements, but independent expenditures (IEs) and political action committees (PACs), which have all sorts of snappy names, some that are misleading.


And following the origin from where the dollars generate, in some cases is easier said than done.


Like Costa Mesa Residents against the Power Grab/No on Measure Y. Measure Y is a slow-growth initiative, which has seen much controversy, and, if passed, would require voter approval on certain development projects.costamesaca.gov/index.aspx?page=1729.


Among the supporters of this PAC is the Orange County Jobs Coalition, with a Los Angeles address, donating $30,000 to the effort to sink Y. costamesaca.gov/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=23374


But who are these folks?


No individual donor names are listed, and why would an L.A.-based group be so interested?


PACs and IEs can raise unlimited amounts of money, making them powerful players in elections, since candidates have individual donor contributions limits.


Turning my attention to PACs on Newport’s site, the Howard P. Ahmanson/Fieldstead & Co. PAC was an interesting one. It has $10,877 in its coffers to make sure candidate Phil Greer doesn’t get elected.newportbeachca.gov/home/showdocument?id=49278

And they’re spending more than $15,000 to oppose Jeff Herdman. newportbeachca.gov/home/showdocument?id=49288

Ahmanson’s PAC spent about $70,000 in the 2014 election to put Team Newport in place.


And then there’s the Southern California Coalition of Business and Tax Payers, which touts an Ontario address. Only one donor listed so far on its Sept. 12 statement: candidate Lee Lowery’s campaign fund for $1,000.newportbeachca.gov/home/showdocument?id=49282


Yes, campaigns can donate to these PACs, IEs and other candidates as well, making this process all a bit incestuous for my taste.


The Peninsula Small Business PAC lists Lysa Ray as treasurer. newportbeachca.gov/home/showdocument?id=46017 Ray’s name may ring a bell because she serves as treasurer for candidates Avery, Lowery and Will O’Neill, as well as council members Scott Peotter, Kevin Muldoon, Marshall Duffield and Mayor Diane Dixon.


In addition to Ray, the other common denominator here is all these folks are clients of political consultant Dave Ellis, who ran the Team Newport campaigns.


PACs and IEs are supposed to act independently of candidates. Legally, they’re prohibited from conferring with candidates, or anyone in the candidate’s organization for that matter, when creating mailers in support or against a candidate or ballot measure.


Outside influences are strongly in play locally this election, looking at the PACs and IEs popping up in recent weeks. Expect lots of nasty mailers generating from them soon.


And there are layers of mystery money that will surely try to impact these council races as well, as some PACs and IEs not listed with the cities, but rather with the county and state, start pouring in dough.


What makes these council seats so valuable to these outsiders?


What vested interest do entities backing these committees have in seeing certain candidates elected?


Is this about moving a certain ideology forward?


Or is it about high-density development in both cities, which could be worth millions to certain interests?


***************************************************************

Barbara Venezia: Who should be Newport’s next mayor?


10/14/16


By Barbara Venezia


Looking at the political landscape in Newport Beach, there are two issues voters need to consider:


Whether they want to expand or discontinue the “Team Newport” concept on the council, and who will become mayor in December after Diane Dixon.


Traditionally, the mayor pro tem becomes mayor. But in this case, I have to ask, is Mayor Pro Tem Kevin Muldoon the right choice?


Timing couldn’t be worse. Comments he made at the Sept. 27 council meeting regarding his and Councilman Scott Peotter’s proposal to limit use of city facilities for candidate forums, and which ones can be taped and aired by NBTV, latimes.com/socal/daily-pilot/opinion/tn-dpt-me-barbara-venezia-column-20160929-story.html, angered many of my readers.


The emails I received took exception to Muldoon saying, “We don’t need neo-Nazis and other political parties we can’t control showing up,” and his objection to using city money to promote a political agenda, as he defended this policy.


Readers found the idea of not televising forums a kind of censorship or at least a tactic for Team Newport to control the 2018 election cycle, when the majority of its members face reelection. Though the council decided to further study the issue, if Team Newport continues down this path, it will likely seal its fate in 2018.


Now, Nazis aren’t the first thing I think of when someone mentions Newport, but Muldoon — who has no affiliation to Muldoon’s Irish Pub — hasn’t lived here long. And he didn’t return my calls last week when I wanted to chat about all of this, so I don’t have his take.


His inexperience is showing. Not exactly mayoral material, in my book.


But if it’s not Muldoon as mayor, then what other Team Newport player should roll into the spot?


Councilman Marshall “Duffy” Duffield has been a good “team” player by not exhibiting any individuality in his voting record. But in my opinion, Duffield also hasn’t shown much enthusiasm for the issues as I watch council meetings.


Part of this could be because his hands are tied on some of the city’s affairs since he owns a business in the harbor. The state Fair Political Practices Commission, at the city’s request, advised what he could and couldn’t vote on in a 10-page report in 2015, limiting what he can do. Maybe these constraints took the wind out of his sails.


When Team Newport took over domination of the council in 2014, controversy over the mayor and mayor pro tem selection process followed.


Readers may remember I wrote about the political maneuverings behind the scenes as the newly elected Team Newport bargained with senior council members Tony Petros and Ed Selich, dangling the carrot of mayor in front of both of them with the caveat that Dixon become mayor pro tem. latimes.com/tn-dpt-me-0102-venezia-20150101-story.html


Petros lost that round. Selich served a third mayoral term with Dixon as mayor pro tem.


When Dixon became mayor last year, mayor pro tem was up for grabs again, and the political divide widened. latimes.com/socal/daily-pilot/opinion/tn-dpt-me-1127-barbara-venezia-20151125-story.html,


Petros should’ve been next in line, since 2016 was his fourth year. But Muldoon got the nod, acing out Petros.

I feel this contributed to Petros’ decision not to seek reelection, though officially he wanted to focus on his private-sector work. The daunting political machine he faced had already robbed him twice.


So where are we?


 Muldoon’s comments will follow him forward, as will Peotter’s. Peotter has had his own controversies over misusing the city seal in non-city correspondence and his anti-gay marriage rants. Don’t expect him to become mayor.


Fast forward to December and I think Dixon would be smart to lobby her team — and the powers behind it — for a second term as mayor.


Some may be shocked I say that, since I haven’t been a fan of Dixon’s move to town to run for office, limited institutional knowledge and unprecedented rise to power.


But still, she’s the lesser of two evils here, and I’d be happy to see her given a second term as mayor, considering the alternatives.


If Dixon secures another term as mayor, maybe the next mayor pro tem can come from the ranks of the new council members voters elect in November, since the pickings right now are slim and strange.



BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at   bvontv1@gmail.com.



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Halloween comes early

 thanks to Super Heroes

I Never know where a story will take me, but the one September 2015 about the new Heroes Hall Veterans Museum underway at the OC Fair & Event Center, touched my heart.

Fair Board members championed this effort — my husband included — but Nick Berardino was the driving force behind Heroes Hall.

As a former marine and Vietnam veteran, he reminds us all, "Freedom isn't free."

After that interview, I was moved to volunteer and became a Heroes Hall Foundation board member.

I also was instrumental in creating the fundraising arm for the museum: the Super Heroes Guild.

For those unfamiliar with Heroes Hall, the museum is dedicated to veterans. Its exhibitions and programs will tell the stories of veterans from Orange County and elsewhere who participated in all wars.

All proceeds from Super Hero Guild events will support the museum's exhibitions and education programs that will serve an estimated 100,000 K-12 students annually through free tours and activities.

Heroes Hall will be dedicated on Veterans Day 2016 and open to the public early in 2017.

Tasked with creating the first major guild fundraising event for Heroes Hall — a Haunted Halloween Costume Gala with dinner, dancing, silent auction, costume contest and scary fun — seemed fun and timing appropriate.

Thus, on Oct 22, Halloween is coming early to the OC Fair and Event Center, thanks to the Super Heroes.

Heading the team creating this haunted experience is Mark Enter from Mirage Entertainment, a worldwide live entertainment company with clients, including Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, Olympics and Marvel Comics.

Pat Kennedy, owner of Ivy League Plants and Holiday Magic agreed to lend her services. Kennedy's worked with me before on events and her creativity is inspiring.

And RWB Party Props, a leader in design and rental prop installations for productions for over 40 years in O.C.

This amazing design team needed no convincing, donating their efforts, and chose a "Sleepy Hollow" theme.

And the outpouring of love didn't stop there.

Rachel Maguire, owner of Newport Signs & Graphics, offered to help. Jeff Teller of Spectra quickly offered his company's catering services to provide an equally amazing dining experience for guests.

Barefoot Wine and Spirits donated support without blinking.

And Linda Fitzpatrick, owner of Nothing Bundt Cakes in Costa Mesa, jumped on board to provide desserts.

In fact, it was when I called to see if she would help here, that she shared the story she was one of the Cosby 58 working to end the statute of limitations laws on rape and felony sexual assault in California. (By the way, Senate Bill 813 was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept.28.)

Fair Board member Sandra Cervantes offered to co-chair the event with me, and Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel agreed to be our honorary chair.

"It's an honor to be part of this first Super Heroes Guild fundraiser for Orange County's Heroes Hall Veterans Museum at the OC Fairgrounds," Steel says. "I am very proud of our community's efforts to ensure the stories and sacrifices of our brave men and women are never forgotten."

This inaugural event will take place from 6-11p.m. Oct.22 in the OC Fair & Event Center Wine Garden.

"This festive event will be a wonderful time for everyone and a great way to remember and thank our veterans," Steel says. "I look forward to celebrating with everyone and to see the beautiful Heroes Hall when it's complete."

Cervantes and I agree that planning this event has been a labor of love.

In addition to the folks I've mentioned above, there is a core committee of helping friends, whom we can never properly thank.

Usually my column deals with politics in our town. I'm sharing the behind-the-scenes of planning the Haunted Halloween Gala because there's so much good in it.

And with so much anger and contention this campaign season, it's important to remember that doesn't define who we are as a county or a country.

During this effort I've seen labor unions step up, Republicans and Democrats from Orange County to Sacramento put aside their differences to approve funding through their various municipalities, to see this museum come to fruition.

With that in mind, Cervantes, Steel and I hope you'll don a costume and join with us for a good cause.

Exhume your inner child, ghoul or alter ego, and party like a Super Hero to honor the men and women who have served to protect our freedoms.

Tickets to the Super Heroes Haunted Halloween Costume Gala are $125 and include a one-year membership in the Super Heroes Guild. Sponsorship tables of 10 are also available, $2500.00.

Tickets may be purchased on-line at ocheroeshall.org/haunted-halloween-gala.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached atbvontv1@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2016, Daily Pilot
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Newport debates televising the debates

9/30/16

 January I wrote about how the city of Costa Mesa wouldn't allow CMTV to tape or air council candidate forums this political season.

I offered that Feet to the Fire would pay CMTV for taping and airing, thinking the issue was purely financial. Mayor Steve Mensigner said that wasn't an option, and that he and others felt that the city shouldn't be involved in the campaign process.

After Feet to the Fire, I suggested Mensinger's city come up with some sort of policy and criteria for taping and airing candidate forums going forward.

"Based upon how well Feet to the Fire was run, I would advocate nonpartisan, voter-friendly candidate forums on a selective basis," he said this week.

Last Tuesday, Newport dove into some muddy waters attempting to create its own forum policy.

The official reasoning: the city has so many requests from organizations to have NBTV tape and air forums this season that the staff is looking to the council for direction.

How many?

Councilman Ed Selich tells me that of the approximately 12 candidate forums in the city, four requested and were taped — including Feet to the Fire, Speak up Newport, the West Newport Assn. and Chamber of Commerce forum.

Tara Finnegan, Newport's public information officer, says two more groups made requests, which were denied.

Feet to the Fire paid NBTV to tape the Costa Mesa forum because CMTV wasn't allowed to. The cost: about $1,000.

So for NBTV to tape 12 forums every two years it would run about $12,000. With a city budget of $278 million, why is Team Newport fussing over $12,000?

Councilman Keith Curry says the issue is politically motivated by Team Newport Councilman Scott Peotter and isn't really an issue.

Selich calls it "a problem we don't have."

Peotter complained about Curry's forum over the summer, inviting candidates Phil Greer, Fred Ameri and Will O'Neill — O'Neill didn't show — from his district and displayed the city seal, Curry says.

I called Peotter to discuss this. He didn't return my call.

I find it ironic Peotter' complained about the seal since historically he's been the biggest offender of using it inappropriately.

Curry says the proposed forum policy is "poorly written "and could be used to exclude groups like the Democratic and Republican women's organizations, Speak Up Newport and Feet to the Fire."

I agree.

Selich sits on the Speak up board and told me this wouldn't affect his group since its agreement with NBTV includes taping and airing of monthly meetings, and their candidate forum every two years is their September meeting.

Feet to the Fire, which is sponsored by the Daily Pilot, has partnered with both cities since 2010. This policy would exclude us from NBTV.

The forum criteria proposed requires organizations exist a minimum of 12 months prior to the forum, be nonpartisan, not endorse candidates during the election, not have a political action committee, be a group not an individual, and not be a for-profit company.

The policy also goes on to say "the content of the forum must be informational in nature and may not include advocacy for or against a particular candidate or ballot measure." And, of course, the city seal must be used in accordance with the municipal code.

Though I agree cities should have a forum policy, this one opens the door to political retribution by those in power, and silences important community dialogue.

Selich says Newport's agreement with NBTV and Newport Beach & Co includes providing 2,208 hours of "community events and activity programming a year."

Forums probably account for one half or 1% of TV time under this agreement, since forums come around every two years.

At the Tuesday council meeting, Curry and Selich, came out strongly against the policy.

Mayor Pro Tem and Team Newport's Kevin Muldoon defended it, saying it was "great" and "we don't need Neo Nazis and other political parties we can't control showing up" and using city money to promote a political agenda.

Geez, is there a Neo Nazi problem in Newport I don't know about? And political forums are by their very nature political, so this anti-agenda argument makes no sense to me.

Muldoon would support forums sponsored by AirFair, jwairfair.com/airfair.html and the Corona del Mar Residents Assn.

AirFair is a political action committee (PAC), exactly the type of group Muldoon's policy would ban from being televised.

This sort of nonsense is exactly what happens when people who've lived in Newport for a nano-second get elected with no institutional knowledge of the city.

Audience members called Muldoon on this. He backpedaled.

The council agreed to continue studying the issue.

This proposal is bad news, and nothing more than a messy attempt to control the 2018 election cycle when most of Team Newport is up for reelection.

--

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached atbvontv1@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2016, Daily Pilot

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Police, firefighters aren't the only ones in uniform

9/23/16

Should police and firefighter unions get involved in city council races?

Is it a conflict of interest to have them endorse and help elect candidates who ultimately will negotiate their contracts?

And with cities facing unfunded pension liabilities, how can taxpayers be sure these newly elected council members will have their best interests in mind, rather than those of the unions to whom they owe a debt?

As I examined this issue in Costa Mesa last week, readers weighed in.

But Newport Beach has a different political dynamic.

Newport historically has had an amicable relationship with public safety unions. Understaffing hasn’t been an issue residents continually voice concerns about.

So who did the Newport Beach Police Assn. and the Newport Beach Firefighters Assn. endorse ?

Both backed candidates Lee Lowery, Will O’Neill and Brad Avery over Mike Glenn, Jeff Herdman, Fred Ameri, Phil Greer and Shelley Henderson.

I found the union’s choices here interesting since all of the candidates chosen were also endorsed by the Orange County Republican Central Committee and signed the Republican pledge not to accept money from labor.

Since Lowery, O’Neill and Avery are represented by political consultant Dave Ellis, I asked him about this.

“They are not taking union money,” he said, “and are happy to take the endorsements.”

So how do these unions plan on helping candidates they’ve endorsed?

Bobby Salerno, president of the firefighters’ association, says his group hasn’t “decided what will we do to support.” He didn’t provide information on how much the union spent in past races or whether members will walk precincts in this one.

Vlad Anderson, head of the police association, said his organization will “put out fliers” but members are unlikely to walk precincts. And, he made clear, the fliers would not attack candidates who are not supported by the union.

Anderson also had no idea what his union will spend this election cycle.

Though unions aren’t handing checks to candidates, which conveniently gets them around the GOP pledge, I wonder how this will play with staunch Republican voters.

I asked Anderson and Salerno why they chose the candidates they did.

Anderson mostly talked about O’Neill saying he said he “aligned himself with the association, was well versed in finances and had a lot of the information the other candidates didn’t share.”

Anderson confirmed that all the candidates — except one — were interviewed.

“In all the years I’ve been in the association, usually people respond and want to sit down and talk,” says Anderson, but “Shelley Henderson never responded.”

Anderson told me most of the questions asked in the endorsement interview were financial: the current city budget status, future growth, goals and paying off unfunded pension liabilities.

Salerno says the firefighters’ endorsements went to those who they felt “to be the best fit on council and would listen.”

He says council members need to be “educated on what we do”, and that understanding contracts was just a “small piece of the pie.”

Salerno and Anderson feel there is no conflict of interest in their endorsements because their members have a “vested interest in the community.”

“We are more stakeholders than any officers. We are part of the community and take pride in that,” Anderson said, “It’s more than just policing, it’s a partnership.”

How many members of these organizations actually live in the cities they protect?

Anderson says no one in his association lives in the city.

“They can’t afford it,” he said.

Salerno says “very few” firefighters live here.

As I’ve stated before, the big issue facing Newport voters isn’t high crime or understaffing, as it is in Costa Mesa, it’s whether to expand or dismantle the “Team Newport” concept currently driving the council.

It’s clear what public safety unions want to happen here.

O’Neill, Avery and Lowery are part of the “Team Newport” concept, but don’t take my word for it, look at the bottom of the home page of Residents for Reform website- supporter of Team Newport.

These guys are pictured with Councilman Marshall Duffield, eerily dressed alike in white shirts and blue blazers.

Looks like team uniforms to me… www.residentsforreform.com/

hough some felt there were inherent conflicts here, the majority did not.

Citing the long-running contentious relationship between the current council majority and these public safety unions, as well as the issue of understaffing, those who didn’t see a conflict felt the firefighter and police unions should endorse candidates.

***********************************************************
Political endorsements don't come easy in Costa Mesa

9/16/16

For the past few columns I've focused on the Newport Beach City Council race. This week I turn my attention to Costa Mesa.

And like last week, , I continue to examine issues surrounding endorsements.

The Costa Mesa Firefighters Assn. (cmfd.com) has endorsed Councilwoman Sandy Genis and candidates John Stephens and Jay Humphrey over Mayor Steve Mensinger, candidates Lee Ramos, Allan Mansoor and Al Melone.

So far, the Costa Mesa Police Assn. (costamesapa.com) seems to be silent here. I left the police association president a message to see if the organization was going to endorse but didn't hear back.

It's probably a smart move to stay out of the race, given the legal issues between the association and a couple of Costa Mesa politicians.

In 2012, the police union's law firm at the time, Lackie, Dammeier, McGill and Ethir, hired investigator Chris Lanzillo, who allegedly put a tracker on Mensinger's car, (lat.ms/2cAV9Dm) and falsely accused Councilman Jim Righeimer of drinking and driving in 2014 (lat.ms/2cJzMAl). The police association has long said it did not know in advance or agree to the methods allegedly employed by Lanzillo.

The state appellate court heard arguments in this case in January (lat.ms/2czG1og) and the criminal trial is slated to begin Sept. 20.

When it comes to the firefighters, Mensinger tells me the Costa Mesa Firefighters Assn. is involved in contract negations with the city, and has hired Mike McGill, formerly of Lackie, Dammeier, McGill and Ethir, to represent them.

Rob Gagne, president of the association., says although McGill works for the law firm his association hired — Adams, Ferrone & Ferrone —"McGill in no way had anything to do with what's going on with Steve."

Looking at the law firm's site, adamsferrone.com, it states they specialize "exclusively in the representation of public safety associations and their members in labor and contract negotiations."

On McGill's bio page there's no mention of his former firm of which he was a named partner.

But moving forward, critics like Mensinger wonder whether it's a conflict of interest having the firefighters' union endorsing and helping elect candidates who ultimately will negotiate their contracts.

Mensinger says though he has "great respect for the role and the men and women in police and fire," he doesn't believe they should be endorsing candidates.

"I believe the role of unions should be in bargaining for their members, and not in electing the policy makers who vote on their contracts," he says.

He also feels accepting endorsements, and thousands of dollars from associations, is an "inherent conflict when contracts represent 80 percent of your budgets and job."

Stephens doesn't agree at all. He says firefighters and police are concerned about their own safety and have a vested interest in the community.

"I think the primary motivation is to protect the city and themselves," he says, pointing to safe levels of staffing in both departments that now should be met.

Stephens tells me he's negotiated far more contracts than anyone else running for council and, "If we're going to get real pension reform, we have to start collaborating between the council and the associations."

I should mention Gagne told me candidates Mansoor and Ramos were invited to be interviewed by his endorsement panel. Ramos originally agreed, then rescinded, and "Mansoor respectfully declined," Gagne says.

What about Mensinger?

Gagne says they didn't invite him because, "We know where he stands."

Without a contract for 27 months, Gagne says call loads are up, staffing is down, and these factors are the association's main concerns in relation to safety in the city.

He tells me that after the half-hour interviews of Genis, Humphrey and Stephens, his group felt they were best suited to open meaningful dialogue as contract negotiations move forward.

Gagne says Mensinger and Righeimer have "shown their true colors."

Gagne says like every business, the city has to make adjustments because of the rising costs of water, fuel, vehicles, and so on.

Council members don't want to raise taxes, but the answer isn't laying off people and disseminating the department, he explains.

Gagne says his association members haven't seen a raise in 10 years, and their out-of-pocket health insurance costs have risen, as has cost of living.

I asked Gagne how many firefighters live in Costa Mesa.

He said none, as Costa Mesa is expensive and some don't want to live and work in the same city.

But the question remains: Should unions be involved in council elections at all since members are not residents and their interest is purely financial?

Gagne wouldn't say what the Firefighters' Assn. Independent Expenditure (IE) committee will spend on this council race, but did say, "If it gets ugly, then the price goes up."

Historically this city's council races aren't pretty. Gagne better get ready to dig deep into those union pockets.

And it'll be interesting to see how voters view all of this since ultimately it's their tax dollars in play here.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached atbvontv1@gmail.com.

**********************************************************************

9/16/16

GOP endorsement means little in Newport council race

9/9/16

Traditionally, a political party's endorsement meant a great deal to local candidates' electability.

But as the curtain lifts on the discourse behind those endorsements, I wonder how much juice they'll really have with Newport Beach voters this season.

City Council races are supposed to be non-partisan, and since Republicans dominate Newport, more times than not we see Republicans running against Republicans.

Watching them eat their own, though entertaining, doesn't do much for the party's credibility.

But that doesn't seem to matter, as we saw last week at the O.C. Republican Central Committee.

The night the GOP Central Committee was choosing whom to endorse, OC Political — "a right-of-center-blog" — wrote a blow-by-blow description of the discussions that ultimately led to endorsements. It's an interesting read atocpolitical.com/category/republican-central-committee/.

When it came time to determine who in Newport would get the nod, things didn't go well for council candidate Fred Ameri.

Ameri, running against Phil Greer and Will O'Neill for District 7, was the choice for the endorsement committee.

Ameri has a long history with the party. He served as an alternate for former state Sen. Tom Harman on the Central Committee, was a business partner of the late former O.C. Republican Chairman Tom Fuentes — who got Ameri involved in the GOP — and helped grow the party by registering 5,000 Republicans through the Iranian American Republican Council, which he founded.

Ameri calls the current GOP head honcho Fred Whitaker "a friend."

Though Ameri has contributed beaucoup bucks to O.C. Republican candidates for years, his contributions to Democrats — brought to the committee's attention by Newport Councilman Scott Peotter — seem to have created problems for him.

Now, it's not an uncommon practice for businesses to cover their bets by donating to both parties. My husband did it when he was in business, calling them his "anti-assassination fees." Elections are a crap shoot, and his goal was to be friendly with everyone.

Ameri tells me the deck was stacked against him at the Central Committee meeting, as those opposed to his endorsement came out in force, including former O.C. Republican Chairman Scott Baugh, Peotter and Newport Councilman Kevin Muldoon.

Whitaker made a motion the party remain neutral in the race.

Ameri wasn't happy, and then said he was out of there.

Ameri tells me he just said, "I'm out of here" because he thought it was a done deal.

It wasn't.

The tide changed, and after Ameri left the endorsement went to O'Neill, who is represented by political consultant Dave Ellis.

Ellis's other candidate in the Newport District 5 race, Lee Lowrey, also got the GOP nod, beating out Mike Glenn and Jeff Herdman, who wasn't involved here.

Ameri told me he's "shocked at how corrupt the inner-workings of politics and the goings-on in our Central Committee is."

So did Ameri get hosed?

Or did the Central Committee just take a clue from that famous quote by legendary actress Mae West, "When caught between two evils I generally pick the one I've never tried before."

Who knows? The real issue for voters in Newport isn't party affiliation. It's whether they want to continue to build the Team Newport concept on this council, or start to dismantle it, so I don't see these endorsements mattering much.

Ameri did, however, get the influential Lincoln Club's endorsement.

And one endorsement that I think will mean a lot to voters comes from the Political Action Committee, Line in the Sand.

Readers may remember this PAC came out of the core group SPON — Still Protecting Our Newport — spearheaded by longtime community activist Jean Watt.

Line in the Sand will announce endorsements next week, but I've got the early scoop.

Members Nancy Skinner and Watt told me their group has chosen to endorse Greer over Ameri and O'Neill, and will support Herdman over Glenn and Lowrey.

They're neutral in the race between Brad Avery and Shelley Henderson.

Skinner says the fact that Lowrey, Henderson, Avery and O'Neill didn't show up for Feet to the Fire Forum weighed heavily with her committee.

Watt and Skinner also said in evaluating candidates their committee had concerns about those represented by Ellis feeling he had "too much influence over them" as candidates — and if they are elected.

Skinner says Greer and Herdman "reflect the mission of Line in the Sand to advocate for our town."

Greer tells me he's "ecstatic, pleased and humbled" by the endorsement, and calls Line in the Sand the "quintessential neighborhood organization that understands what residents want and are willing to stand up for it."


Brain bugs have landed in Newport

9/2/16 

In the hit CBS TV series "BrainDead," bugs from outer space land in Washington, D.C., eating politicians' brains and contributing to some very weird behaviors by these folks.

The show is masterfully written, funny and one of my favorites this summer.

As I was watching the other night, I wondered, "Have space bugs made their way to Newport?"

You have to admit, things are getting pretty odd in this town's council race, and it's as good an explanation as any, I guess.


Take last week when resident William Stewart filed a lawsuit in O.C. Superior Courtagainst O.C. Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley and Newport Beach City Clerk Leilani Brown in hopes of forcing council candidate Fred Ameri use his given first name, Farrokh, on the ballot.

The intent here, in my view, was clearly to play on residents' private prejudices against those of Middle Eastern descent.

Ameri, who is of Persian descent, blames opponent Will O'Neill, as well as O'Neill's campaign supporter, Newport Councilman Scott Peotter, whose brother is the attorney for Stewart and O'Neill's political consultant, Dave Ellis, for these antics.

But O'Neill says he has no acquaintance with the plaintiff, the lawyer in this case or any of it.

To me he's either totally out of touch with his handlers or turning a blind eye to their campaign tactics.

Either way it's not good.

The whole situation takes this race to an all-time low. But did the political brain trust, who thought this was a good tactic, actually help Ameri here?

"Absolutely, this has helped my campaign," says Ameri. "People are calling like never before. They're making me the most famous guy in Newport."

Though Ameri is outraged, labeling this campaign tactic "racist," it's not like he didn't anticipate it.

Last February, Ameri and O.C. Republican Party Chairman Fred Whitaker asked Kelley's office for an official opinion on Ameri's first name.

Taking into consideration Ameri has used Fred since 1998 on his voter registration, Kelley writes, "If he came to file for office at our front counter, we would accept this name as his ballot name."

"I believe that it is in his best interest to keep his name as it has been registered for 18 years," Kelly continues. "Of course, this could always be challenged in a court of law, but since this is how he is known in the community, I think he has a good case. I am not aware of any rules that are violated by this."

I called Ellis, my favorite "frenemy," to talk about Ameri claiming he's the real culprit behind the name issue lawsuit.

He denies it.

"I am also responsible for world famine and the Zika virus," Ellis jokes. "I'd be happy to pay for Fred's therapy."

Ouch!

Ellis went on to explain another interesting twist. He says last summer potential candidates Phil Greer, Ameri and O'Neill wanted to retain his services for this election. Ellis met with each of them before choosing O'Neill in December.

Ellis says he sent emails to Ameri to stop telling people he'd hired him.

"You proceeded to spend three months telling folks that you had retained my services, which was wrong of you to say," Ellis writes. "I never led you on or 'tricked' you. When you asked me to print remit envelopes for you, I declined because I did not to lead you on."

As you can imagine, Ellis has strong opinions about O'Neill's opponents.

"Over the next few weeks, you will hear all sorts of whining from Fred Ameri and Phil Greer about negative campaigning, etc.," Ellis says.

And he gave me his reasons for not taking them on as clients.

"Greer is a fiscal train wreck with nearly $700,000 in current state and federal tax liens pending against him," he claims, and, "Ameri spent 30 years at RBF Consulting Engineers. They provided engineering services for the development of most of South Orange County — around 1.5 million people — and now he's anti-development."

Greer says the $700,000 figure Ellis throws out is wildly inaccurate.

"No, it was never $700,000," he tells me. "At best, it is $250,000. There are a ton of duplicate liens and other mistakes by the IRS. What Dave has done is add up everything regardless of whether it is duplicate or not and come up with an unsubstantiated number."

Greer further explains that there had been an ongoing 2002 IRS dispute, which is being resolved, "reducing the claimed tax liability for 2002/2004 from approximately $160,000 to approximately $40,000, amended returns can be filed for the other impacted years, balances, if any, can be paid, and will be resolved shortly."

Greer confirms he met with Ellis last summer, but not to hire him. He says they met because Greer's wife, Arlene, had initially showed interest in running for office.

"My meeting with Dave was to determine how nasty he would get if Arlene was to actually become a candidate," says Greer. "I was simply being proactive in protecting my wife. I have no intent or interest in associating myself with the sort of campaigns Dave runs."

Yep, Gotta love those space bugs…

*********************************************************

Candidate loses bid for ballot language

8/25/16

If  you weren't able to attend the Feet to the Fire forums, both are now online atfeet2thefireforum.com.

I urge voters to watch and share the links of these lively and informative discussions regarding Newport Beach (bit.ly/2bCHPj2) and Costa Mesa (http://bit.ly/2bQjT95.)

Kudos and thanks to my co-host, Tom Johnson, as well as Orange Coast College, NBTV, KOCI 101.5 FM and the Daily Pilot for collaborating with me on two of the best shows to date in this series.

As the heat of the forums cool, flames of controversy ignite in the Newport city clerk's office.

On Aug. 19 council candidate Mike Glenn received an email from City Clerk Leilani Brown that read, "In reviewing your Candidate Statement in more detail, I have concerns about the following sentence: Even after our last election, we have had our newly elected councilmembers vote to increase taxes, attack property rights, all while pushing large development projects which would greatly impact both our views and our traffic flows. Due to the Registrar of Voters printing schedule, please provide me with specific supporting information relative to this sentence by noon on Wednesday, August 17, 2016."

Glenn wrote back saying the statement had "nothing to do with any candidates," as he was referring to seated council members.

"It is important that people know why I am running — the entire intent of the ballot statement," he wrote.

Glenn was concerned that Brown's email was dated Aug. 19, two days after the supposed deadline.

Brown tells me the actual deadline was Aug. 24, and that Aug. 17 was a typo, which she didn't tell Glenn about because he responded to her the same day. 

---------

FOR THE RECORD

An earlier version of this column stated that the supposed deadline was Aug. 19. It was Aug. 17.

---------

So, on Aug. 23, Glenn headed to the County's Registrar of Voters office to sort this out.

Glenn says "they had no problem with my candidate statement, but it must be submitted to them by my city clerk."

He says if the clerk won't submit his statement as he wrote it, his only recourse is to sue the city.

Glenn says he believes clerk's office is under pressure from Team Newport and its supporters to disregard his requests.

Brown tells me she treats all candidates equally and fairly.

"I discharge my duties independently, objectively, and even-handedly," Brown says.

Recently, Newport candidate Jeff Herdman sued Newport Beach to overturn Brown's determination he wasn't eligible to hold a council seat, due to his service on the Civil Service Board (lat.ms/2bxzyeC)

He won, and during Feet to the Fire, Herdman placed the blame squarely on political activist Bob McCaffrey and his organization, Residents for Reform, as an attempt to derail his campaign.

Speaking of McCaffrey, he's submitted a direct argument to Brown's office against Measure MM — the Taxpayer Protection Act — saying his organization feels it doesn't "go far enough," and urging a no vote.

That's really weird since he supports the Team Newport slate, which wants MM to pass, even though the idea was first brought about by team opponent Councilman Keith Curry and now he's been pretty much aced out of it."Vote No on Measure MM and send a message to Curry and Herdman that the city of Newport has too much debt," McCaffrey writes.

Wait a minute. I thought it was a no-no to mention a candidate in these things?

And the ball of confusion keeps on rolling as a second direct argument against MM was submitted to Brown by Curry, Stop Polluting Our Newports's Jean Watt, Herdman and council candidate Phil Greer.

On April 19, Brown sent them a letter saying she deemed their argument against the measure is actually one of support!

And since she already has an argument in support — it was submitted by Councilmen Scott Peotter and Kevin Muldoon, Mayor Diane Dixon, candidate and Finance Committee member Will O'Neill and Carolyn Cavecche — she legally has to accept the earliest submission. Greer's came in second.

Greer says Brown has it all wrong and fired off a letter to her.

To include "opposition written by Bob McCaffrey instead of one written by my clients, denies them their right to speak out against the measure," Greer writes, calling this "political gamesmanship" and a "disservice to the city and residents."

I read what Greer's group submitted. The letter objects to the fact that the "council majority hijacked this measure" from Curry and put their own names on it.

But the statement ends with the line, "Vote yes, but don't be fooled again by the dishonest political posturing."

Well, you can't really have it both ways.

Brown says it's her responsibility ensure all voter election material is accurate and complies with state and city laws.

And the latest news, this past Thusday, resident William Stewart is asking the courts to prevent council candidate Fred Ameri from using his nickname on the ballot. Stewart wants Ameri to use his given first name, Farrokh. Ameri is calling the demand "racist." More on that next week.

Sounds like she has her job cut out for her, as the smoke of controversy isn't clearing any time soon this election season.

--

A superhero for women's rights

8/19/16

Linda Kirkpatrick, owner of the Nothing Bundt Cakes franchise on 17th Street in Costa Mesa, is a superhero in my book.

It's not just because she's helping with the upcoming Oct. 22 Haunted Halloween Super Heroes Guild for Heroes Hall veterans museum fundraiser (Disclosure: I'm on the veteran hall's board) at the OC Fairgrounds. She's a hero for initiating change to California state law that will hopefully bring justice to rape and sexual assault victims.

The current statute of limitations on prosecuting felony rape and assault cases is 10 years after the crime occurs. Kirkpatrick feels there should be no limit.

"In California, if you embezzle funds, there is no statute of limitation," she says. "As a woman, our value is less than funding."

Kirkpatrick's passion stems from personal experience.

She's one of the "Cosby 58," women who've made allegations of sexual assault and harassment against comedian Bill Cosby. Kirkpatrick and several other Californians started a movement called End Rape SOL — short for statute of limitations.

"End Rape SOL is not about Cosby," she says. "We can't stop rape, but maybe we can give victims a fighting chance."

The message is spreading. Kirkpatrick looks to the day when the statute of limitations for these crimes is nonexistent nationwide.

As part of this crusade, the group sought out legislators to change the law here.

In January,Sen. Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) authored Senate Bill 813, the "Justice for Victims Act," which was co-sponsored by the California Women's Law Center and San Bernadino County District Attorney Michael A. Ramos. The bill cleared the Assembly Thursday.

"According to the U.S. Department of Justice, only 2 in 100 rapists will be convicted of a felony and spend any time in prison," states Leyva's news release about SB813. "The other 98% will never be punished for their crime."

If signed into law, SB813 wouldn't be retroactive, so it doesn't help any of Cosby's alleged victims in California.

Rape is a sensitive subject. Victims often don't come forward, due to shame and stigma.

But times are changing. Kirkpatrick calls it the "Cosby Affect," due to the massive media coverage.

"More of these crimes are being reported," she says.

She speaks freely about it now and shared her chilling tale with me, recounting how she met Cosby at a celebrity tennis tournament In Las Vegas when she was 25.

Kirkpatrick and her tennis partner were matched with Cosby, who was in town performing, and another player.

He invited his tennis opponents to see his show, but Kirkpatrick's partner had already seen it, so she went alone. Afterward, Cosby's "handler" escorted her backstage to a party in his dressing room.

The handler gave her champagne with a strawberry, which looked odd as the drink had no bubbles.

It tasted terrible, she says.

Halfway through the glass, Kirkpatrick felt strange.

The next thing she remembers is being backstage where the "spotlight operator works." Cosby's handler explained that's where he wanted her. Her next recollection was back in Cosby's dressing room with him on top of and kissing her.

"I remember thinking, 'Why are you kissing me with your wife's I.D. bracelet on?'" she tells me.

She says she tried resisting, but couldn't move. She is not entirely sure what happened next.

Later, Kirkpatrick found herself in her bed, sick to her stomach and alone, with no clue how she got there.

When she returned to the tennis center the next day, Cosby called.

Confronting him, he told her she had "the wrong idea" and claimed she "drank too much."

"For 35 years, whenever anyone mentioned Cosby's name to me I'd just tell people he's a pig who cheats on his wife," she said.

But questions swirled in her head for years.

It wasn't until she saw other women coming forward, telling stories similar to hers, that she came to terms with what allegedly happened to her.

In June the state Senate approved SB 813, and Kirkpatrick tells me all indicators are it will pass the Assembly as well.

On the End Rape SOL Facebook page, organizers are planning a rally in Sacramento Sept.6 to support SB813 and urge Gov. Jerry Brown to sign the "Justice for Victims Act" into law.

Of the Cosby 58, all but one case pending is not past the statute of limitations.

Of the Cosby 58, all but one case is past the statute of limitations 

-------____________________________________

Why Feet to the Fire Forum matters

8/12/16

Last week's column about the two upcoming Feet to the Fire Forum dates at Orange Coast College's Robert B. Moore Theater garnered lots of interesting emails.

Readers were excited the Daily Pilot was sponsoring this event once again, and no one, including me, was surprised that political consultant Dave Ellis's Newport council candidates — Lee Lowery, Will O'Neill and Brad Avery — wouldn't be there.

Readers may remember that in 2014 the "Team Newport" candidates, handled by the same consultant, didn't show either. At the time, I cautioned voters about candidates unwilling to answer tough questions.

After all, the City Council affects what happens outside your door. These days, Newport residents can't ignore the traffic and high-density development.

Times have changed since 2014.

It used to be only political insiders talked about Political Action Committees (PACs) and Independent Expenditure (I.E.) committees, and their funding sources. But not anymore.

The lingo has found its way into daily conversation. It took over $900,000 to get Team Newport elected in 2014 — a fact not lost on this year's voters.

Social media and the ease of accessing information online has empowered voters. The tide is changing, with people scrutinizing candidates and paying closer attention to financial reporting forms.

And they're asking questions.

One reader in Costa Mesa wrote asking me why some campaign contributor addresses listed on these campaign disclosure forms were redacted, while others were not. The reader also wondered why donors from cities outside hers were contributing. And why do candidates donate to each other?

Brenda Green, Costa Mesa city clerk, explained that home addresses of campaign contributors are redacted on the city's website, but contributors with business addresses are listed. If someone comes into City Hall, they can view the versions without redactions.

And it's common practice for like-minded candidates to contribute to each other as they push their particular political agendas.

I can tell you from running for Newport council in 2006 that raising money is the toughest part. When "dialing for dollars," everyone you know is fair game, regardless where they live.

But that doesn't mean that folks with agendas aren't contributing.

When examining forms, spot trends that raise questions for you. Don't be shy. Email candidates with those questions. How they respond could be telling.

My sense in Newport is that this campaign season citizens are not only paying attention to the length of candidate residency here, but who's backing them, and whether they rent or own. The mindset being homeowners have more of a vested financial stake in the city than renters.

The voter of 2016 is more discerning.

I believe the days are waning when voters will accept candidates who prefer one-sided conversations with them through campaign mailers, or answering softball questions at some of the forums.

Feet to the Fire set a new standard in questioning candidates and then airing forums on TV and online.

It's a trend that's spreading.

Newport resident and Line in the Sand PAC member Nancy Skinner told me her organization is offering to tape any Newport candidate forum for free.

In an age when everybody has cell phones and social media accounts, candidates can't escape the added dimension of video.

That's good news for residents, but bad news for candidates who aren't so self-assured, don't grasp the issues, or lack the "likability factor" on camera.

Video is online forever and a misstep can sink a candidacy.

Video is problematic for political consultants trying to mold clients' images and control campaign messaging.

As voters become more sophisticated, I doubt candidate forums slanted in favor of the candidates, rather than the citizens, will draw audiences.

A panel where every candidate is asked the same question — which they were given prior to arriving — isn't going to cut it anymore.

The campaign game is evolving. Candidates should as well. This offers some hope for our local political scene, as those choosing to run for office become more accountable for what they say.

I'm looking forward to both Feet to the Fire shows. We have candidates unafraid to face the music.

Those who fear scrutiny won't be missed. But I'm sure they will be discussed.

The meet-and-greet with the candidates is from 6 to 7 p.m. Aug. 17 (Newport Beach) and 8 (Costa Mesa). The forums start 7:15 p.m. both nights

For more information go tofeet2thefireforum.com.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com.




Last week's column about the two upcoming Feet to the Fire Forum dates at Orange Coast College's Robert B. Moore Theater garnered lots of interesting emails.

Readers were excited the Daily Pilot was sponsoring this event once again, and no one, including me, was surprised that political consultant Dave Ellis's Newport council candidates — Lee Lowery, Will O'Neill and Brad Avery — wouldn't be there.

Readers may remember that in 2014 the "Team Newport" candidates, handled by the same consultant, didn't show either. At the time, I cautioned voters about candidates unwilling to answer tough questions.

After all, the City Council affects what happens outside your door. These days, Newport residents can't ignore the traffic and high-density development.

Times have changed since 2014.

It used to be only political insiders talked about Political Action Committees (PACs) and Independent Expenditure (I.E.) committees, and their funding sources. But not anymore.

The lingo has found its way into daily conversation. It took over $900,000 to get Team Newport elected in 2014 — a fact not lost on this year's voters.

Social media and the ease of accessing information online has empowered voters. The tide is changing, with people scrutinizing candidates and paying closer attention to financial reporting forms.

And they're asking questions.

One reader in Costa Mesa wrote asking me why some campaign contributor addresses listed on these campaign disclosure forms were redacted, while others were not. The reader also wondered why donors from cities outside hers were contributing. And why do candidates donate to each other?

Brenda Green, Costa Mesa city clerk, explained that home addresses of campaign contributors are redacted on the city's website, but contributors with business addresses are listed. If someone comes into City Hall, they can view the versions without redactions.

And it's common practice for like-minded candidates to contribute to each other as they push their particular political agendas.

I can tell you from running for Newport council in 2006 that raising money is the toughest part. When "dialing for dollars," everyone you know is fair game, regardless where they live.

But that doesn't mean that folks with agendas aren't contributing.

When examining forms, spot trends that raise questions for you. Don't be shy. Email candidates with those questions. How they respond could be telling.

My sense in Newport is that this campaign season citizens are not only paying attention to the length of candidate residency here, but who's backing them, and whether they rent or own. The mindset being homeowners have more of a vested financial stake in the city than renters.

The voter of 2016 is more discerning.

I believe the days are waning when voters will accept candidates who prefer one-sided conversations with them through campaign mailers, or answering softball questions at some of the forums.

Feet to the Fire set a new standard in questioning candidates and then airing forums on TV and online.

It's a trend that's spreading.

Newport resident and Line in the Sand PAC member Nancy Skinner told me her organization is offering to tape any Newport candidate forum for free.

In an age when everybody has cell phones and social media accounts, candidates can't escape the added dimension of video.

That's good news for residents, but bad news for candidates who aren't so self-assured, don't grasp the issues, or lack the "likability factor" on camera.

Video is online forever and a misstep can sink a candidacy.

Video is problematic for political consultants trying to mold clients' images and control campaign messaging.

As voters become more sophisticated, I doubt candidate forums slanted in favor of the candidates, rather than the citizens, will draw audiences.

A panel where every candidate is asked the same question — which they were given prior to arriving — isn't going to cut it anymore.

The campaign game is evolving. Candidates should as well. This offers some hope for our local political scene, as those choosing to run for office become more accountable for what they say.

I'm looking forward to both Feet to the Fire shows. We have candidates unafraid to face the music.

Those who fear scrutiny won't be missed. But I'm sure they will be discussed.

The meet-and-greet with the candidates is from 6 to 7 p.m. Aug. 17 (Newport Beach) and 8 (Costa Mesa). The forums start 7:15 p.m. both nights

For more information go tofeet2thefireforum.com.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached atbvontv1@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2016, Daily Pilot

Feet to the Fire is back

78/5/16

Back in 2010, when Daily Pilot Editor John Canalis proposed the idea of a talk show-style candidates forum, where reporters do the interviewing, I was keen on the idea. Thus, Feet to the Fire Forum was born.

Along with our media partners at Voice of O.C. and the O.C. Register, an informative platform arose for voters to evaluate candidates, not only on their knowledge of issues and opinions, but also on how quickly they could think on their feet.

Over the years F2Fhas grown in popularity, airing on the Newport Beach and Costa Mesa municipal government access channels, as well as online. Unfortunately, this year we won't have CMTV's participation, as council members in that city voted not to air or tape any candidate forums, ours included.

Fortunately, NBTV will tape both events. F2F is paying for NBTV's services on the Costa Mesa forum.

Those in Costa Mesa will be able to view it later on YouTube and onfeet2thefireforum.com.

At Orange Coast College's Robert B. Moore Theatre, we're back with the 10th and 11th editions of F2F on Aug. 17-18. The 17th will feature council candidates from Newport. On the 18th, it's the Costa Mesa City Council candidates.

Meet-and-greets with the candidates are from 6 to 7 p.m. each night and the forums start at 7:15. All are welcome, and it's free.

Historically, candidates look forward to being onstage with us, and this year's no different.

Fred Ameri, a former planning commissioner who's running for Newport's District 7, told me that even if he wasn't invited, he was planning to show up.

Candidate Mike Glenn of District 5 said he appreciates the fact that it is "excellent exposure, and the forum has a widespread reputation."

District 7 candidate Phil Greer tells me he's looking forward to being there and having the opportunity to share his viewpoints.

District 5 candidate Jeff Herdman says he'll be there.

Now, as excited as these guys are, there are candidates in Newport who aren't attending, namely those handled by political consultant Dave Ellis: Lee Lowrey of District 5, Will O'Neill of District 7 and Brad Avery of District 2.

When I spoke with Avery last week, he told me he'd be in Catalina boating with friends from Northern California. But will it matter to voters that he's choosing to be with his peeps in Catalina over coming to F2F?

So far, Avery's only opponent is Shelley Henderson, who hasn't pulled papers or returned my calls. So unless she or someone else gets in this race by the 17th, Avery is a shoo-in anyway.

Ameri says he's disappointed opponent O'Neill won't be attending.

"Maybe we can eliminate the middleman and have Dave Ellis show up for Mr. O'Neill at the Feet to the Fire Forum," Ameri said.

Ouch!

Greer tells me not showing up does a "disservice to the public," as live forums give voters an opportunity to hear candidates' views and not "pre-packaged responses."

I called Lowrey several times, but received no response.

I did talk with O'Neill. Let's just say he's not a fan of my column. But personalities aside, he should reconsider coming, because it's really not about liking me, it's about impressing voters.

On the Costa Mesa front, Ellis does have a candidate who will show: Mayor Steve Mensinger, who's up for reelection. He'll join other F2F veterans who've performed well in the past, like Councilwoman Sandy Genis, former Mayor and Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, as well as returning candidates Lee RamosJay Humphrey and John Stephens.

Each season of F2F we change things up a bit. This year former Daily Pilot Publisher Tom Johnson, the man who started my path into journalism, joins me onstage. I'm excited to have him as a co-host. Listeners of his weekly radio show, "Sunday Brunch with Tom and Lynn," know we've been discussing the races on the air.

KOCI 101.5FM is also slated to air the forums live each night.

As I talk to the candidates, I've been asking which issues they'd like to discuss.

In Costa Mesa, Mensinger says solutions are needed to fix the blighted motels and the crime they attract. Costa Mesa must also pay for its unfunded pension liabilities, he urged, and improve infrastructure.

Humphrey suggested discussing the plethora of initiatives on the ballot.

In Newport, the report card of "Team Newport" will be a hot topic, as voters need to decide if they want to expand on this concept with more like-minded candidates or move in another direction.

And high-density development will be discussed each night, as both cities face their challenges with that.

It's going to be a great Feet to the Fire series!

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached atbvontv1@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2016, Daily Pilot

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 Venezia: Searching for the shadow government of Newport Beach

7/29/16

Are you a believer in "cryptocracy"? Shadow governments wielding true executive power? The Illuminati, perhaps?

It all certainly makes for intriguing plot lines, but the concept actually finds its roots in history. The Illuminati secret society was founded in 1776 "to put an end to the machinations of the purveyors of injustice, to control them without dominating them."

Modern-day conspiracy theorists believe factions still exist, pulling strings and masterminding control of world affairs by planting agents in government and corporations.

The belief is so widespread that there's even a new comic book, published in June by Dark Horse Comics, called "Cryptocracy." It's kind of "The X-Files" meets Marvel's A.I.M, or Advanced Idea Mechanics, an organization of scientists dedicated overthrowing governments by technological means.

As a sci-fi comic book fan, I appreciate a good shadow-government conspiracy tale, but it did take me by surprise when I discovered there are some in Newport Beach who truly believe the strings of their city government are being pulled by outside forces.

As a columnist, I give readers an insight not only into the subjects I write about but also my personal experiences with them. Personally, it's been a little weird, with conspiracy theories literally landing at my front door.

Take the letter I received in my mailbox recently from someone dubbed "PRANXIE." It had no return address. The letter contained a drawing depicting a rather ominous-looking puppet master holding the strings of four marionettes labeled "Team Newport."

The caption read, "Dance, My Lovelies, Dance."

The simplistic hand drawing was creepy, as it implied someone is literally pulling the strings of the City Council.

But it didn't stop there. Soon enough, emails from "Whoo Dat" started arriving. I have no idea who that person is. Whoo Dat's emails included tidbits on certain candidates.

Apparently wicked computer skills keep "Whoo Dat" anonymous and a busy investigative beaver. He or she even read a recent column of mine and provided an answer to a question I had posed to city officials that they wouldn't answer.

"Publius," the next Deep Throat-like source to pop up, recently sent me a 17-page document outlining recent behind-the-scenes history of Newport government, from the inception of the concept of a "City Hall in the park" to the building of the Civic Center, from the fire ring and dock tax controversies to the political maneuvering to elect Team Newport. Publius even refers to some of my previous columns.

I've covered many of the issues Publius discusses, and I too have watched as political spin changed the narrative of Newport's government history since 2014. Whoever this person is, he or she is a history buff with a sense of humor.

The pseudonym Publius was used by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay in the Federalist Papers in homage to Publius Valerius Poplicola's role in establishing the Roman Republic.

Newport's Publius certainly holds a bias that recent past councils had it right and that this one, dominated by Team Newport, is off the rails.

But politics is never that cut and dry.

And Publius, like Whoo Dat, isn't a fan of the whole "team" concept.

But the concept of a political slate isn't new, as Team Newport political consultant Dave Ellis and I discussed recently at Skosh Monahan's.

Ellis said he has always packaged clients, and it's a common practice, not only in Newport.

Remember the "Dream Team," dubbed by then-Mayor Ed Selich for his co-council members?

Ellis has run successful campaigns to elect Keith Curry, Leslie Daigle, Mike Henn, Steve Rosansky and others to the council, going way back.

Can you really blame a guy for being good at his job? To his credit, candidates keep hiring Ellis because voters keep buying who he's selling.

All this cloak-and-dagger of anonymous conspiracy theorists is certainly entertaining, but they'd have far more credibility if they too stepped out of the shadows.

And who really is the puppet master of Newport? A consultant? A wealthy donor? A Political Action Committee? All or none of the above?

If there's a puppet master out there pulling the strings of power in Newport, voters put this entity in place, no one else.

--

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached atbvontv1@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2016, Daily Pilot

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Venezia: It's all go on the political scene

It's another busy week on our local political scene.

Congratulations go out to Lynn Hackman-Selich, wife of termed-out Newport Beach Councilman Ed Selich, on her new position chairing the City Arts Commission.

If you've ever listened to the weekly radio show that she co-hosts with Tom Johnson, dubbed "Sunday Brunch with Tom & Lynn," you know she's passionate about how arts enrich a community.

I'm a regular contributor to the show on KOCI/101.5 FM. Last week in the studio was termed-out Costa Mesa Councilman Gary Monahan.

Over the past few months, Monahan has accompanied Costa Mesa council candidates Lee Ramos and Julie Mercurio to the studio for interviews while I was there. But now with former state Assemblyman and Costa Mesa Mayor Allan Mansoor in the November race, I suggested the field of candidates, who are like-minded with Monahan, was too crowded; they could find themselves working against one another. Monahan didn't disagree.

Mayor Steve Mensinger is seeking reelection, and this group is hoping to both replace incumbent Sandy Genis and fill Monahan's seat.

So who should drop out?

The likely person is Mercurio, only because she's the newcomer.

Ramos has been walking precincts since 2014, when he last ran for council, and he's ready to compete.

Mansoor is the wild card. Will voters welcome him back?

Many were supporting him in his bid to keep his Assembly seat in 2014, only to be disappointed when he seemed to chuck it all and run for county supervisor that year against Michelle Steel, who eventually won.

Voters didn't give him the nod there, and he was out of a job. Many of Mansoor's originial supporters abandoned him, and that's why Steel won.

Trust will be the biggest issue he'll have to overcome with constituents, as his opponents will likely paint him as a political climber.

In Newport, council candidate Jeff Herdman filed a lawsuit Friday naming City Clerk Leilani Brown after receiving a letter from Brown the week before. The letter stated that after she consulted with outside counsel, she determined the city charter prevents Herdman from being a council member for one year after he completes his service on the city Civil Service Board.

The opinion meant Herdman can't be seated on the City Council this year.

The suit states, "Defendant refuses to process plaintiff's nominating paper as a candidate for the upcoming city council of Newport Beach election."

In a county where you can't spit without hitting a lawyer, it's easy to find one who will take on your legal viewpoint. With that in mind, I emailed Brown asking how she chose the law firm to get the opinion that Herdman isn't eligible to hold office.

Did she explore several firms? And why couldn't the city attorney give the opinion?

"All of your questions relate to attorney-client privileged information, and I am unable to comment," Brown wrote back.

Her answer raised even more questions in my mind as to who directed her to the law firm she ultimately picked.

Herdman won't go away without a fight. He told Johnson he's planning to be onstage for the Newport Beach council candidates' Feet to the Fire Forum at Orange Coast College on Aug. 17. The next day is the Costa Mesa council candidates forum.

Before then, it is candidate crunch time through Aug. 12, as all candidates must file a declaration of candidacy or a statement of write-in candidacy with elections officials to legally qualify to run for office. The exception is that if an incumbent who is eligible for reelection fails to file a declaration of candidacy by Aug. 12, the filing period is extended to 5 p.m. Aug. 17 for all qualified people other than the incumbent, according to the Orange County registrar of voters' website.

In Newport Beach, Councilman Tony Petros won't be seeking reelection to his District 2 seat, and though it first seemed like Petros was handing the election to newcomer Shelley Henderson, now Brad Avery, a harbor commissioner, has thrown his hat in the ring.

And because of the aforementioned exception, there's still a good chance more candidates could appear right up until Aug. 17.

I talked to political consultant Dave Ellis this week. He too feels that's a possibility.

Ellis confirmed he will be handling the Newport council campaigns of Avery, Lee Lowrey and Will O'Neill, but he wouldn't comment on the Costa Mesa race just yet.

Many will remember that in 2014, Ellis refused to allow his "Team Newport" candidates to participate in Feet to the Fire. They were elected based on campaign mailers.

I'm not convinced residents this time will be so complacent now that they've gotten to know this "team."

Ellis tells me he has yet to talk to his current candidates about this topic, and no decision has been made as to whether this crop will participate in Newport's Feet to the Fire.

He'll keep me posted.

7/22/16

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 Venezia: Ever the class act, I'm going to miss my 'Maid Marian'

7/9/16

It was early morning when the phone rang July 6.

Normally I wouldn't answer at that hour, but I saw it was Evelyn Hart calling.

"I wanted you to hear it from me, not anyone else. Marian passed away this morning," Hart told me.

She was talking about Marian Bergeson.

It was a call I'd been dreading, but knew it would come one day soon. I just didn't expect it that day.

Last March, Bergeson spoke candidly in my column about her battle with pancreatic cancer. I was honored she trusted me to tell her story, but was sad to break the news publicly.

It was a tough interview. We both knew eventually she'd lose the fight, but she wouldn't let me go there.

She joked about her situation and shared her plans for skydiving on her 90th birthday, which she fulfilled last year.

The column celebrated her accomplishments, not the disease.

She wrote me afterward saying she was delighted with it, and noted the fact that folks weren't reacting to her news in a morbid way — which is exactly what she wanted to avoid.

But the past few days I've been having trouble wrapping my head around the fact that Bergeson is gone.

Newport Beach City Manager Dave Kiff, who worked for Bergeson early in his career and remained a lifelong friend, summed it up best.

"I am going to miss her a whole bunch," he said. "I never really thought this day would come."

But it has, and Bergeson leaves an amazing legacy of love and a life well-lived.

It's safe to say she squeezed every ounce out of her 90 years. Bergeson was a mentor to many.

You couldn't help but be inspired by her illustrious career in politics as a school board member, assemblywoman, the first woman in the state Senate, an Orange County supervisor and secretary of education under Gov. Pete Wilson.

She certainly was a trailblazer and, as she pointed out to me several times, she even had her own Wikipedia page.

Bergeson was the epitome of style and grace.

She was whisper of a woman with delicate features. Her hair was always perfectly coiffed and she was stylishly dressed for every occasion.

"Marian loved going out, no matter how tired she was. She just couldn't miss a party. She wore me out," joked longtime friend and bridge partner Sharyn Buffa.

I'd run into Bergeson at functions and often wondered if she ever ran out to the store late at night, messy hair, no makeup, wearing a coat over her coffee-stained pajamas to get milk for the next morning.

Probably not.

Bergeson and I couldn't have been more different, yet Maid Marian, as I dubbed her, was a fan of mine going back to my antics with John Crean on our comedy cooking show "At Home on the Range."

And I was a fan of hers and the fact that she was, at times, "appropriately inappropriate."

She'd weigh in with strong opinions and had an amazing moral compass — something quite rare in today's political breed, which is why I valued her opinions.

She was more than a political figure quoted in my columns. Bergeson challenged me to think out of the box and look at history's lessons in relationship to today's local political arena.

We'd have these in-depth phone conversations on politics, then she'd switch gears and complain I was writing too much about politics and not enough about Stasha the Wonder Dog, my little rescue.

I loved the fact she was a crazy dog person like me.

When Bergeson would email thoughts she'd always sign off "Best to Stasha's family."

She once told me life was all about relationships. It was through building relationships that she was able to cross political aisles and get things done.

In her personal life, once she forged a strong bond with someone, they were friends for life.

Bergeson lived a life to be admired as a wife to her husband Garth, and as a mother, grandmother and friend to many.

And there might be a few things about Bergeson you didn't know, according to Buffa.

She liked to eat dessert first. Her favorite meal was In-N-Out Burger. Her driving abilities were questionable.

"Marian thought she was a good driver, but she was a terrible driver," Buffa joked. "If you rode with her once, you wouldn't do it again."

Buffa lovingly acted as her unofficial chauffeur on occasions.

Bergeson will be missed by many, including me. Though when I first met her I didn't want to like her — and that whole Doris Day vibe she had going on —she managed to burrow into my heart with her warmth, humor and wisdom.

I'm grateful she did and honored to have known her.

Until we meet again, my friend.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached atbvontv1@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2016, Daily Pilot

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Venezia: Newport politicians gone wild

7/8/16

Geez, I take one week off and local politics goes wild!

In Newport, Councilman Tony Petros announced he wouldn't seek a second term.

Team Newport supporter Bob McCaffrey raised eligibility questions about candidate Jeff Herdman.

Someone's spreading rumors that Newport candidate Mike Glenn wants to defund the military.

And in Costa Mesa, former Mayor Allan Mansoor finally declared his expected candidacy to return to council.

Let's start with the Glenn thing, because it's truly bizarre.

Glenn is running for the District 5 seat in Newport, as is Herdman.

According to Glenn, phone surveyors are calling voters claiming he has a "radical agenda" and wants to "defund the U.S. military."

Now, the City Council has no power to defund the military, and Glenn says the statement is simply untrue.

"I've been actively involved in volunteering for veteran events and organizations for years," he tells me.

Glenn questioned some politicians and operatives to see if they were behind the calls. They said they weren't.

And Herdman has McCaffrey nipping at him on the Forum page of the Daily Pilot. In this latest go around, McCaffrey is up at bat hitting Herdman with a complaint alleging that he isn't eligible to run or serve on council.

There's a city rule that says if you serve on the Civil Service Board, which Herdman does, you're not eligible for any salaried employment with the city.

But is the $1,274 council members receive a salary or a stipend?

On July 5, Herdman's political attorney, Mark S. Rosen, sent a letter to Newport City Clerk Leilani Brown stating, "Mr. Herdman's opponents have created a phony argument that Mr. Herdman's service on the Newport Beach Civil Service Board might make him ineligible."

The letter asks the city attorney to issue an affirmative statement that Herdman is indeed OK to run. Over the last couple of years you'd need a score card to keep track of all the mud flying among these guys and Team Newport.

Herdman and his attorney say the dough part-time council members receive is a stipend, not a salary.

Herdman says up until this complaint he had no idea how much the stipend was, or that council members received health benefits.

He says if the health insurance become an issue, he certainly will decline it.

If he declined the stipend, this would all go away as well, but he's ready to fight the notion that it's a "salary."

"When I got  involved in this I was advised by a number of people that there will be attempts to dissuade me and harass me," he says.

Herdman is more determined than ever, and says he's received an outpouring of support.

Ironically, McCaffrey's tactics could actually be helping Herdman.

Go figure: People might actually be standing up against dirty politics in this city.

But Petros apparently has had enough and is calling it quits.

I don't blame him from stepping away from the cesspool we now call Newport politics to choose family and career over this nonsense.

In my book, Petros should've been mayor pro tem last year and mayor this year, yet the political wheeling and dealing of Team Newport and its handlers blocked that.

Talking with Petros Monday, he said the decision not to run wasn't easy.

He called a few people he felt have "a love for this city, like I do," to see if they'd be interested in running for his seat.

Unfortunately, there were no takers.

So how does Petros answer critics claiming he's handing this election to the only remaining candidate so far, Shelly Henderson, a newcomer who calls Councilman Scott Peotter her mentor?

Petros says he won't own that.

"I didn't hand anything to anyone," he says. "I made my decision based on my job and my priorities."

So now what?

July 20 is the filing deadline to enter the race. It's a little late for anyone to move into the district to run at this point, since they'd need to live there for 30 days prior to filing.

Glenn says rumors that he's moving are untrue.

And not to be left out, Costa Mesa politics just got more interesting this week.

Former Assemblyman Allan Mansoor officially declared his candidacy for council in an already-crowded field for three seats. Last March, he hinted to me he was heading in that direction, so I wasn't surprised.

And as council races heat up, so do plans for Feet to the Fire, where I'll quiz the candidates at Orange Coast College.

On Aug. 17, Newport candidates face off, and Aug. 18, it's Costa Mesa's turn.

--

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached atbvontv1@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2016, Daily Pilot


Fake email led to exec getting 'catfished'

6/24/16


Part of my column last week dealt with an email sent to Newport Beach council members, supposedly by resident Steve Pawliczek.

The fake email questioned the suitability of Planning Commission nominee Bill Dunlap based on a commentary he wrote for the Daily Pilot in 2013 opposing gay marriage.

The email raised a valid viewpoint in light of last year's controversy surrounding Councilman Scott Peotter's anti-gay marriage emails.

I corresponded with the writer, as I do with those who send me subjects for columns. Nothing seemed odd — until the column ran, and the real Pawliczek contacted me.

Apparently he'd been "catfished," a form of identity theft where someone impersonates a victim by setting up false social media profiles and email addresses.

It's quite devious, and unfortunately there's little you can do to protect yourself. In Pawliczek's case, his email address was changed only slightly.

Catfishing is a common problem on dating sites, it takes a peculiarly strange twist here considering we're talking about a potential Planning Commission appointee.

The real Pawliczek, a finance executive, was quite unnerved that someone was spouting opinions in his name, and so was I.

¿His attorney sent a letter to the council setting the record straight and disavowing the email. Pawliczek has no idea who would impersonate him and ¿has alerted law enforcement to the identity theft. He's also contacted Dunlap to explain the incident.

Dunlap wasn't happy about my column — even before he found out about the impersonation — and penned his own comments in a letter to the editor.

He also took exception to my column, saying, "You framed me to be homophobic, and I'm not." Dunlap says my quoting his op-ed piece from 2013 was unfair, and "out of context."

Dunlap says as far as gay marriage goes, the "law is the law" and he respects that, regardless of his personal beliefs.

We had a pleasant chat, but let's just say our views on civil rights and the LGBT community will probably never align, and that's fine.

Quite frankly, it's a stretch to say that his personal beliefs, whatever they may be, would come into play with Planning Commission decisions anyway.

Dunlap told me this week he's spoken to most of the council, with the exception of Ed Selich and Keith Curry, about the email's contents.

Dunlap's now concerned that he's been put in a difficult position. He feels he needs to "rebuild his character" as he goes through the nomination review process.

"You would hope that a Planning Commission process would not go political," he told me.

Maybe in a perfect world, but this is Newport Beach we're talking about.

With so many development projects being heatedly debated recently — especially in the Fashion Island area — to think planning appointments wouldn't have political blowback is a bit naive.

No doubt Newport politics has hit a disturbing new low with this catfish episode.

Incidents like this discourage good people from participating in city government, and that's unfortunate.

I asked Curry to weigh in since at the last council meeting he felt more names should be added to the appointment list.

"I think it is abhorrent that a person would use someone else's email account to engage in political advocacy," he said.

Curry says it's not uncommon for council members to receive dozens of emails in support and in opposition to commission nominees.

"The integrity of the political process depends on confidence that the senders are who they say they are," he said.

How can officials trust what they receive moving forward in light of this incident?

The reality is, they can't.

Curry tells me Dunlap is "Team Newport's pick" for one of two open planning seats and is being championed by Peotter.

Curry feels other equally qualified applicants should be considered. He intends to bring up those names at the June 28 meeting, kind of a write–in vote, so to speak.

One name on Curry's list surprised me: Tim Stoaks.

Stoaks is an architect and building project manager. No doubt he's qualified, but he's been turned down for this position six or seven times now..

Is it because he's politically active in community groups?

Stoaks doesn't think so.

"It's because I'm friends with you, Barbara," he jokes.

Ouch!

But Curry's never voted to appoint Stoaks before. Why now?

Is it because he's not beholden to political agendas his last year in office?

Or is he making amends?

Curry's certainly become this council's wild card.

Note: I'll be on vacation next week. My column returns July 8.

--

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached atbvontv1@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2016, Daily Pilot


'To Tell the Truth' is a far from a drag

6/11/16

How do you know when someone is telling the truth?

That's a dilemma I grapple with every time I interview a local politician.

Kidding aside, only those truly committed to their lies can fool us.

I witnessed this in a fun and firsthand way at the taping of the newest version of "To Tell the Truth," which premieres with 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. shows June 14 on ABC.

As a kid I was a fan of the original, 1956-68, on CBS hosted by Bud Collyer with panelists Tom Poston, Peggy Cass, Orson Bean and Kitty Carlisle.

And here's an interesting bit of TV trivia. The show was originally called "Nothing but the Truth." The title changed the day before it premiered in 1956.

Over the decades there have been several revivals: 1969-78, 1980-81, 1990-91 and 2000-01.

Now it's back, and I was at the taping last summer, but was sworn to secrecy.

Until now!

The show features a panel of four celebrity judges questioning three contestants who try to determine who is actually telling the truth about their unique profession. Depending on how proficient the other two contestants are at lying, unveiling the truth isn't that easy.

This new version is hosted by comedian Anthony Anderson. Panelists include Golden GirlBetty White (who appeared in the 1990s version), actress NeNe Leakes and NBA star Jalen Rose. There is a special guest — Tracee Ellis Ross, Iliza Shlesinger, Mike Tyson, Brooks Wheelan, Yvette Nicole Brown and Daymond Johns are among them — on each episode.

So how did I wind up behind the scenes at CBS studios in L.A. last summer?

My favorite drag queen, Tupperware Lady, was a contestant.

Kevin Farrell's alter ego, Dee W Ieye, has been one of the top sellers of Tupperware in North America for years. Farrell is a modern day "Tootsie."

His book, "Confessions of a Drag Queen Tupperware Lady," launched at the LA Times Festival of Books in 2014, outlined how he created the character of Dee to sell Tupperware.

So there we were, wig and wardrobe in hand, arriving early morning at CBS and excited to be ushered into a large room with mirrors, rolling racks and a lounge area complete with snacks.

We met our producer, Ed Arriens, a delightful young man with an engaging British accent who seemed at home with the hustle and bustle as contestants for the day settled in this area.

We met Dee's fellow contestants, Willam Belli, a.k.a. "Willam," who appeared on RuPaul's Drag Race in season four — and a female model who producers decided to dress like a man, dressing like a woman in drag.

Yeah, I was confused about this too.

Willam embodied the epitome of drag attitude and looked fabulously put-together at this early morning hour.

As rehearsals started for Dee's segment, Arriens suggested I put on a wig and sit in for the model they had originally slated.

Being a good sport, I found myself with Dee, Willam and big hair facing a panel of producers firing off questions about Tupperware.

It wasn't my finest moment. I was relieved when producers decided the original model was a better fit here!

Later in the day taping began. A live audience filled the studio.

Host Anderson's mom, Doris, held a ringside seat and became part of the show, asking questions of contestants, keeping score — and her son in line.

She was a hoot, and meeting her outside the studio later was delightful.

I was a bit starstruck seeing the iconic White in person. Her wit and humor was as sharp as ever.

The celebrity panelists rattled off questions, trying to figure out who was the real Tupperware Drag Queen.

Dee was as perky as ever, and Willam had a "Valley of the Dolls" vibe going on, which added to the humor.

I won't tell you whether the celebs picked Dee as the real Tupperware Lady. You'll just have to watch the show. But after the segment, producers had another idea for Farrell.

Without makeup, they decided to include him in a segment where panelists had to determine who among three other male panelists was the real-life person.

Again, I won't give the outcome away, but will say the audience and panelists were shocked when it was revealed Farrell was actually their Tupperware Drag Queen contestant, sans makeup.

There were many other interesting segments, and it wasn't easy trying to figure out who was actually telling the truth as I watched from the sidelines.

"To Tell the Truth" is great summer TV fun. Set your DVR!

--

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached atbvontv1@gmail.com.

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No one will say who paid for poll


6/3/16

With  all eyes on the 2016 California primary June 6, it was odd to receive polling results regarding a "hypothetical" congressional race for 2018.

But that's what showed up in my inbox.

According to the email, the poll completed May 5 was conducted by Lewis Consulting Group. The president of LCG is former Assemblyman and California state Sen. John Lewis.

"Three hundred likely June 2018 voters" were surveyed about a "hypothetical match-up" for the 48th Congressional District among Republican and current U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (Costa Mesa), former O.C. Republican Party Chairman Scott Baugh and Democrat Sue Savary.

Savary and Rohrabacher are facing off in the 2016 election, so wouldn't it make more sense to poll this year's race?

Probably, but this is O.C. politics we're talking about, where hidden agendas and even stranger "friendships" abound.

From the get-go I had questions about this poll. Particularly when it stated "a number of questions were asked in the survey," yet only a few were included in the email. So I had no idea what questions framed this survey.

The poll stated, " Rohrabacher has little to fear from Baugh," as it showed poll numbers in a hypothetical election with Rohrabacher receiving 52%, Savary, 22%, and Baugh, 6%.

But the poll gave no indication whether this question was asked of Republicans or Democrats.

The survey also dealt with name recognition. Among Republicans, Rohrabacher scored 52% to Baugh's 13%.

Ten percent of those polled hadn't heard of Rohrabacher, and 53% apparently didn't know Baugh, which is strange since he was party chairman.

As I looked at the other questions it became clear to me the survey was slanted in Rohrabacher's favor.

Was it meant to slam Baugh, as it attempted to "gauge the electorates' evaluation of possible potential trouble spots" for him?

It states Baugh was a former lobbyist with a "no bid lobby contract with the county," a statement Baugh tells me is just plain false.

"The bottom line is that at no time was I involved in a no-bid contract," he said. "Moreover, I have not received any compensation directly or indirectly from the County of Orange since I stopped lobbying for the County in Sacramento approximately 10 years ago."

I called Lewis, asking why he focused on a hypothetical race, rather than a real one taking place in 2016?

Lewis said it was "topical," and there had been "press speculation."

In February I wrote about Baugh pulling papers to run in 2016, if Rohrabacher didn't seek re-election. The OC Register did too.

Controversy arose, as Baugh continued to raise money, about $500,000 for a 2018 bid, even though Rohrabacher decided to run this year.

Baugh defends fundraising, saying Rohrabacher was clear in telling him he wasn't planning to seek re-election in 2018 and even encouraged him to start fundraising this year.

Jon Fleischman, a long-time friend of Baugh, Rohrabacher and OC Supervisor Michele Steel and her husband Shawn, confirmed this conversation on his blog, the Flash Report, in April.

Fleischman reported that if Steel runs for Congress in 2018, Rohrabacher will most likely endorse her, rather than Baugh.

Polling isn't cheap. A poll of this nature could cost thousands.

So who would spend this kind of dough on something so speculative?

Lewis wouldn't say, but admitted the poll hadn't garnered much interest, except from me.

Baugh takes exception, saying, "Lewis is not a pollster; he's a county lobbyist who relies on votes" from OC supervisors for his livelihood.

Baugh tells me it's "standard operating procedure for a political smear to create a false narrative and then promote that false narrative through a surrogate," which is what he feels is the purpose of this poll.

"Nobody is fooled by what's going on here, and frankly the voters are sick of these insider games," he said. "The culprits behind this dirty poll and the lies in it should crawl out from under their rock."

So who could be under the rock?

It's too hard to tell, but one thing we do know is there is interest in some key Orange County political seats.

So let's play hypothetical political musical chairs for a moment, since Lewis opened that door.

If Steel goes for Rohrabacher's seat, will the congressman then go for supervisor or just retire after 30 years?

As a congressman, he makes about $175,000 annually, not counting the perks of travel, etc.

His wife, Rhonda, works for him and takes in about $60,000 per year. So they could pull in about $250,000.

If Rohrabacher retires, he'd make about half that, but if he took retirement and a 5th District supervisor's salary, which Ballotpedia.org rates at about $163,000, including benefits, he's got it made.

It's all a bit politically incestuous for my taste, but hey, these folks all claim to be long-time "friends," but with friends like these, who needs enemies?

--

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached atbvontv1@gmail.com. Listen to her weekly radio segment on "Sunday Brunch with Tom and Lynn" from 11 a.m. to noon on KOCI/101.5 FM

Copyright © 2016, Daily Pilot
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Venezia: Tom Johnson is ready to walk through the `Fire'

5/26/15

Keeping it local is what I'm all about, so I always enjoy chatting it up with Tom Johnson and Lynn Selich on their weekly Sunday radio show, "Brunch with Tom and Lynn," from 11 a.m. to noon on KOCI-FM.

If you haven't tuned in online, or with a radio, Johnson and Selich chat with community leaders, promote local happenings and, of course, talk politics.

On the show last weekend, I invited Johnson to once again be my co-host for the first set of upcoming Feet to the Fire Forums, Aug. 17-18 in the Robert B. Moore Theater at Orange Coast College.

I'm happy to report Johnson didn't hesitate jumping on board the F2F train with me again!

Since 2010, Feet to the Fire's political talk show format has informed and brought out the best — and sometimes the worst — in candidates and issues facing voters each election cycle.

This year, we'll change things up a bit with only me and Johnson interviewing candidates running for Newport and Costa Mesa council seats in August.

September Feet to the Fire returns to OCC with forums related to countywide issues, not candidates. On stage as my co-host will be my pal Norberto Santa Jr., publisher ofVoiceofOC.org.

So we've changed things up a bit for 2016, as we continue to reinvent this format bringing voters an unfiltered look at the local political scene.

*

Book signing with Walt Hackman

Also on the radio show last week I promised Selich I'd give a shoutout to her dad's new book and launch parties.

"No Problem Mr. Walt: A Memoir of Loss, Building a Boat, Rebuilding a Life, & Discovering China,"

 was written by Walt Hackman.

He'll be signing books from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. June 2 at 101 N. Bayside Drive and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 4 at the Balboa Yacht Club Wooden Boat Show.

*

Watt still lights up SPON

And in other news, I attended the 42nd annual Still Protecting Our Newport (SPON) meeting May 21 at the Environmental Nature Center.

For those unfamiliar with SPON, the nonprofit organization has a rich and interesting history. It was started in 1974 after a torrential rainstorm filled Newport Bay with "every variety of unsavory clutter. Claudia Hirsch and Jean Watt, noticing the huge proliferation of debris, used this as a catalyst issue whose time had come: protect and preserve Newport Beach's unique environment," according to SPON's website.

This opened the door for much-needed "environmental awareness of Newport Bay," and other issues followed, such as the expansion of John Wayne Airport, intensity of planned development, traffic, loss of open space and the protection of the "resources that make our city a unique environment."

The John Wayne Airport citizens watchdog group AirFair, and two key limited growth campaigns, Greenlight and No on Measure Y, grew out of SPON, as did the newer political action committee Line in the Sand.

In every culture throughout history there have been women who initiate change for their time; folklore calls them "warrior princesses."

In my book, Watt embodies these qualities, as she certainly has been a warrior in protecting Newport's environmental health.

Though she chuckles at the compliment, there's nothing funny about her commitment to preserving the quality of life in her town.

And after 42 years, one could make the argument SPON and Watt are more important than ever to this town in light of the controversy over high-density development now being proposed, especially in the Fashion Island area.

Looking around the room last Saturday, as the 50 to 60 folks mingled and enjoyed tasty goodies before the meeting, what impressed me most was the amount of institutional knowledge about the city these folks carried in their heads, having lived through decades of Newport politics.

It's this lack of this knowledge, held by the majority of Team Newport council members, which seemed to concern most of the folks with whom I spoke.

With group members such as these paying attention to local politics and influencing their neighbors with their grassroots efforts, one would think the SPON annual meeting would be a fertile ground to farm votes for anyone seeking a council seat this season.

Yet the only candidate in sight was City Council hopeful Mike Glenn. Though all current council members were invited, only Councilman Keith Curry and his wife, Pam, attended.

At the meeting, Line in the Sand members announced they have been meeting with potential Newport council candidates.

I'd love to be a fly on the wall in some of those meetings, as these seasoned residents make their way through candidates' political spin.

Will they buy what these folks are selling?

Stay tuned, because in the coming weeks Line in the Sand will post the results of those meetings on its website for voters to review.

This should be interesting!

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached atbvontv1@gmail.com. Listen to her weekly radio segment on "Sunday Brunch with Tom and Lynn" from 11 a.m. to noon on KOCI/101.5 FM.

Copyright © 2016, Daily Pilot
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From golf course spin to election's 'silly season'

5/20/16

I'm amazed at the misinformation floating around these days. It's a combination of lack of institutional knowledge and election-season spin.

My head was spinning reading the latest about the Newport Beach Golf Course.

Now, I actually like what developer Buck Johns presented to the O.C. Board of Supervisors in December to get approval for taking over the current lease. And as long as the county does its due diligence, all should be fine.

Johns is making improvements to the property, and the county should grant him a 50-year lease extension based on those merits, not "spin" like the course could become an overflow parking lot — or if it weren't there, the runway would expand.

Let's face it; the golf course is in a crash zone. The last thing the Federal Aviation Administration, or the county, wants there is an overflow car lot.

In reality, this idea was nothing more than political spin a few years ago — and it is again now.

An emergency landing requires open space. Vehicles filled with gasoline in the potential path isn't ideal.

And what Newport Mayor Diane Dixon wrote in support of Johns getting a longer lease, "The golf course is an important amenity for the region, as well as providing an important buffer against efforts that would expand existing runways at John Wayne Airport," doesn't hold water either.

The 2006 Spheres agreement between the county and Newport clearly states that couldn't happen without Newport approval, but in reality the FAA has the ultimate say-so here.

Maybe years ago, expansion of the runway was a possibility. Today, too much has grown up around the airport making runway expansion simply not an option, and everyone knows that.

*

City Hall refinancing issue

Speaking of Dixon, reading her Daily Pilot op-ed, (co-written by Will O'Neill, member of Newport's Finance Committee and a city council candidate), where she proposes examining refinancing the Civic Center's debt, really made my head twirl.

In 2015 Feldman Rolap & Associates presented its independent analysis of early redemption of the city's 2010B Build America Bonds to the council.

Feldman Rolap isn't some fly-by-night firm. Since 1996 its "provided independent financial advice and services to all levels of government and nonprofits regarding intricate financing and investment activities," according to its website.

Councilman Keith Curry stands by Feldman Rolap's report saying "It would cost the city $21 million more to defease or refund the existing debt. "

The report went into detail as to why the city didn't issue callable bonds, and that the annual debt service would have been $719,000 higher.

Curry says with a 10-year call date that "would have been a minimum of $7,190,000 or a maximum of $21.6 million more."

As you can imagine, Curry's not happy with what the mayor's proposing and reminded me he "raised holy hell" about this when Councilman Scott Peotter proposed it awhile back.

Curry calls the idea "financially illiterate," and adds Feldman Rolap would be "debarred from the industry for violating the fiduciary duty rule of Dodd-Frank if they had recommended an out of the money refunding."

The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, to which Curry refers, is a series of financial reforms, regulations and protections adopted by Congress at the end of the Great Recession.

And, Curry adds, "$21 million is real money being put at risk for politics."

Whether you dislike Curry or his politics, one thing the guy knows is finance.

He retired as a managing director of Public Financial Management after a 24-year career as a financial advisor to state and local governments, served as president of the National Assn. of Independent Public Finance Advisors and testified before Congress on issues of financial reform and public agency protections.

More important, we're well past the debate of whether the city overspent on the Civic Center, though political operatives would like to keep the narrative going.

This project's been discussed and debated ad-nauseam since the idea of a new city hall in 2006, and for years afterward, as it morphed into the Civic Center it is today.

This thing didn't just materialize overnight; there were countless public meetings about every aspect of this project.

But Dixon didn't live here then, which accounts for her lack of institutional knowledge.

Getting down to the nitty gritty, what's this reexamination of the debt really about?

As I see it, it's all about political spin, nothing more.

Political consultants create issues — even when none exist — hoping the perceived perception they've created becomes voters' reality with their candidate as the solution.

Political insiders jokingly refer to election time as the "silly season."

But are we now going beyond "silly" and entering the dangerous realm of just plain stupid?

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached atbvontv1@gmail.com.

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Will two Newport Center projects pit developer against developer?

Barbara Venezia

5/13/16

There's lots of talk in both Newport Beach and Costa Mesa about new development.

The balancing act of growing high-density housing alongside residents already burdened by traffic and water conservation is at issue.

When residents feel local electeds aren't listening, they take their case directly to voters via ballot initiatives.

It's happening in Costa Mesa, but will it happen in Newport too?

Finding its roots within the group Still Protecting Our Newport (SPON), its founder, Jean Watt, explained the relevance of her group's new political action committee, Line in the Sand.

"It's a double meaning," she says. "It's a line of people from all over the city that come together over issues that affect the city, like growth. And we want to hold the line that we established over time in the general plan, like height density, land uses and traffic as well."

SPON and Watt are a proven force to be reckoned with, and have a strong ground game in place.

In 2014 they successfully squashed the city's Measure Y proposal that would've updated the general plan to allow for more development.

Newport residents have historically been ahead of their counterparts in Costa Mesa as far as limiting development via initiatives.

Newport approved Greenlight in 2000, which basically says anything containing more than 100 residential units, or 40,000 square feet of commercial or retail space, triggers a vote of the people. It also has a car trip threshold as well.

But as Watt points out, developers have found ways around Greenlight by spot-zoning smaller projects that won't trigger any of Greenlight's caveats.

One such project is proposed by Newport Center Anacapa Associates LLC. It's a Newport real estate development firm made up of Ron Soderling, Michael Lutton and Tod Ridgeway.

Proposed in 2014, this project could replace the car wash at 150 Newport Center Drive in Fashion Island with a seven-story, 49-unit luxury residential development.

But the controversy widens now, as there are only 100 units in play for Newport Center before triggering Greenlight.

With Ridgeway's project proposing to take up 49 of the 100 — and the Museum House project wanting to have 25 stories and 100 condominiums, also in Newport Beach at 850 San Clemente Drive — will we see developer eating developer?

Ridgeway tells me that because his project, dubbed 150 Newport Center, was proposed first, it should have precedent and Museum House should revamp its numbers.

"If we were to get the 49 approved, then they can go for 61," he says. "Or they can apply for the 100, which would require a public vote."

Critics say Ridgeway's project would obstruct Spyglass Hill residents' views.

Ridgeway explained the second draft environmental impact report of his project was delivered to the city last week. It will circulate for 45 days, and he insists there are no view impairments because of it.

And says his project reduces traffic by 75% and water usage by 2,000 gallons per day compared to the car wash.

"We are creating no environmental impact," he stated.

Ridgeway admits both his project and the Museum House have merit.

And points to him for addressing the rising housing demand as folks downsize from larger homes to smaller residences closer to shopping, entertainment, restaurants and medical facilities, all of which Newport Center offers.

Ridgeway estimates his condos and townhomes would generate $2 million in property tax revenue and says the $4.6 million unrestricted development agreement benefits the city.

Soderling defends the project too, saying the building design is a "work of art" and could be the "crowning glory" of his 50 years in development.

Summing up his thoughts with a quotation from Winston Churchill, "We shape a building, and after it's built, the building shapes us," Soderling sees development in Newport as inevitable and this project as benefiting residents.

The "shape" of Newport is destined to change, but what impact could SPON's Line in the Sand have here?

Ridgeway and Soderling have hired land-use lawyer Dennis O'Neil, a former Newport mayor and city attorney, to advocate for them with the City Council. Costa Mesa-based public relations firm Idea Hall is helping sell this concept to the public.

Ridgeway didn't seem overly concerned about the opposition.

He admits they "certainly have strength," but if they want to "go full battle" on this, he's confident he'll be able to bring the project to fruition.

"We have stood our ground on what we feel is a great property in Newport Center," he says. "If we get approved, the background noise is coming from Line in the Sand and SPON."

--#################################################

Venezia: Let's pray away the anti-gay rhetoric


05/04/16

When was the last time you paid attention to goings-on at the Orange County Board of Education?

Maybe now is the time.

At the next board meeting at 10 a.m. Wednesday, the question will be addressed of whether it's appropriate for an elected trustee to ask a Department of Education employee about the person's sexual orientation at a public board meeting, or to refer to gay people as "Sodomites."

Second District Trustee David Boyd brought the issue to light in an April 25 news release regarding Trustee Robert Hammond, who represents District 1.

Boyd is asking for a briefing by legal counsel on what constitutes a hostile work environment, as well as an investigation into Hammond's conduct.

At issue are two emails Hammond sent.

On April 3, 2014, Hammond wrote to an employee saying, "I hope you don't mind, but I plan on asking you about your sexual orientation publicly during our next board meeting."

And on June 22, 2015, in an exchange with fellow Trustee Ken L. Williams of District 3, Hammond closed an email with a postscript: ``The U.S. Supreme court rules 5-4 that Sodomites can now be married!"

Boyd is requesting that the superintendent begin an investigation to determine the scope of the problem, as the "Constitution of the United States guarantees a right of privacy to all citizens, and various statutes provide even greater protections to employees."

Though no lawsuits alleging a hostile workplace environment have been filed related to Hammond's conduct, Boyd feels the "board and the department need to get ahead of this problem before it becomes a liability."

Laura Kanter, director of policy, advocacy and youth programs for the LGBT Center OC in Santa Ana, called Hammond's behavior "reprehensible" and "wildly inappropriate and an outrageous violation of their right to privacy."

She says his actions have an impact on Department of Education employees, students and the entire community.

Hammond's tone, she says, alienates multiple groups, not only the LGBT community, and undermines "the efficacy of the county Board of Education."

Boyd tells me he's "frustrated and disappointed," saying he had no recourse other than to speak out and let legal counsel take it from there.

It's undetermined whether the lawyers will allow the issue to be discussed in an open or closed session next week.

"It's in their hands," Boyd said.

Hammond, elected in 2012, is up for reelection this year.

This is not his first go-around with controversy — or with Boyd.

At one of Hammond's first board meetings in 2012, he got into it with former Trustee Liz Parker after she scolded him publicly for using a cellphone in a meeting.

Parker later claimed that Hammond sent her a threatening email, and Boyd stuck up for her.

In 2014, I wrote about the contentious elections here and the struggle between religious-right conservative candidates and moderate ones, both factions vying for board control.

Boyd won reelection in 2014 over ultra-conservative opponent Tom Pollitt, whom Hammond and Williams supported.

Pollitt, chief of the Newport-Mesa Tea Party, is currently running for O.C. Republican Party Central Committee District 74 and was an outspoken supporter of Newport Beach Councilman Scott Peotter when he touted his controversial views against gay marriage last June.

There's no disputing that what Hammond wrote is inappropriate, but the fact that he felt comfortable choosing his words as he did speaks to a bigger issue.

I wanted to address this with him, and what I believe is a troubling anti-gay culture bubbling below the surface of this organization, but he didn't respond to my phone call or email.

My initial concern surfaced in 2011, when Williams challenged a column I'd written for the Orange County Register praising National Coming Out Day, suggesting, "A more fair and balanced column would mention the opposing available organizations and treatments on this issue."

He suggested I call Joe Dallas of Joe Dallas Ministry and Genesis Counseling in Tustin, which advocates, as Williams does, for reparative therapy, a belief that prayer can "cure" homosexuality.

Pray away the gay?

Dallas didn't want to speak to me.

It's important to note that the American Psychological Assn. doesn't consider being gay a psychiatric disorder.

And California, Washington, D.C., Oregon, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Vermont and the District of Columbia prohibit subjecting LGBT minors to harmful conversion therapy practices that attempt to change their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The O.C. Board of Education, based in Costa Mesa, oversees about 500,000 kids in the public school system. The population certainly includes LGBT students, though there aren't statics to show exactly how many.

Maybe instead of praying away the gay, voters in this election should pray away bigotry on the county Board of Education.

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

 The Curry-Team Newport battle heats up

4/29/16

"The Lady doth protest too much, methinks," is a classic line from "Hamlet."

The quote describes a situation in which a person vehemently tries to convince others of something, but the opposite is true.

So is the "lady" in this case Newport Beach Mayor Diane Dixon and her "Team Newport" cohorts, Councilmen Scott Peotter and Marshall Duffield?

Are they protesting too much about Councilman Keith Curry's efforts for campaign finance reform?

They certainly are doing everything they can to discredit him. At the last council meeting Team Newport tossed him off as chairman of the city's Finance Committee, although he remains a committee member.

Afterwards I asked Curry about it.

He said Dixon was "exercising political retribution because she did not like to see her political fundraising discussed in the press."

And he reiterated his concerns about the direction the Finance Committee is heading in speculating on the stock market with city money.

"This is exactly the strategy used by Fairfield, Conn., when they lost $40 million withBernie Madoff," he said. "It is one of a series of bad proposals coming from Peotter and Dixon that have the potential of costing the taxpayers millions."

Curry tells me he will continue to speak up "against this kind of reckless financial risk. "

I urge readers to watch the last meeting — on the city's webpage at bit.ly/237d4S2 — where Dixon and Curry really get into it.

In June county voters will have the opportunity to amend the county charter to create a nonpartisan, nonpolitical Ethics Commission, Measure A.

The intent of the commission is to enforce county ethics laws: the County Campaign Reform Ordinance (TINCUP); the Gift Ban Ordinance; the Lobbyist Registration and Reporting Ordinance.

Measure A would also let cities contract with the commission rather than creating one of their own, something Curry suggested unsuccessfully in Newport.

Like Measure A, Curry proposed lobbyists and their clients register with the city as they do on a state, county and federal level, along with campaign finance reform.

Well, it didn't take a crystal ball to predict Curry's ideas wouldn't go over well with Team Newport.

Dixon originally proposed creating a citizens working group to study the issue. At the time I wrote that I felt it was just a stall tactic so Dixon's supporters and political consultants could figure out how to play their next move.

Apparently they did, as was evident to me at least in her April 14 Daily Pilot commentary.

Not only did she question the validity of Curry's proposed campaign finance reform, saying it smacked of "electioneering and score-settling," but also questioned if, in fact, the issue was even a problem.

"Curry sees a problem that needs to be addressed," she wrote. "Others, notably a majority on the council, are not so sure."

I guess Dixon and her team haven't been paying any attention to TINCUP author Shirley Grindle's efforts for the last 38 years countywide on campaign finance reform, or to the current Measure A proposal.

And talk of campaign finance reform has dominated the presidential candidates' rhetoric nationally on both sides of the aisle.

Guess they missed that too.

Thank goodness Newport resides in an alternate universe, where this isn't an issue.

Kidding aside, Curry won't let this die and came out swinging, defending his position in an op-ed.

Team Newport hit back.

On April 19 Curry was the subject of one of Peotter's infamous email blasts to his supporters.

"CAMPAIGN REFORM = GOVERNMENT CONTROLLED SPEECH," he wrote, " After Curry has raised his money, he tries to shut down everyone else under the guise of campaign reform."

Peotter states that "Curry's reforms are really a thinly veiled attempt at stopping free speech. He makes it sound like money equals dirty politics. Reality is that money allows a candidate to get his message out."

And, he said, "campaign restrictions usually benefit incumbents and self-funders."

What he doesn't mention is that Dixon's already started fundraising for her 2018 election.

Then, April 22, Duffield jumped in the fray writing a letter to the editor regarding Curry's commentary.

Curry's piece mentioned some of Dixon's campaign supporters, paring them with decisions on council, which didn't sit well with Duffield.

He stuck up for Dixon, calling Curry's attacks on her "reprehensible" and "unprovoked."

"He has done all he can to accuse our mayor of corruption — an absolutely baseless charge," wrote Duffield.

Fighting words from a guy who hasn't said much since being elected to council in 2014, but obviously a team player.

Now it's important to point out, as this war of words continues, that Curry's no angel here either.

During his term in office I've questioned his allegiances to his campaign contributors — as I have pretty much every council member over the years.

But now Curry's termed out. He has nothing to lose by exposing those same loopholes in campaign fundraising from which he benefited.

So why not listen to the guy who probably knows better than anyone else where reform is needed?

Though the mayor and her team would like us to believe there isn't a problem, obviously there is, and watching the last council meeting amplifies the fact that tensions will continue to run high.

Curry won't go away quietly, and more fireworks will certainly be on hand as egos and power struggles mount in this city.

--

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached atbvontv1@gmail.com.

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Trump to Moorlach aide: You're hired

4/21/16

Which key member of state Sen. John Moorlach's staff has said adios to the senator's office and jumped on board a presidential campaign?

And can we really watch a building move at the O.C. Fairgrounds this Monday?

I've got the scoop on these stories, as well as an update on the Newport Beach Golf Course.

Moorlach's April 13 email blast included news that his chief of staff, Tim Clark, was leaving to work as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's California state director.

Clark sent an email to Moorlach April 10 informing him he'd been given this opportunity.

"By Monday morning, less than 24 hours later, Tim Clark had decided to do something that was on his bucket list, consult with a presidential campaign," Moorlach wrote. "The possibility of working in such a setting usually does not occur in the state of California. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So, he accepted the offer. He did so with my strong reservations."

Reading the rest of Moorlach's email, it's evident he's not on the Trump train, so to speak, and would have preferred Clark align himself with one of the two other Republican candidates.

But Moorlach says Clark has a good track record as a GOP strategist and has worked for candidates statewide in primaries. He calls him, "one of the best."

"With the retention of Tim Clark, I would fancy that Trump now has a much better chance of garnering the necessary California delegates that he needs to secure the nomination," wrote Moorlach.

Moorlach has yet to decide who he'll support for president, but says he hopes to by the conclusion of the California Republican Convention at the end of April.

And in other Moorlach news, business owners around the state who have been subjected to attorneys bringing frivolous Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuits against them, could see an end to this practice with Moorlach's proposed Senate Bill 1142.

The bill will be heard April 26 in the Senate Judiciary Committee and will address these predatory lawsuit abuses, where attorneys target a business with even the slightest ADA violation and then basically shake it down for money.

Moorlach's bill proposes allowing businesses 120 days to cure violations before any civil action can be filed.

The senator feels this would weed out "serial attorneys and plaintiffs, who are only bringing these claims for a quick payout," he told the Mercury News. "There is no point to these standards if a business is sued out of existence, if it could not abide by them."

*

Memorial Gardens on the move

If you're around at 8:45 a.m. Monday you can watch history in the making at the O.C. Fairgrounds, as it moves the building formerly known as Memorial Gardens to a new location on the property.

Memorial Gardens is being repurposed to house the new Heroes Hall Veteran's museum slated to open Veterans Day 2016.

"Similar equipment that was used to move space shuttle Endeavor will be utilized to move the building, which is currently in a de-constructed state and is awaiting a massive makeover," according to the press release.

Sen. Janet Nguyen, who serves on the Governor's Military Council, will address the public at the beginning of the program. Residents are invited.

No seating will be provided, but you can bring your own chair. Enter Gate 1 off Fair Drive and follow signs for parking.

And, of course, full disclosure: My husband serves on the Fair Board and I was recently elected to serve on the Heroes Hall Foundation board and am a member of the Super Heroes Guild

*

A birdie on the golf course

Last but not least, I followed up on my recent story regarding the Newport Beach Golf Course and the status of the 50-year lease now being proposed to the county by businessman Buck Johns.

Jean Pasco, the public information manager at the Hall of Administration, confirmed "the county, through John Wayne Airport, has been asked to consider extending this lease agreement for the county parcel that comprises about half of the Newport Beach Golf Club. Airport staff is in the process of conducting an appraisal to determine the value of the property."

Based on the appraisal, she said, airport staff will consider recommending whether to extend the lease with a new duration and new terms, and will bring that recommendation to the board. There's no timetable yet to bring this matter before the Board of Supervisors.

Could this new lease extension ask trigger the county to put this out to bid?

It's certainly a possibility.

Pasco explained the maximum term for a lease on county property by law is 99 years (50 years within Dana Point Harbor), but there's no legal requirement to put expired leases out for bid, though the county has done so.

"The county also routinely negotiates extensions with existing tenants in an effort to get the highest and best value for the County," said Pasco.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached atbvontv1@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2016, Daily Pilot
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Shelley Henderson wants to join Team Newport

4/15/16

I finally spoke with Newport Beach City Council candidate Shelley Henderson, who plans to run against incumbent Councilman Tony Petros.

Last week I reported what little I could find on social media about Henderson.

Our conversation this week was interesting, but I didn't get a sense of where Henderson stands on the issues, meaning she wouldn't talk about any, saying there would be plenty of time in the coming months to discuss them.

She was willing to talk about her background.

Born in Philadelphia, her family moved to L.A. when she was 11.

She's been in O.C. since 2012, and renting in Newport since 2014.

She expects to graduate in May from Trinity Law School in Santa Ana, focusing on constitutional law. She chose Trinity because it's faith-based.

Henderson calls Newport Councilman Scott Peotter her "mentor" and looks forward to joining Team Newport, if elected.

She met Peotter in 2015 at a Unite OC Candidate Bootcamp — a training program supported by the Newport/Mesa Tea Party and the OCGOP in Stanton.

She doesn't feel her short time living in Newport is a campaign issue.

"If you haven't lived here all your life that doesn't mean you don't add value to the conversation and offer a new perspective," she says.

Henderson is challenging Petros, who has lived in O.C. all his life, mainly because last time, "Tony ran unopposed."

"The system works well when you have a debate and different perspectives," she says.

Does she take exception to Petros' policymaking on council?

She says no, adding that she's never met or spoken to him.

"I don't have anything negative to say about him," she says.

Why does her candidate intention statement not list her address? She lists the address for Political Reporting Plus in Inglewood.

Henderson says she didn't fill out the form. Representatives from Political Reporting Plus, her campaign treasurers, did.

Though candidates usually list their residence, it's not required, according to Newport City Clerk Leilani I. Brown.

Henderson will have to supply an address during the nomination period, July 18 to Aug. 12, so Brown can verify her voter registration.

Henderson feels she has the experience for City Council.

"My political career spans 20 years, starting as an intern for Republican Ohio Congressman JC Watts's Jr.," she tells me.

Watts eventually hired Henderson, who worked for him for five years.

She volunteered for the Republican National Convention, helping George W. Bush get elected president, and will be at the RNC this summer in Cleveland too.

Henderson served as director of outreach education for faith-based communities under Bush and also worked for Karl Rove, Bush's deputy chief of staff, in the executive office of the president as public relations liaison. She dealt with strategies related to African American and faith-based groups.

Henderson became an ordained minister and organized the First Ladies Summit and prayer breakfast. Wives of African American pastors are referred to as "first ladies," she explains.

Henderson says she's excited to run for council and is aware her candidacy breaks new ground.

"I am the first black woman to run for City Council, and I am a black Republican, so I've been a minority, and I am not uncomfortable speaking about race," she says.

In addition to being a minister and budding lawyer, Henderson is a political consultant and has her own health-and-wellness business.

So why is she considering political consultant Dave Ellis, who ran the conservative Team Newport slate, to run her campaign, when she's a consultant herself?

"I would be foolish to do this on my own when there are people like Dave Ellis," she adds.

*

Howling good dog beach update

Kudos to Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel, who on April 26 will bring the Board of Supervisors a resolution that, if approved, will end the controversy surrounding off-leash dogs at the "unofficial dog beach" adjacent to Newport.

Steel's office shared her resolution with me this week. She plans to hold a press conference featuring her announcement on the beach at 10:30 a.m. Friday.

The resolution would modify the current County Ordinances Sections 4-1-45 and 4-1-46, so that "the property within the unincorporated area of the County of Orange, downstream from Pacific Coast Highway at the outlet of the Santa Ana River, is designated as an area on a public beach where a dog in the charge of a person competent to exercise care, custody, and control over such dog is permitted without restraint."

It also says, "Nothing in this resolution is to be interpreted as restricting the ability of the Orange County Flood Control District to carry out dredging of sand or other flood control activities within said property."

This would essentially codify something that's been taking place for years.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached atbvontv1@gmail.com. Listen to her weekly radio segment on "Sunday Brunch with Tom and Lynn" from 11 a.m. to noon on KOCI/101.5 FM.

Copyright © 2016, Daily Pilot
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Catching up with congressional and council races, 
golf course

Whatever happened with former Assemblyman Scott Baugh's run for Congress and businessman Buck Johns and the Newport Beach Golf Course? And who the heck is Shelley Henderson?

Let's start with Baugh. Back in February, I wrote about how Baugh, former chairman of the Orange County Republican Party, was contemplating a run for Congress if his longtime friend, U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa), wouldn't seek reelection.

Readers I heard from were in favor of Baugh making this move, but they'll have to wait awhile.

On March 24, Baugh emailed, saying that since Rohrabacher pulled papers to run, he won't.

But don't count out Baugh just yet.

"Dana has made it clear to me that he does not intend to run in 2018, and he may even leave earlier than that," Baugh wrote. "Thus, I will continue raising money and developing my campaign. Nothing changes from my perspective."

Segue to Johns, a go-to guy for Republican fundraising in this county.

I also have an update on his acquisition of the Newport Beach Golf Course.

In December, I wrote about Johns petitioning the O.C. Board of Supervisors to take over the 10-year golf course lease that expires in 2020.

His plan, approved by the supes, included improving the fairways, upgrading the pro shop and replacing the current restaurant with something along the lines of the Yard House.

Spending in the initial improvement phase, $722,000, was to be mostly for the course itself, with the second phase including $1.2 million for the driving range and $1 million for the pro shop, starting in early 2016.

The third phase included improvements of $178,000 to the restaurant/bar, $900,000 to the parking lot/garage and $600,000 for the events room.

Total upgrades: an estimated $4.6 million.

What's been done so far?

Asking Johns in an email prompted him to have the course's new general manager, Rick Perrault, call me. Perrault started April 1.

He says tree trimming starts this week on the driving range and front side of the golf course.

In addition to "spring maintenance," he's working on the driving range with a plan for partial synthetic surfaces and replacement of 18 tee boxes. The restaurant building has been painted.

Perrault says the course will be more "aesthetically pleasing," with a "country club look."

When I asked what courses he had worked at before, he said only that he's been a "consultant with 30 years' golf course experience."

When I pressed him for how much of the $722,000 of Johns' Phase 1 plan had been spent so far, he didn't know.

Speaking of Johns, he and Dave Ellis, the consultant on the project, recently had a conversation with several members of the AirFair board, including my neighbor Tim Stoaks. AirFair is a watchdog group monitoring growth at John Wayne Airport.

Though Ellis wouldn't comment, Stoaks says Johns explained his need now for a 50-year lease on the property from the Board of Supervisors — something the Newport City Council supports — to seal the deal with Chinese investors.

Perrault wouldn't comment specifically but confirmed there were Chinese investors and that "the longer lease was needed for amortization on investment."

I called Supervisor Michelle Steel's office to see if it had been monitoring the golf course's progress, as outlined in Johns' initial plan.

Not hearing back in time for deadline, I'll keep following this.

Meanwhile, who is mystery woman Shelley Henderson, and why is she running for Newport City Council against incumbent Tony Petros?

On March 28, Henderson filed her candidate statement with the city.

Normally, when people file, they include their local address and phone number.

Henderson listed the address of Political Reporting Plus in Inglewood and its number, not hers. So there's no local info on her.

Political Reporting Plus is a "full-service political campaign provider specializing in political treasury services including accounting, reporting and consulting, with partnerships in all areas of political campaigning," according to its website.

Partner Michelle Moore Sanders says it's working with Henderson on her Newport campaign.

I found Henderson's Facebook page and sent her a message there asking to talk to her about her council run. She replied with her cell number.

After several calls, Henderson called me back and agreed to be interviewed next week. I'll have that in my next column.

Here's what I know about her from her page:

Henderson is 43, a White House P.R. veteran and a law degree candidate.

Her LinkedIn page adds: legal analyst, Cambodian Children's Fund, May 2015 to present, and law school admissions lead recruiter, Trinity Law School [Santa Ana], 2014 to present. She also is an ordained minister.

Looking at her social media, I saw no mention of Newport.

But Ellis tells me the two met about 10 days ago for what he described as an "overview chat."

I am so looking forward to Henderson's call…

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached atbvontv1@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2016, Daily Pilot
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Bits and Bites: The story behind Ritz's new interior design and reviving a charitable group4/1/16

I receive lots of interesting feedback on my columns, both the political ones and the monthly Barbara's Bits and Bites, which discovers and rediscovers fun places to eat in Newport-Mesa.

Last month I reviewed the new Ritz Prime Seafood restaurant in Newport Beach.

Pretty much the only thing liked about the place was the décor, which prompted the restaurant's designer, Rick McCormack, to check in and thank me for my comments.

McCormack is an interesting guy. He grew up in Costa Mesa and has been in the hospitality design biz for more than 40 years.

"My claim to fame was being head of design for the Cheesecake Factory for almost 14 years," says McCormack.

After designing 150 restaurants, McCormack left the Cheesecake Factory in 2008 to start his own firm, Studio McCormack, in Costa Mesa.

His clients include the Yard House, BJ's, Seasons 52 ,Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill, Ruby's Diner, Pizza Nova, The Winery, Bruxie and, of course, the new Ritz.

Never having interviewed a restaurant designer before, I took the opportunity to address one complaint I constantly hear from readers: noise levels in new restaurants, like the Ritz and Winery.

"There's a fine line between too noisy and too quiet. Everyone wants an energetic atmosphere, and that happened at The Winery," he says.

McCormack explained that noise issues had to be addressed there after the fact, using acoustical material and consulting with an acoustical engineer.

In the case of the Ritz, a great deal of money went into acoustical materials, including a perforated wood ceiling that acts as an acoustical damper.

But what McCormack's team didn't anticipate was that the Ritz's live musical duo performances would kick up the sound level for diners, creating some complaints.

He's meeting with the owners now to address the issue.

So what about trends in restaurant interior design?

"Trends come and go," he says. McCormack has seen his share of concrete floors, barn wood interiors and exposed rafters, all of which he feels are now overdone.

That was a good look for the recession days, he says, but now trends are leaning more toward "refinement" and fine dining.

And as his clients see their clientele aging, there's a shift toward wanting to attract millennials, because their sheer numbers make them a driving economic force.

Millennials look for design characteristics that reflect local flavor, which is difficult when designing for a chain, says McCormack. But this can be accomplished by simply hanging local photographs, he explained.

And though none of his clients have asked him for this specifically, McCormack says dog friendly is another trend that's here to stay.

"Without a doubt, people are taking their dogs everywhere. It's a nice thing to see," he says.

Each restaurant design has its own unique inspiration.

In the case of the Ritz, McCormack originally wanted to reflect more of the original restaurant, but the new owners, Grill Concepts, chose to focus on the waterfront location. McCormack calls it a "contemporary seaside" look with the use of coral patterns reflected throughout.

In the new Ruby's Diner in San Clemente opening later this year, the local flavor of surfing will be injected into design elements, McCormack tells me.

McCormack wasn't the only one who reached out after my Ritz review ran. Reader Doug Forde gave me the 411 on the group formally known as the Ritz Brothers.

For those unfamiliar with their legacy, the Ritz Brothers was founded by Hans Prager, the original owner of the Ritz Restaurant in Fashion Island.

The group met regularly at his restaurant and donated millions to local charities over the years.

Ron Salisbury, owner of the Cannery on the Peninsula and El Cholo in Corona del Mar, has been a member since the 1970s. In their heyday, the Ritz Brothers had approximately 600 members and donations of more than $100,000 annually, he says.

Salisbury is now reviving the group at the Cannery. The first luncheon was March 14, in honor of St. Patrick's Day.

Charlene Prager, Prager's widow, was there too.

Salisbury says with her help they are renaming the group. Apparently they can't use the Ritz Brothers name or "we'll be sued," he told me.

"Maybe we'll be Hans' Cannery Boys," says Salisbury.

But regardless of what they call themselves, Prager's tradition of meeting five times a year — for a clam bake, Oktoberfest, St. Patrick's Day, Cinco de Mayo and Christmas — will continue, according to Salisbury.

Membership is $150, with each member choosing to donate to some pre-selected local charities. Those charities are still being determined.

At 83, Salisbury is very enthusiastic about this effort.

Though the name will change, the group Prager started many years ago will continue, as will its good works.

And if you're interested in joining, just email Salisbury at ron@elcholo.com. The next gathering will be May 2 at the Cannery.

BARBARA VENEZIA, whose column appears Fridays, lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2016, Daily Pilot
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County voters may have say in campaign reform

3/24/16


Ever notice when candidates run for office they're all for campaign finance reform and transparency and, once elected, their tunes change?


Knowing who is funding candidates and political agendas can explain a lot about the special interests behind them.


"Follow the money" is more than just a famous line from the 1976 movie "All the President's Men" about the Watergate scandal. It's become the catch phrase for those wanting reform in order to unveil corruption and conflicts of interest within this arena.


And folks are getting creative.

John Cox, a Republican business executive, committed $1 million to a November ballot measure that would require state leaders to wear the names of their top donors on their clothing, much like NASCAR drivers do.


"Lobbyists and fundraisers are the only ones who are going to vote against it," he told Patch.com this week.


Certainly money muddies the political ethical waters, and expecting elected officials to police themselves is tricky at best.


So Mario Mainero, former chief of staff to then-Supervisor John Moorlach and now a law professor at Chapman University, is taking the issue to O.C. voters this June.


In an commentary for Voice of OC, Mainero wrote, "County voters will have the opportunity to amend the county charter to create a nonpartisan, nonpolitical Ethics Commission to enforce these county ethics laws: the County Campaign Reform Ordinance (TINCUP); the Gift Ban Ordinance; the Lobbyist Registration and Reporting Ordinance; and the prohibition on revolving-door lobbying and misuse of county equipment provisions of the county code of ethics."


I talked with Mainero about this ambitious effort.


Though the county already has these ethics laws in place separately, he explained, no one is really enforcing them.


Mainero feels by grouping them together and giving the oversight commission subpoena power, this is a game changer.


"The law is to basically keep people honest," he says.


Mainero says the county charter needs to be amended by voters to prevent future supervisors from changing it.


Working with county political watchdog Shirley Grindle — who has been tracking candidates and their contributions for decades — Mainero says this new system would basically replace Grindle's efforts, taking them to a new level.


The amendment calls for an executive director, the only paid position, and five non-paid commissioners.


Each supervisor gets to appoint one person. But the kicker here is that no one who is politically involved can be appointed — that means lobbyists or their employees, county employees, union officials or officers of political parties, etc.


"It greatly constricts who can serve, other than just regular citizens," says Mainero.


In addition, the executive director and commission will create ethics training programs designed for those seeking and those already in office so they don't inadvertently break the law.


Mainero says instances where someone violates a law unintentionally can be resolved quickly if the person corrects the issue after being contacted by the commission. The matter will be kept private so it can't be used by the candidate's opposition.


However, if the issue is not resolved promptly, it will become public with a subpoena and further legal action on the table.


Mainero tells me the amendment is supported by all the supervisors — except Michelle Steel.


He says she objected to the cost of hiring the executive director.


Really?


There's so much wasteful spending in government. This seems like a small price to pay to keep the system honest.


Safeguards like this wouldn't be necessary if special interest money wasn't continually invited into the political arena by politicians in the first place.


If passed, can this amendment help us locally?


You bet.


Mainero says if approved, cities countywide could contract with the commission rather than trying to recreate versions of the law themselves, as Newport Councilman Keith Curry is attempting to do.


In a mass email sent to constituents before Tuesday's council meeting, Curry proposed giving the city attorney "full power to enforce the provisions of our campaign laws" and the ability to appoint a "special prosecutor where conflicts of interest may exist." Presently the city attorney can do neither.


Curry also wrote that he wants to "prohibit fundraising by all candidates in non-election years except for the first six months following the election so that debt may be retired."


And like Mainero's amendment, Curry wants lobbyists and their clients to register with the city. They do on a state, county and federal level.


Newport Mayor Diane Dixon has proposed creating a citizens working group to study the issue.


So now they have to discuss whether they want to create a commitee, which would mean finding people to serve on it, study the issue and then come back to council with a recommendation. I wonder how long that will take.


My guess is  just long enough for Dixon's supporters in political consulting and campaign financing figure out how to play their next move here. Passage of this doesn't benefit them in any way.


BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached atbvontv1@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2016, Daily Pilot
*****************************************************************************

Shelter gives rescue animals a leg up

03/18/16

Newport Beach annexed West Santa Ana Heights from the county in 2008. During those lengthy negotiations, I chaired the Santa Ana Heights Redevelopment Agency Project Advisory Committee.

One thing the committee fought hard to preserve in the annexation agreement was the dog kennel zoning on Riverside Drive.

It's been years since I visited the area, but recently Stasha the Wonder Dog and I decided to check out the new home of the Newport Beach Animal Shelter located there.

Readers may remember that in November the city terminated its agreement with the Orange County Humane Society amid allegations by city staff of unsanitary and inhumane conditions at the Huntington Beach shelter.

Newport's city shelter is now housed at the Home Free Animal Rescue and Sanctuary at 20302 Riverside Drive.

What's nice about Riverside Drive is that the kennels — including the shelter — are actually at residential homes.

Home Free Animal Rescue and Sanctuary opened in 2010. It's the brain child of Kathy Leonard.

An estate attorney for more than 20 years, Leonard followed her passion for rescuing dogs and bought the property when the original owner, who'd operated a kennel there since the 1950s, died.

The day Stasha and I visited, Valerie Schomburg, Newport's animal control supervisor, was on site and explained how the two different entities co-exist.

Leonard's nonprofit agency rescues only dogs and is a no-kill shelter.

The city animals are housed there too — Leonard's staff cares for them — and the city takes in cats, dogs, birds, etc.

Schomburg says the city tries to reunite animals with owners, while others hope for adoption.

A small percentage are euthanized in situations where animal control has taken in an animal that has either bitten someone, is deemed dangerous or is too ill to survive.

Leonard tells me they are always looking for volunteers to socialize dogs by taking them for walks and to help post on social media the animals in need of adoption.

Home Free Animal Rescue and Sanctuary has a website,http://www.homefreerescue.org/ and Facebook page,https://www.facebook.com/homefreeanimalsanctuary/

Schomburg says those interested in the city's dogs and cats can visit the animal control page of the NBPD site,http://www.nbpd.org/community/animal_control/our_animal_shelter.asp

Both organizations have information on how to adopt animals on their sites. Each has a slightly different procedure.

I was impressed with the cleanliness and the spirit of the city's new animal shelter. It's a perfect fit with Leonard's rescue organization.

After talking with Schomburg and Leonard it became clear that the concept of keeping animals locally within the community is the best approach.

Newport got it right here; it baffles me why Costa Mesa hasn't followed suit. Maybe these two cities should just buy a facility on Riverside Drive and pool their efforts.

How we treat our animals says a lot about who we are and our city leadership.

It was obvious to me that Leonard and Schomburg love what they do.

"Our goal is to save lives," says Leonard.

Walking around and visiting with the animals tugs at your heart. I rescued Stasha at the Pet Expo at the OC Fairgrounds four years ago.

April 22 through 24 Leonard's organization will participate in the 2016 America's Family Pet Expo at the OC Fair and Event Center.

Last year, 45,000 folks attended the event, and "more than 600 dogs, cats and even a few guinea pigs were adopted," says Jennifer Becker, who does public relations for the expo.

Becker estimates more than 9,500 pets have been adopted through this event in conjunction with their Southern California animal rescue partner organizations.

"Since America's Family Pet Expo started more than 25 years ago, the mission of the World Pet Assn. has been to educate consumers about responsible pet care and ownership, says Doug Poindexter, president the World Pet Assn.

I adore this event. I find pet products there I don't find anywhere else, and there are so many species to learn about.

Back again this year are fan favorites like the diving Splash Dogs, the Weiner dog races, dog stunt show and police and protection dog demos.

New for 2016 are mini farm animals and the Camp Rusk Foundation for Retired Horses.

But if you are considering adopting a rescue there are key factors to consider, according to Stasha's trainer, Vladae the Russian Dog Wizard.

He advises clients to make their adoption decisions based on the family's lifestyle, not "how cute or cuddly a particular rescue may look."

Many rescue animals come with behavioral issues that can be trained away, he says, but adoption is a lifetime emotional and financial commitment folks need to be ready to make.

The last thing you want to do is have to return the animal to the shelter because you didn't think this through.

******************
Venezia: Mansoor weighs council run, Greer jumps in

03/11/16

What former Costa Mesa mayor and assemblyman's wife gave birth in a car?

And what political insider is running for Newport City Council?

First, baby news!

Former Assemblyman Allan Mansoor and wife, Janniffer, became proud parents of a baby boy born six weeks ago under some unusual circumstances.

When Joshua Dayton was ready to make his debut into the world, the Mansoors jumped in their car and headed to South Coast Midwifery in Irvine.

At the 405 and Bristol Street, Janniffer's water broke.

Mansoor assured his wife they'd reach the birthing center in time, but as they approached the Sand Canyon exit, the baby was crowning.

"As we pulled into the parking space in front of the midwifery, I thought we made it by the skin of our teeth," says Mansoor.

But as he walked around to his wife's side of the car and opened the door, "Out came Joshua Dayton on the seat."

The midwives and assistant ran out and took control of the situation.

"Everything was great," Mansoor reports.

The whole experience led to the couple's inspiration in naming their new baby after the Daytona 500.

"We were racing down the freeway, and Joshua Dayton beat me to the finish line," says Janniffer.

The couple's 2-year-old daughter, Avalon Jane, now has a new baby brother, and the family is doing great.

Mansoor tells me after losing the last election for Orange County supervisor in 2014, he focused on his growing family, a new career path and shedding 25 pounds.

"I took a sales job with a family owned organic farm," he says. "I am so incredibly happy with it, and it is working out very well."

So is politics totally off the table?

"I will not rule out a future run for office," he tells me, admitting he's "thinking about City Council, but time will tell."

*

Newport Beach race heats up

One man for whom politics is definitely on the table is Newport attorney Phil Greer, whose wife, Arlene, serves as chairwoman of Newport's arts commission.

Greer's entering the Newport council race this week, vying for termed-out Councilman Keith Curry's District 7 seat.

What's interesting about Greer is that he's a political-insider-turned-politician.

Specializing in business and political law, Greer's clients have included former O.C. Treasurer-Tax Collector Chriss Street, Sen. Pat Bates, and former Assemblymen Chris Norby and Bill Campbell.

Greer was also then-Sen. Janet Nguyen's legal eagle when she faced a recount running for O.C. supervisor in 2007.

In 2007 the L.A. Times wrote "Greer's emergence as the GOP's go-to guy in election matters was greatly aided by John Lewis, a former Republican state senator and influential political consultant in Orange County."

Greer's been disciplined twice by the state Bar Association, but hey, with his pedigree, he'll be on an even playing field in the messy arena of Newport politics.

He also has the political savvy and connections on county and state levels, which could be helpful to Newport.

And as a political insider, I'm guessing he knows where the proverbial "bodies are buried," making him a formidable opponent.

He's hired Chris Jones as his political consultant.

I enjoyed my conversation with Greer. He's quick, funny and sharp.

Living in Newport for more than 20 years, he says, "It's time to give back."

Though a great sound bite, my sense is he feels the city's moving in a troubling direction. He hinted as much, saying he decided to run after attending the last mayor's dinner.

"If' you're going to be a member of the City Council, there should be sand between your toes and seaweed in the back of your car," he quips. "Otherwise, you don't understand Newport."

Greer's troubled by those who move here to run for office.

"These people haven't raised their kids here; they have no civic memory," he says.

Greer says they don't understand history and local nuance — like the fire rings and the unofficial dog beach.

"I grew up with them," he says. "It's part of our history and tradition."

Greer points to a divide in philosophies on the current council, and says he understands what it takes "to bring people with different opinions to compromise and common ground. That's what I do for a living."

Greer and I talked about issues close to his heart: dredging, sea walls, the arts, the West Side Community Center and spot zoning in and around Fashion Island, which he says needs to be re-evaluated, considering the wider impacts on the community.

With Greer's entry into this race, things just got a lot more interesting.

--

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached atbvontv1@gmail.com. Listen to her weekly radio segment on "Sunday Brunch with Tom and Lynn" from 11 a.m. to noon on KOCI/101.5 FM.

Copyright © 2016, Daily Pilot
*****************************************************************************************
Councilman reiterates opposition to gay unions
2/26/16

Last summer I wrote about Newport Beach Councilman Scott Peotter's controversial email blast in which he railed against the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, and his use of the official city seal in its heading.

Why a seated councilman would go out of his way to create a divide in the community — especially since the city doesn't issue marriage licenses — remains a mystery to me.

I felt strongly then, as I do now, that the City Council should have censured him, but it didn't. Instead, the council officially disassociated itself from the email.

Peotter said he wouldn't use the seal again — and it was obvious he didn't appreciate the proverbial slap on the wrist.

Fast forward to Peotter's latest email newsletter to supporters. The city seal appears, albeit in a photographed image, in the sidebar to his newsletter in which he writes:

"The City Seal is Gone" (what you see above is a photograph of the seal from the council chamber's wall that used to be in my photo montage banner above). I have removed images of the Seal from my e-mails in case anyone from Rio Linda might think that this email is an official city correspondence (it's not) rather than a political newsletter, paid for by campaign funds, stating opinions, from an elected official (which is what it is)."

Talk about a snarky way of thumbing your nose at authority!

In addition to his opinion on fellow council members Ed Selich and Keith Curry's votes on a sewer-tax issue, Peotter promotes the new book, "You will be Made to Care," by Erick Erickson. Erickson's an ultra-conservative, right-wing blogger and radio host who is a little right of Attila the Hun — and he's not big on gay marriage.

"If you remember, last summer after the Supreme Court 'found' a right to same-sex marriage, I stated my disapproval in this newsletter," Peotter writes in the new missive. "Last summer, I quoted Erick Erickson, using the 'You Will be Made to Care' line in my defense, and now Erick has followed up with a whole book giving examples throughout the country about people that have been punished for their beliefs."

Peotter gives examples from the book, including wedding photographers fined for refusing to shoot a lesbian wedding and a fire chief who lost his job for stating in a Christian book that he believes gay sex is a sin.

I asked Peotter if he was being paid to promote Erickson's book and he said he "wouldn't accept money if he offered it."

Also in the email blast, Peotter invites supporters to pray at City Hall with folks from the St. James Anglican Church, who meet from noon to 12:30 p.m. Thursdays.

Who are these folks?

Interestingly, the current St. James Anglican congregation was part of the congregation of St. James the Great Episcopal Church in Newport. They broke with the national Episcopal Church over differences on gay issues, and asserted they owned the church building and grounds.

The L.A. Episcopal Diocese sued to get the church back and the church property was returned to them.

"The L.A. bishop assigned the Rev. Cindy (Voorhees) to the recovered St. James the Great Episcopal Church, and charged her with rebuilding the loyal Episcopal congregation, which she did," says church spokesman Roger Bloom. "It is this congregation under Rev. Cindy that is currently in dispute with the bishop over selling the church."

Bloom made it clear that Voorhees welcomes all, gay and straight, and her group is not the same group praying with Peotter.

Now there's a time and a place for prayer — and City Hall isn't it for me. But more important, could this prayer group with such a biased background offend LGBT employees at Newport City Hall?

"I don't know how the gay employees at City Hall feel about the Episcopalians' national debate over ordination of gay priests in the church, nor is that why the prayer group meets," Peotter said.

He said the prayer group is not limited to any denomination and all are welcome.

When I spoke to City Manager Dave Kiff, he said, "I have no problem with prayer; we can use all the prayers we can get."

When I explained the group's history on gay-rights issues, Kiff said the city can't legally prohibit any group from meeting on city property.

Kiff is a happily married gay man and well-respected city manager. That was evident at the last mayor's dinner. When Mayor Diane Dixon mentioned Kiff, he received rousing applause from the who's who of Newport, which spoke volumes.

Now Peotter is well within his rights to promote his agenda, but he's an elected official who has to work with a gay, married city manager.

What he does personally certainly has ripple effects, not only in the court of public opinion, but for those working at City Hall.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached atbvontv1@gmail.com. Listen to her weekly radio segment on "Sunday Brunch with Tom and Lynn" from 11 a.m. to noon on KOCI/101.5 FM.

*************

Baugh will only run if Rohrabacher steps aside

Is former OC Republican Party Chairman Scott Baugh really going to run for Congress?

It all hinges on one thing: If his longtime friend Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa), doesn't seek reelection this year.

And that's a big if.

Rohrabacher recently stated that should a Republican president be elected, he could get a "top-level appointment."

The sounds presumptuous and is probably not really fair to his buddy Baugh.

Regardless, Baugh filed a statement of candidacy last month to start to fundraising. He'd need to pull papers by March 11 to run this year.

As you can imagine, Baugh and I had a lively conversation about this.

He says Rohrabacher's made it clear to him that he's "looking for a departure in 2016 or 2018."

Baugh holds firm in his longtime belief that incumbents holding to party principles shouldn't be challenged by fellow Republicans.

So it's no surprise he feels the way he does about the race between Assemblyman Don Wagner (R-Irvine) and incumbent state Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa).

"Assemblyman Wagner should not challenge Sen. Moorlach," Baugh says. "Both are great men, but Moorlach has proven to be a strong voice for conservative values that is heard around the state."

Advancing the conservative agenda is important to Baugh.

"As a conservative, success is just not defined by that position," he explained. "Success is staking out a conservative position and getting others to join in that position."

The conversation then turned to the skill set he'd bring to Congress, given the opportunity.

Baugh, who served in the state Assembly from 1995 to 2000, called his proven ability to work with those on both sides of the political aisle an asset.

The "Republic is slipping into a divide," and that's one of the reasons he's considered running.

"I feel a duty to do something about it and feel our best days are still ahead of us," he said.

So what issues would be important to a Congressional campaign?

"Domestically, there's a ton of work to do with entitlements, streamlining tax policies, the failed Obama Care, Isis threats and massive expansion in government," he said.

He said we're a "country being choked to death in a mountain of regulations" and that the "proliferation of regulations (is) choking our freedoms".

Immigration is also something he feels strongly about, saying "it's how we frame the issue."

"People get caught up in the rhetoric: Do we have a citizenship problem in this country? I say, no," he said.

Creating a pathway to citizenship without documentation is not the solution, in his view, since the country has a legal pathway to citizenship that works.

The equitable way to solve the undocumented worker issue is to implement foolproof employer verification and work permit programs — and to secure the borders.

"If you have chaos at the border, you have de facto amnesty, which isn't good for anybody," he said.

Baugh and I have had many lively conversations over the years, as I've covered the local political scene.

He's never shied from my uncomfortable questions or backed down on how he views issues.

We've agreed to disagree many times.

And while some politicos I've verbally sparred with haven't been welcoming when we've been thrown together in social situations, that's never been the case with Baugh.

His attitude has always been: "It's just politics, nothing personal."

Which is why I think a little friendly competition between he and Rohrabacher would be good.

Baugh told me his wife, Wendy, supports the idea of him running for Congress.

When they were dating years ago, she asked him what his dream job would be.

"I told her serving in the U.S. Congress," he said.

Which begs the question: If a friend holds you back from your pursuing your dreams, is that person really a friend?

I think that's something Baugh and Rohrabacher need to figure out.

And Baugh's definitely excited about the possibility.

Maybe enthusiasm is what his party needs in Congress.

After all, Rohrabacher's been serving since 1989.

I don't know about you, but anything hanging around my house that long is pretty stale by now.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached atbvontv1@gmail.com. Listen to her weekly radio segment on "Sunday Brunch with Tom and Lynn" from 11 a.m. to noon on KOCI/101.5 FM.

*****************************************************************************************************


Is former OC Republican Party Chairman Scott Baugh really going to run forCongress?

It all hinges on one thing: If his longtime friend Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa), doesn't seek reelection this year.

And that's a big if.

Rohrabacher recently stated that should a Republican president be elected, he could get a "top-level appointment."

The sounds presumptuous and is probably not really fair to his buddy Baugh.

Regardless, Baugh filed a statement of candidacy last month to start to fundraising. He'd need to pull papers by March 11 to run this year.

As you can imagine, Baugh and I had a lively conversation about this.

He says Rohrabacher's made it clear to him that he's "looking for a departure in 2016 or 2018."

Baugh holds firm in his longtime belief that incumbents holding to party principles shouldn't be challenged by fellow Republicans.

So it's no surprise he feels the way he does about the race between Assemblyman Don Wagner (R-Irvine) and incumbent state Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa).

"Assemblyman Wagner should not challenge Sen. Moorlach," Baugh says. "Both are great men, but Moorlach has proven to be a strong voice for conservative values that is heard around the state."

Advancing the conservative agenda is important to Baugh.

"As a conservative, success is just not defined by that position," he explained. "Success is staking out a conservative position and getting others to join in that position."

The conversation then turned to the skill set he'd bring to Congress, given the opportunity.

Baugh, who served in the state Assembly from 1995 to 2000, called his proven ability to work with those on both sides of the political aisle an asset.

The "Republic is slipping into a divide," and that's one of the reasons he's considered running.

"I feel a duty to do something about it and feel our best days are still ahead of us," he said.

So what issues would be important to a Congressional campaign?

"Domestically, there's a ton of work to do with entitlements, streamlining tax policies, the failed Obama Care, Isis threats and massive expansion in government," he said.

He said we're a "country being choked to death in a mountain of regulations" and that the "proliferation of regulations (is) choking our freedoms".

Immigration is also something he feels strongly about, saying "it's how we frame the issue."

"People get caught up in the rhetoric: Do we have a citizenship problem in this country? I say, no," he said.

Creating a pathway to citizenship without documentation is not the solution, in his view, since the country has a legal pathway to citizenship that works.

The equitable way to solve the undocumented worker issue is to implement foolproof employer verification and work permit programs — and to secure the borders.

"If you have chaos at the border, you have de facto amnesty, which isn't good for anybody," he said.

Baugh and I have had many lively conversations over the years, as I've covered the local political scene.

He's never shied from my uncomfortable questions or backed down on how he views issues.

We've agreed to disagree many times.

And while some politicos I've verbally sparred with haven't been welcoming when we've been thrown together in social situations, that's never been the case with Baugh.

His attitude has always been: "It's just politics, nothing personal."

Which is why I think a little friendly competition between he and Rohrabacher would be good.

Baugh told me his wife, Wendy, supports the idea of him running for Congress.

When they were dating years ago, she asked him what his dream job would be.

"I told her serving in the U.S. Congress," he said.

Which begs the question: If a friend holds you back from your pursuing your dreams, is that person really a friend?

I think that's something Baugh and Rohrabacher need to figure out.

And Baugh's definitely excited about the possibility.

Maybe enthusiasm is what his party needs in Congress.

After all, Rohrabacher's been serving since 1989.

I don't know about you, but anything hanging around my house that long is pretty stale by now.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached atbvontv1@gmail.com. Listen to her weekly radio segment on "Sunday Brunch with Tom and Lynn" from 11 a.m. to noon on KOCI/101.5 FM.

Is former OC Republican Party Chairman Scott Baugh really going to run forCongress?

It all hinges on one thing: If his longtime friend Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa), doesn't seek reelection this year.

And that's a big if.

Rohrabacher recently stated that should a Republican president be elected, he could get a "top-level appointment."

The sounds presumptuous and is probably not really fair to his buddy Baugh.

Regardless, Baugh filed a statement of candidacy last month to start to fundraising. He'd need to pull papers by March 11 to run this year.

As you can imagine, Baugh and I had a lively conversation about this.

He says Rohrabacher's made it clear to him that he's "looking for a departure in 2016 or 2018."

Baugh holds firm in his longtime belief that incumbents holding to party principles shouldn't be challenged by fellow Republicans.

So it's no surprise he feels the way he does about the race between Assemblyman Don Wagner (R-Irvine) and incumbent state Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa).

"Assemblyman Wagner should not challenge Sen. Moorlach," Baugh says. "Both are great men, but Moorlach has proven to be a strong voice for conservative values that is heard around the state."

Advancing the conservative agenda is important to Baugh.

"As a conservative, success is just not defined by that position," he explained. "Success is staking out a conservative position and getting others to join in that position."

The conversation then turned to the skill set he'd bring to Congress, given the opportunity.

Baugh, who served in the state Assembly from 1995 to 2000, called his proven ability to work with those on both sides of the political aisle an asset.

The "Republic is slipping into a divide," and that's one of the reasons he's considered running.

"I feel a duty to do something about it and feel our best days are still ahead of us," he said.

So what issues would be important to a Congressional campaign?

"Domestically, there's a ton of work to do with entitlements, streamlining tax policies, the failed Obama Care, Isis threats and massive expansion in government," he said.

He said we're a "country being choked to death in a mountain of regulations" and that the "proliferation of regulations (is) choking our freedoms".

Immigration is also something he feels strongly about, saying "it's how we frame the issue."

"People get caught up in the rhetoric: Do we have a citizenship problem in this country? I say, no," he said.

Creating a pathway to citizenship without documentation is not the solution, in his view, since the country has a legal pathway to citizenship that works.

The equitable way to solve the undocumented worker issue is to implement foolproof employer verification and work permit programs — and to secure the borders.

"If you have chaos at the border, you have de facto amnesty, which isn't good for anybody," he said.

Baugh and I have had many lively conversations over the years, as I've covered the local political scene.

He's never shied from my uncomfortable questions or backed down on how he views issues.

We've agreed to disagree many times.

And while some politicos I've verbally sparred with haven't been welcoming when we've been thrown together in social situations, that's never been the case with Baugh.

His attitude has always been: "It's just politics, nothing personal."

Which is why I think a little friendly competition between he and Rohrabacher would be good.

Baugh told me his wife, Wendy, supports the idea of him running for Congress.

When they were dating years ago, she asked him what his dream job would be.

"I told her serving in the U.S. Congress," he said.

Which begs the question: If a friend holds you back from your pursuing your dreams, is that person really a friend?

I think that's something Baugh and Rohrabacher need to figure out.

And Baugh's definitely excited about the possibility.

Maybe enthusiasm is what his party needs in Congress.

After all, Rohrabacher's been serving since 1989.

I don't know about you, but anything hanging around my house that long is pretty stale by now.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached atbvontv1@gmail.com. Listen to her weekly radio segment on "Sunday Brunch with Tom and Lynn" from 11 a.m. to noon on KOCI/101.5 FM.

To catch up on my previous columns in the Daily Pilot