Barbara Venezia...
Stirring the pot of controversy
 one column at a time...
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Foley is ready to talk

 about elected mayoral

 run; Monahan’s not.

6/16/17

In 2018 Costa Mesa will directly elect a mayor for the first time. Previously, elected council members took turns at this ceremonial role.

When this new mayoral concept was being discussed and presented to the voters in 2016, it didn’t make much sense. In this new incarnation, mayoral power structure and duties remain largely the same as before.

I agree creating voting districts -- where candidates only have to run within those districts, making it far more affordable and manageable to campaign -- forms a more-diverse council. But I didn’t think coupling this issue with the mayoral one on the ballot made sense.

To be clear, anyone can run for mayor, even if you’ve served on council and are termed out. Now there’s no need to wait the required two years to be able to run again.

This newly elected mayor will have a vote on issues, so in essence that person really becomes another councilmember. And because of redistricting, one district will have two voices.

Putting those facts aside, whoever becomes the first elected mayor at large certainly takes their place in Costa Mesa’s history books, which is a big deal.

So far it seems Mayor Katrina Foley and former councilman Gary Monahan want the job.

Announcing intentions to run this early is a smart move politically and could deter lesser-known candidates.

Both Foley and Monahan have their own fan bases and each has the ability to raise money, making them hard to beat.

As I’ve watched Costa Mesa politics these last 10 years, I’ve noticed that voters are issue-oriented and tend to recycle their politicians. That’s certainly been the case with Monahan, who’s served multiple turns. Foley, who left for the school board for a stretch, is on another council tour.

I contacted them both, hoping to talk about issues important to them, their choices for political consultants and why they decided to run.

Foley was happy to chat.

She’s enjoying her role as mayor, “working with business leaders, connecting people and problem-solving,” and wants to continue this momentum she explained as her reasoning for running for mayor in 2018.

Foley had the option of running for re-election of her four-year council term in 2018, so why is she opting for a two-year mayoral term instead?

She “only wants to serve another two years” and feels it will be a good time to transition new people into leadership roles with the new district concept in place and new folks serving on city commissions.

Foley is proud of the progress made during her mayoral year so far. Projects like completing the staffing of public safety and affordable housing top her list. She’d also like to see motels on Newport Boulevard once again attract tourists and feels she needs two more years to accomplish these goals and more.

“We have a good momentum and stability; that’s important right now as we transition into directly elected mayor and districts,” she says.

Foley also plans on working with her same team of “DeSnoo & DeSnoo, Michele Mullen, Kimberlee Belli and the hundreds of volunteers” that brought in her last council win.

With an elected mayor, I wondered what will happen to the position of mayor pro tem.

“That’s a good question,” she says. “You’re the first person to ask it.”

Apparently the council still needs to figure that out.

And as I mentioned in my May 16 column, former Councilman Gary Monahan posted on Facebook: “OK I have Steve Mensinger, Jim Righeimer, Jim Fitzpatrick, Jim Fisler, Lee Ramos, Dana Rohrabacher, John Moorlach and a heck of a lot others behind me… Let’s do this.”

At the time he told me, “Nothing is final,” but that’s changed.

"My run for Mayor is now ‘officially’ endorsed By Congressman Dana Rohrabacher & Angel’s Auto Spa Owner Surat Singh,” he posted June 8.

On June 9 he posted a link to his fundraising page, as well as announcing a fundraiser for June 29 to coincide with his restaurant Skosh Monahan's 17th anniversary. He also asked for suggestions on a campaign theme song.

I was especially interested in talking with Monahan, because after he was termed out in 2016, he told me he was done running for council and wanted to focus on his business and family.

And though he’s posting on social media about running for mayor, I guess he didn’t want to talk to me, as my call and email went unanswered.

I am ready to share his ideas with readers whenever he is ready to talk.

In the long run, it will be interesting to see if voters welcome him back.

Or has he “jumped the shark,” as they say in TV when a show’s been on too long and has lost its sizzle?

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

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As recall effort moves forward,Toerge clarifies views on high-density development

6/9/17

As Newport enters new waters with the Councilman Scott Peotter recall effort, the first in the city’s history, there has been some innovation alongside the continued controversy.

Tasked with obtaining about 8,500 signatures by October to bring the issue to the voters, the Recall Scott Peotter Committee is taking advantage of the digital age.

Typically, petition drives in the past set up tables in front of grocery stores and other high-traffic public areas with volunteers collecting signatures.

And the committee is doing this, but it’s added another component by launching a massive email campaign with the actual petition.

Supporters are sending the petition, along with specific instructions as to how to fill it out, print it and mail it back to the committee at 2618 San Miguel Drive, No. 1708, Newport Beach, Calif. 92660. The petition can also be downloaded at recallscottpeotter.com.

This move is groundbreaking. They’ve made it convenient to sign in private , and they’re urging supporters to forward it to their friends. If successful, this could change the way petition drives are conducted from here on out.

But even with the modernized method of signature gathering in addition to manning tables in the community, the recall effort still has a way to go.

I will continue to examine the complexities of the issues surrounding the recall effort. In my last column I raised the notion that with only one candidate at the moment running against Peotter, his former opponent in the 2014 election Mike Toerge, there were those in the community who questioned Toerge’s past decisions on high-density development.

Toerge supported Measure Y in 2014, while residents overwhelmingly did not.

Toerge and I spoke about that this week.

Reflecting on 2014, Toerge admitted that not supporting No on Y cost him the election.

“I got bad advice,” he said in reference to political consultants who urged him to support Y, though his initial instinct was not to.

“I made a mistake,” he said. “I made the decision, and I own it.”

He went on to say he’s always been a “residents-first guy, and I compromised my ideals. I’ve dealt with it, I’m past it and moving on.”

Toerge tells me this experience will make him a better councilman, should he prevail in this recall.

But I had to ask, is this recall really just “sour grapes,” as Peotter and his supporters claim?

“Absolutely not, I didn’t organize this recall, but I am supporting it,” Toerge said.

Now is the time to replace Peotter, as a new General Plan update is being discussed, Toerge said.

Toerge served with Peotter for a time, when both were planning commissioners, and says Peotter voted overwhelmingly for land-use changes and development during that time.

With “little land-use expertise on the current council,” Peotter, an architect, could have “undue influence” over current council members, Toerge said, adding that Peotter’s propensity toward high-density development worries him.

Toerge said that as a planning commissioner he made his decisions based on residents first and city economic gain second.

He also touts his past experience working on the last General Plan update in 2006, zoning codes and the current local coastal plan. His expertise in review, and analysis of code compliance, is what he feels the city needs in the council mix right now.

“In this political arena people want to label you either pro- or anti-development,” he said. “I support the General Plan.”

But even if Peotter is recalled, Team Newport would still dominate the council.

Toerge said he’s not worried, feels he has a good relationship with Brad Avery -- they hike together -- is impressed with Councilman Will O’Neill and has no issues with working with Councilwoman Diane Dixon or Mayor Kevin Muldoon.

“Jeff Herdman is going to need someone with conviction who is realistically prepared to change his mind when confronted with compelling factual information,” he said.

Toerge believes all on the council would welcome his planning experience and says he “can work with anyone who is rational and wants to help community — but not someone with an agenda.”

And Peotter has been accused of having a very specific agenda, according a Fair Political Practices Commission complaint filed by activist Susan Skinner.

Among her allegations, Skinner questioned Peotter’s alleged financial ties to Capitol Ministries in Washington, D.C., which according to its website, “plants and develops biblical ministries of evangelism and discipleship to public servants.”

As a strong believer in separation of church and state, I found what I read on the organization’s site, capmin.org, regarding its political and religious agenda disturbing.

Skinner also raises questions about Peotter’s 700 financial reporting forms, as Newport Beach planning commissioner from 2006-10, where he reported no “reportable interests,” including income, spousal income, business interests, investment income and gifts received, yet he managed to live in Newport.

Peotter later told the Daily Pilot he was out of work during the recession and didn’t have income to report. He was living off savings.

He also explained to the Pilot that he stands by everything on his forms and has no problem answering any questions by the Fair Political Practices Commission.

“I don’t have anything to hide,” he said. “That’s why we file these things publicly.”

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

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Can Toerge carry the recall torch now that Brenner is out of the running?
5/26/17

Who is, and who isn’t, ready to rumble with recall this summer?

As the political temperature rises in Newport, the recall process of Councilman Scott Peotter took another step forward this week when City Clerk Leilani Brown approved the recall petition.

“The petition format is sufficient,” she wrote to proponents.

The Committee to Recall Scott Peotter can now start gathering the approximately 8,500 signatures needed in the next five months to bring a recall vote

Symbolically, what happens here is a game-changer, regardless of who prevails.

If the recall is successful, it sends a message to council members and their power brokers that there are consequences when the voice of the people is ignored.

If this fails, Peotter and his supporters both on and off the council become stronger than ever.

But like any good summer mini-series, this recall is already presenting unexpected twists and intrigue.

As I reported back in April, if signature-gathering successfully leads to a vote, residents will be asked if they want to remove Peotter, and, if yes, choose someone to replace him.

Mike Toerge, who lost to Peotter in 2014, is still a candidate if Peotter is recalled, but apparently Friends of the Corona del Mar Library chairwoman Joy Brenner isn’t any longer.

Back in April, Brenner was enthusiastic, saying she felt “compelled” to serve and had been urged by friends and neighbors to run for office for decades.

This week she’s singing a different tune.

“It is with a huge sense of relief and some sadness that I have to announce my decision NOT to run for Newport Beach City Council,” she said in an email to supporters.

Brenner did some “soul searching, and with so many dear friends battling illnesses, I feel like I need to make the most of whatever time I have left. I still have traveling to do and many other things.”

Though I respect Brenner’s reasons, I wasn’t convinced it was the whole story.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen it before, that moment when a potential candidate realizes the depth of the ugliness ahead, how negative politics is in this town, and concludes they want no part of it.

When Brenner and I spoke, she admitted this weighed greatly on her decision. She just couldn’t see herself in that kind of fight.

Brenner still supports the recall effort and is hoping someone else will throw their hat into the ring.

But with Brenner bailing, this changes the dynamics of the recall’s success, in my opinion.

I’ve heard from more than a few in town who feel that as much as they dislike Peotter, they’re not crazy about longtime planning commissioner Toerge either. And faced with a choice between the two, they’d stay with the devil they know, so to speak.

Some aren’t convinced Toerge opposes high-density development, a divisive issue in town with Museum House and other issues. Though he says he now opposes new high-density, he supported Measure Y, a failed initiative that would have allowed more large development at Newport Center, in the 2014 election.

Many saw Brenner’s entry into the recall race as a welcome alternative.

Now that she’s out, I feel that unless the recall committee attracts other candidates, betting the farm on Toerge might be a fatal mistake.

If an alternate candidate, who is a longtime resident, well-respected and without political baggage, doesn’t jump in over the summer, I don’t see this recall effort being successful.

On the flip side, in Peotter’s camp, he continues to send out his email blasts using a photo of the city seal and stating the email isn’t official city business.

He’s been reprimanded before for using the seal, but I guess he’s technically within the rules by using a “photo” and the “unofficial” label to make it clear his missives aren’t from City Hall.

But this is just another example of a guy exhibiting behavior unbecoming his office.

In this latest blast, May 15, he claims the “Recall is being used to Stifle Free Speech.

“Seems as though the Recallers are trying to intimidate me and others by using the recall to scare us into inaction,” he writes. “They have even said that they can’t let me vote on another budget. They really can’t have me stopping their tax-and-spend ways.”

From where I sit, this whole recall is not about stifling speech, spending or scare tactics.

Simply stated, there’s a growing section of the community who may not like the councilman’s behavior or opinions, but, more importantly, disagree with his vision for the city, especially when it comes to high-density development.

In interviews with recall committee members, I’ve never heard anyone once say Peotter isn’t entitled to his views; they just don’t agree with where he’s taking this city.

So is a difference of opinion really censorship?

Or is this recall merely a civic way to hit the reset button when enough constituents disagree with whom they elected?

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

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Meeting a `Soprano,' hitting the Press Club dinner, talking to Monahan about his run

5/18/17

From pasta sauce to politics to the OC Press Club Awards, there’s lots of interesting tidbits to report this week.

On Mother’s Day, Stasha the Wonder Dog and I sat in with Tom Johnson on his weekly KOCI-FM radio show, “Stu News Sunday,” and was delighted to meet actor Steve Schirripa, who was in studio hawking his new line of organic Italian pasta sauces.

Schirripa, who played Bobby Baccalieri on “The Sopranos” and currently portrays Detective Anthony Abatemarco on the CBS show “Blue Bloods,” listened to the show in his car a few weeks ago. He has a place in Laguna and told his publicist to see if he could get him on the show.

Schirripa’s created a line of pasta sauces based on his mother’s recipes that are now available at Vons and on his website.

I haven’t tried his sauces yet, but they’re on my grocery list!

Fairgrounds on the Fourth

Costa Mesa Councilman John Stephens also stopped in and talked about the OC Fairgrounds and the city's collaboration on the upcoming July Fourth safe and sane fireworks events.

As reported in the DP, Stephens was successful in raising the $50,000 needed to pull off an event that he hopes will discourage illegal fireworks.

Fines for those naughty, noisy illegal fireworks will now be $1,000, if the cops catch you. Stephens hopes this event will be a deterrent.

Stasha, like most animals, hates the loud booms of July Fourth.

Stephens, a dog owner, says the fireworks display won’t have those scary noises; it will be more of a “pyrotechnic” display.

Stasha gives Stephens four paws up and kudos for his efforts.

Starting at 3 p.m. on the Fourth, the event is free to the public and will include entertainment, food, games and fun. Parking is free up until 5 p.m. Fireworks are later in the evening.

Gary Monahan weighs mayoral run



And speaking of Costa Mesa, former Councilman Gary Monahan raised a few eyebrows Sunday when he posted on his Facebook page he was planning to run for mayor in 2018.

“OK I have Steve Mensinger, Jim Righeimer, Jim Fitzpatrick, Jim Fisler, Lee Ramos, Dana Rohrabacher, John Moorlach and a heck of a lot others behind me,” he wrote, “… Let’s do this. ”

When I emailed him Tuesday about his plans he wrote: “Nothing is final”.

Yes, the 2018 elections are going to be interesting, and not just locally.

GOP backer raises money for Newsom



This week I received an invitation from neighbor Jim Glidewell regarding a fundraiser he’s having at his home for California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a candidate for governor in 2018.

Newsom is a Democrat, while Glidewell is a Republican and Lincoln Club member who previously held a fundraiser at his digs for Marco Rubio during the presidential election.

Why the switch?

Glidewell said Newsom “will make an excellent governor of California,” though he readily admits some have questioned his choice.

“The Republican Party, of which I am a staunch supporter, will not have a viable candidate for office this coming election,” he said. “I feel Gavin is the obvious winner, and I’d like to vote for someone who can actually win for a change.”

Glidewell says he introduced Newsom to his conservative friends, and were impressed with Newsom’s grasp of the issues and his moderate views on some issues.

Glidewell is among a growing number of O.C. Republicans who are fiscally conservative, but feel the party isn’t in line with their social beliefs.

“I’m liberal socially, I take care of my employees,” said Glidewell, president and CEO of Glidewell Industries. “I’m trying to improve industry and my employee’s lives; that’s my focus, not just profits,”

The fundraiser is from 6 to 7:30 p.m. June 6 at Mesa Manor, 2300 Mesa Drive, Newport Beach.

And if this address seems familiar, it was formerly the Village Crean. Glidewell bought the estate at auction in 2013, and renamed it Mesa Manor.

If you’re interested in attending, RSVP by contributing $250, $1,000, $5,000 or $10,000 online at https://secure.actblue.com/contribute/page/june6glidewell

A win at the OC Press Club Awards



Rounding out this week, I attended the annual OC Press Awards at the Balboa Bay Club Monday night.

Winners included: Best Feature Story, honorable mention, the Daily Pilot’s Hannah Fry, who also received second place for the Real OC award; Best Food/Restaurant Story, third-place prize, the Pilot’s Bradley Zint. Pilot contributor Nuran Alteir also won third place for feature writing in Weekend, a sister publication of the Pilot.

And the David McQuay Award for Best Columnist went to my buddy and Feet to the Fire cohort Norberto Santana Jr., publisher of the Voice of OC.

I was awarded second place.

Stasha unfortunately didn’t win in the Best Lifestyle/Family Blog category she’d entered. But when I broke the news to her she didn’t seem to mind, she just yawned and went back to watching DOGTV.

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

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