Barbara Venezia...
Stirring the pot of controversy
 one column at a time...
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AIDS Services Foundation rebrands, expands, leaving longtime supporters unhappy


1/19/2018

Laguna Beach residents Al Roberts and Ken Jillson founded AIDS Services Foundation (ASF) in 1985, eventually turning it into one of the county’s most respected HIV/AIDS nonprofit organizations.

But the organization has changed its name to Radiant Health Centers — and some longtime board members are displeased.

Mark Gonzales, vice president of Radiant’s board of directors, tells me the name change is part of “expanding services.”

“According to a recent analysis, nearly 9,000 LGBT residents in Orange County have no health insurance, and nearly 30,000 are underinsured and receive their healthcare through safety net systems and government-financed health programs,” Gonzales says.

He went on to explain that as HIV and AIDS treatments have evolved, many AIDS service organizations have done the same to meet client needs.

“Despite our great strides over the decades, six people per week in Orange County test positive for HIV,” he says.

The agency served 1,400 clients in 2017.

He tells me the “more inclusive name [Radiant] is an important first step toward providing the additional health services to those at risk.”

Radiant plans to offer an expanded array of mental and behavioral health services to members of the LGBT community who are HIV negative, helping them deal with addiction, housing needs, nutrition and PrEP services — pills that can reduce the chances of HIV infection — to those who are at highest risk for contracting HIV.

Not everyone is happy with the changes and the manner in which they came about.

Anita May Rosenstein, whose family has donated upward of $2.5 million to ASF in the past 20 years, has decided to leave the advisory board.

“An evolution in mission does not require the abandonment of legacy and, in my opinion, ASF’s current rebranding efforts are exactly that: an abandonment of a positive, respected, even revered, organizational legacy that took more than 30 years to build,” she writes in her resignation letter. “The current decision to abandon this recognizable brand for a generic, non-descript and over-used brand name (Radiant Health Services) that will take years to distinguish seems ill-founded and, in many ways, disrespectful of those who have served and been served by this organization for decades. It is a decision I cannot embrace.”

Rosenstein understands the desire to evolve and points to another organization she supports: AIDS Project Los Angeles, which changed its name to APLA Health a few years ago, keeping in place the original branding. She feels ASF should have followed its lead.

“The decision to proceed with the rebranding took many things into consideration,” Gonzales says, including the viewpoints of founders, donors and more than 100 others — 13 of 16 board members, clients, donors, staff, volunteers and other important stakeholders among them.

Rosenstein says she wasn’t consulted.

“Wouldn’t you go to one of the largest donors and talk about this?” she asks.

Fellow Advisory Council board members Marilyn Brewer, a former state assemblywoman, and Pearl Jemison-Smith, a nurse who helped organize Orange County’s first AIDS walk, also resigned.

After 20 years of involvement Brewer wrote:

“The cavalier manner in which the executive committee of the board of directors shared the so-called new direction with the Advisory Council was reprehensible and disrespectful. It is abundantly clear to me that the current executive committee of the board of directors finds us irrelevant.”

Jemison-Smith says when she resigned last month after 30 years of service, she received only one thank you letter — and that was from Jillson.

Roberts says he’s confused by all of this.

“It’s getting messy and that’s why I want out,” Roberts says.

Roberts and Jillson’s vision of ASF is no more. They say they won’t support Radiant.

And like Brewer, Jemison-Smith and Rosenstein asked their names be removed from Radiant’s website and marketing materials.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard rumblings things weren’t going well within ASF.

In April 2016 I was contacted by sources within the agency alleging high employee turnover and other issues.

No one I interviewed would go on the record, so I passed the concerns over to county Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, who asked the county to open an investigation since ASF receives county and federal funding.

Nothing ever came of it.

“Basically everyone we interviewed wouldn’t speak up and provide facts, so we couldn’t move an investigation forward,” Bartlett says.

This new name controversy is troubling to me. I chaired the Friends of Dorothy Guild of ASF from 2007-12 and served on the ASF board of directors.

Though Jillson’s and Robert’s resignation letters remained upbeat — they thanked supporters who shared their vision for ASF over the decades — the fact is they’ve stepped away. I suspect many of their friends will as well, leaving Radiant to blaze its own new trail.

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

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Elections could shift the balance of power in Costa Mesa and Newport Beach

1/11/2018

It’s going to be an interesting year for local elections.

Who will be Costa Mesa’s first elected mayor?

How will district voting change the dynamic of that city’s election?

Will Newport voters clean house and vote in a political shift in ideology on the council, as Costa Mesans did in 2016?

These are just the tip of the political icebergs we’ll be navigating as election season unfolds.

This week I’ve decided to focus on Newport, as several candidates say they are ready to rumble. Mayor Marshall Duffield, and council members Diane Dixon, Scott Peotter and Kevin Muldoon — up for re-election.

The first name emerging is a 40-year resident, boxing promotor Roy Englebrecht. He’s back after his 2014 council loss to Muldoon in District 4.

The last go around Englebrecht raised no money, had no yard signs or mailers, and only spent $100 on campaign T-shirts.

“I got 2,882 votes, losing by about 7,000,” he joked. “I certainly got the best return on my money of any candidate in 2014.”

This year will be different.

After selling his business last year to Alliance MMA, Englebrecht says he’ll “transition out” by this summer, making the City Council his only professional obligation.

His says his campaign website will be up in less than 10 days, ready to raise money, garner endorsements and outline his platform issues and potential solutions. He’s already busy organizing supporters and advisors.

In 2014 Englebrecht was the only candidate who came out strongly against Measure Y, which sought to allow increased density at Newport Center. Though that didn’t get him the endorsement of the powerful political action committee Line in the Sand, he met with members again over the summer in hopes of receiving their support in 2018, which, if granted, could be a game changer.

Among his campaign issues will be high-density development, election reform and addressing the city’s unfunded pension liabilities.

Englebrecht likes what Costa Mesa is doing regarding district elections, as successfully campaigning throughout an entire city is a cost-prohibitive $100,000-plus.

I asked Englebrecht for his campaign philosophy.

“I don’t complain, I compete,” he said.

Another returning name is 51-year Corona del Mar resident Joy Brenner.

She was in, out, then in again during the failed Peotter recall effort.

Now she’s committed to win the District 6 seat come November.

Though Brenner is nursing a broken wrist, injured after falling while taking down Christmas decorations, I found her in amazing spirits.

She’s busy planning her Jan. 25 campaign kick-off party at C Dobbs Boutique in Corona del Mar, launching a website, Joyfornewport.com, and organizing events like “Walk With Joy.”

Brenner says her campaign will be “full of joy” and “cheerful spirit.”

With her long history of community involvement, she’s a familiar name and a strong contender for a Line in the Sand endorsement over former planning commissioner and expected candidate Mike Toerge.

Toerge was ready to challenge Brenner in the failed Peotter recall, but running in a short recall election is certainly different than running a full race in 2018.

Though I wondered if he’d put himself through the rigors of campaigning after his defeat in 2014, he said this week, “I’m still in the mix and working on a strategy to bring resident-first leadership to my district.”

No doubt Line in the Sand’s endorsement and grass-roots support will move the needle for candidates it supports in 2018.

And now it seems a candidate may be emerging from within their ranks.

Line in the Sand board member Tim Stoaks says he’s ready to make a play for Duffield’s District 3 seat.

Stoaks is a friend and neighbor, so I understandably have mixed feelings. I have no doubt his experience as a former Santa Ana Heights Redevelopment Agency Project Advisory Committee member and chair, current AirFair board member, involvement with Still Protecting Our Newport (SPON), the Newport Beach Animal Shelter and and Newport Harbor Educational foundation, will serve him well.

But when it comes to this column and the Feet to the Fire Forums, I call them like I see them, regardless of friendships.

“Bring it on, I’m ready for a lively debate of the issues with you and anyone else,” Stoaks told me.

Folks enter these races knowing full well how ugly Newport campaign season gets but say they’ll stick to the issues and look forward to Feet to the Fire and other community forums.

As Brenner said, “I’m not running against anyone, I’m running for Newport.”

Candidates can pull official papers starting July 16 so there’s plenty of time for more candidates to emerge until the nomination period closes Aug. 10.

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


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How will district voting change the dynamic of that city’s election?

Will Newport voters clean house and vote in a political shift in ideology on the council, as Costa Mesans did in 2016?

These are just the tip of the political icebergs we’ll be navigating as election season unfolds.

This week I’ve decided to focus on Newport, as several candidates say they are ready to rumble. Mayor Marshall Duffield, and council members Diane Dixon, Scott Peotter and Kevin Muldoon — up for re-election.

The first name emerging is a 40-year resident, boxing promotor Roy Englebrecht. He’s back after his 2014 council loss to Muldoon in District 4.

The last go around Englebrecht raised no money, had no yard signs or mailers, and only spent $100 on campaign T-shirts.

“I got 2,882 votes, losing by about 7,000,” he joked. “I certainly got the best return on my money of any candidate in 2014.”

This year will be different.

After selling his business last year to Alliance MMA, Englebrecht says he’ll “transition out” by this summer, making the City Council his only professional obligation.

His says his campaign website will be up in less than 10 days, ready to raise money, garner endorsements and outline his platform issues and potential solutions. He’s already busy organizing supporters and advisors.

In 2014 Englebrecht was the only candidate who came out strongly against Measure Y, which sought to allow increased density at Newport Center. Though that didn’t get him the endorsement of the powerful political action committee Line in the Sand, he met with members again over the summer in hopes of receiving their support in 2018, which, if granted, could be a game changer.

Among his campaign issues will be high-density development, election reform and addressing the city’s unfunded pension liabilities.

Englebrecht likes what Costa Mesa is doing regarding district elections, as successfully campaigning throughout an entire city is a cost-prohibitive $100,000-plus.

I asked Englebrecht for his campaign philosophy.

“I don’t complain, I compete,” he said.

Another returning name is 51-year Corona del Mar resident Joy Brenner.

She was in, out, then in again during the failed Peotter recall effort.

Now she’s committed to win the District 6 seat come November.

Though Brenner is nursing a broken wrist, injured after falling while taking down Christmas decorations, I found her in amazing spirits.

She’s busy planning her Jan. 25 campaign kick-off party at C Dobbs Boutique in Corona del Mar, launching a website, Joyfornewport.com, and organizing events like “Walk With Joy.”

Brenner says her campaign will be “full of joy” and “cheerful spirit.”

With her long history of community involvement, she’s a familiar name and a strong contender for a Line in the Sand endorsement over former planning commissioner and expected candidate Mike Toerge.

Toerge was ready to challenge Brenner in the failed Peotter recall, but running in a short recall election is certainly different than running a full race in 2018.

Though I wondered if he’d put himself through the rigors of campaigning after his defeat in 2014, he said this week, “I’m still in the mix and working on a strategy to bring resident-first leadership to my district.”

No doubt Line in the Sand’s endorsement and grass-roots support will move the needle for candidates it supports in 2018.

And now it seems a candidate may be emerging from within their ranks.

Line in the Sand board member Tim Stoaks says he’s ready to make a play for Duffield’s District 3 seat.

Stoaks is a friend and neighbor, so I understandably have mixed feelings. I have no doubt his experience as a former Santa Ana Heights Redevelopment Agency Project Advisory Committee member and chair, current AirFair board member, involvement with Still Protecting Our Newport (SPON), the Newport Beach Animal Shelter and and Newport Harbor Educational foundation, will serve him well.

But when it comes to this column and the Feet to the Fire Forums, I call them like I see them, regardless of friendships.

“Bring it on, I’m ready for a lively debate of the issues with you and anyone else,” Stoaks told me.

Folks enter these races knowing full well how ugly Newport campaign season gets but say they’ll stick to the issues and look forward to Feet to the Fire and other community forums.

As Brenner said, “I’m not running against anyone, I’m running for Newport.”

Candidates can pull official papers starting July 16 so there’s plenty of time for more candidates to emerge until the nomination period closes Aug. 10.

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

How will district voting change the dynamic of that city’s election?

Will Newport voters clean house and vote in a political shift in ideology on the council, as Costa Mesans did in 2016?

These are just the tip of the political icebergs we’ll be navigating as election season unfolds.

This week I’ve decided to focus on Newport, as several candidates say they are ready to rumble. Mayor Marshall Duffield, and council members Diane Dixon, Scott Peotter and Kevin Muldoon — up for re-election.

The first name emerging is a 40-year resident, boxing promotor Roy Englebrecht. He’s back after his 2014 council loss to Muldoon in District 4.

The last go around Englebrecht raised no money, had no yard signs or mailers, and only spent $100 on campaign T-shirts.

“I got 2,882 votes, losing by about 7,000,” he joked. “I certainly got the best return on my money of any candidate in 2014.”

This year will be different.

After selling his business last year to Alliance MMA, Englebrecht says he’ll “transition out” by this summer, making the City Council his only professional obligation.

His says his campaign website will be up in less than 10 days, ready to raise money, garner endorsements and outline his platform issues and potential solutions. He’s already busy organizing supporters and advisors.

In 2014 Englebrecht was the only candidate who came out strongly against Measure Y, which sought to allow increased density at Newport Center. Though that didn’t get him the endorsement of the powerful political action committee Line in the Sand, he met with members again over the summer in hopes of receiving their support in 2018, which, if granted, could be a game changer.

Among his campaign issues will be high-density development, election reform and addressing the city’s unfunded pension liabilities.

Englebrecht likes what Costa Mesa is doing regarding district elections, as successfully campaigning throughout an entire city is a cost-prohibitive $100,000-plus.

I asked Englebrecht for his campaign philosophy.

“I don’t complain, I compete,” he said.

Another returning name is 51-year Corona del Mar resident Joy Brenner.

She was in, out, then in again during the failed Peotter recall effort.

Now she’s committed to win the District 6 seat come November.

Though Brenner is nursing a broken wrist, injured after falling while taking down Christmas decorations, I found her in amazing spirits.

She’s busy planning her Jan. 25 campaign kick-off party at C Dobbs Boutique in Corona del Mar, launching a website, Joyfornewport.com, and organizing events like “Walk With Joy.”

Brenner says her campaign will be “full of joy” and “cheerful spirit.”

With her long history of community involvement, she’s a familiar name and a strong contender for a Line in the Sand endorsement over former planning commissioner and expected candidate Mike Toerge.

Toerge was ready to challenge Brenner in the failed Peotter recall, but running in a short recall election is certainly different than running a full race in 2018.

Though I wondered if he’d put himself through the rigors of campaigning after his defeat in 2014, he said this week, “I’m still in the mix and working on a strategy to bring resident-first leadership to my district.”

No doubt Line in the Sand’s endorsement and grass-roots support will move the needle for candidates it supports in 2018.

And now it seems a candidate may be emerging from within their ranks.

Line in the Sand board member Tim Stoaks says he’s ready to make a play for Duffield’s District 3 seat.

Stoaks is a friend and neighbor, so I understandably have mixed feelings. I have no doubt his experience as a former Santa Ana Heights Redevelopment Agency Project Advisory Committee member and chair, current AirFair board member, involvement with Still Protecting Our Newport (SPON), the Newport Beach Animal Shelter and and Newport Harbor Educational foundation, will serve him well.

But when it comes to this column and the Feet to the Fire Forums, I call them like I see them, regardless of friendships.

“Bring it on, I’m ready for a lively debate of the issues with you and anyone else,” Stoaks told me.

Folks enter these races knowing full well how ugly Newport campaign season gets but say they’ll stick to the issues and look forward to Feet to the Fire and other community forums.

As Brenner said, “I’m not running against anyone, I’m running for Newport.”

Candidates can pull official papers starting July 16 so there’s plenty of time for more candidates to emerge until the nomination period closes Aug. 10.

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

Mayor Genis sees promise in Costa Mesa’s animal services future


1/5/2018

In December , I broke the news that Costa Mesa city officials had received a letter from Dr. Samir Botros, owner of the Orange County Humane Society Shelter (OCHS) in Huntington Beach. Botros wrote that he wouldn’t be renewing his contract with the city for animal control services when it expires Jan. 21.

This came as good news to many — including me — who felt the city shouldn’t continue this contract considering the allegations against the organization for mismanagement and mistreatment of animals.

I’ve followed the OCHS controversy closely. Readers have also weighed in heavily, saying Costa Mesa should follow the path Newport Beach took in 2015, when the city pulled away from OCHS and founded its own shelter.

In my last column of 2017, Costa Mesa Councilman John Stephens asked the community to contact him and city staff with ideas for an interim animal rescue solution.

So as the holiday haze started to lift this week, my first order of business was to check in with Stephens and Costa Mesa Mayor Sandy Genis to follow up about what has happened since they received Botros’ letter.

Stephens tells me the response has been great from residents, rescue organizations, animal hospitals and neighboring shelters.

Genis says over the holidays she was busy visiting shelters, talking with veterinarians and rescue organizations.

When we spoke on Wednesday, Genis told me she has a line on a gentleman who has a kennel on Riverside Drive in Santa Ana Heights, where Newport’s shelter is. He is interested in selling the property.

Though she doesn’t know what price he’ll be asking just yet, Genis says the facility looks promising and has a good capacity to house both cats and dogs.

Genis also spoke with a friend from an animal rescue organization who has put the word out within that community that Costa Mesa is looking for help. Genis is feeling very positive about the feedback she has received so far.

In researching animal control solutions, Genis also spoke with a shelter consultant to get an understanding about the amounts cities are spending these days.

On the low end it’s approximately $8 per capita of population. On the high end it’s about $32.

According to Genis, Costa Mesa has been spending closer to the low end and will need to spend more for higher quality animal control.

She’s estimating an average of $15 per capita, which could be more than $1 million and require the city to reexamine its budget.

No doubt there’s a passion in Costa Mesa for animals, and the answer most likely will lie in a public-private partnership.

We saw a glimpse of that last year when Stephens raised $50,000 in just a few short weeks for his Fourth of July animal-friendly fireworks project.

If this same effort went into securing Costa Mesa’s shelter, I have no doubt it would be successful. There are many pet lovers in the city.

Stephens has estimated 70% to 75% of Costa Mesa households have pets. Though the city doesn’t have an actual number confirming that, Genis says the average nationwide is 40%. If you figure a good many of those have more than one animal, that’s a healthy number of pets.

Moving forward, the city has more than two dozen applicants for its new animal control committee, which will be tasked with solving the shelter issue

Genis is thrilled by the community response and says appointments to the committee are scheduled to happen during the next council meeting. The panel is expected to play a vital role in the development of a long-term solution.

Genis tells me her goal is to have as many animals adopted as possible. That’s feasible if the city works closely with community groups and rescue organizations.

“The more people you have looking at something, the more the issue will be noticed,” Genis says.

As she researched other shelters locally, Genis discovered they did a good job getting the word out about their adoptable animals using websites, special events and social media like Nextdoor.com. They’ve done a better job on that front than OCHS.

The due diligence of Genis and Stephens on this issue is commendable.

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