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

Baugh on campaign fliers:They are just making 

stuff up and throwing it out to see what sticks

4/19/2018

The Clash of the Republican Titans for the 48th Congressional seat is turning ugly,

 as incumbent Rep. Dana Rohrabacher takes first jabs at opponent Scott Baugh, 

the former O.C. Republican Party chairman.


There's apparently no lost love between these two former friends.


Last week Rohrabacher campaign mailers accused Baugh of being a lobbyist

supported by "never Trumpers" responsible for the proliferation of

 drug/alcohol rehab homes and high-density development. 


He also asserted that Baugh is in favor of amnesty for undocumented

immigrants.


In a 30-second video spot, Rohrabacher calls Baugh "the lobbyist money 

can buy."


Though Baugh joked he liked the picture Rohrabacher used of him in these 

hit pieces,  he had no idea who his supposed "never Trumper" supporters are

 and says Rohrabacher's claims that he refused to be photographed with the

 president are false.


"Dana looks like he is getting desperate to extend his 30-year career of 

getting nothing done — three bills in 30 years," says Baugh. "They are

 just making stuff up and throwing it out to see what sticks."


Baugh's never favored amnesty and points to as proof a piece he wrote 

for the Orange County Register in July 2014.


He also says he's "never worked for any high-density development in

 Orange County.


"And as far as lobbying for sober-living homes, "I only advised them to 

restrict where they were going in Newport Beach over 10 years ago when 

Newport was creating an ordinance to deal with the proliferation of these 

homes," he says.


Baugh's clients at the time were CRC Health Group and Morningside 

Recovery.


Former Newport mayor Keith Curry and Newport City Manager Dave Kiff 

worked on the city's sober living home ordinance over a decade ago.


Curry says he suggested Baugh "could help them reach reasonable 

accommodations with the city and neighbor."


According to Baugh, CRC Health was cooperative with city leaders, agreeing to

 restrict locations, but he "terminated his relationship with Morningside after 

they asserted their protection under federal law and the ADA Fair Housing Act."


Baugh is referring to laws that require those in recovery from alcohol and

 drug-addiction to be considered "disabled" so that landlords do not 

discriminate against them."


If they weren't going to be good citizens, then I wasn't going to work with 

them," he says.


Kiff says he never viewed Baugh as proliferating homes, "which were already

 here by 2007-08," when the ordinance was being drafted.


He recalls speaking with Baugh and CRC Health, which owned Sober Living by

 the Sea.


Kiff says Sober Living by the Sea entered into a settlement agreement with the 

city that "has worked out quite well."


"As you might recall, SLBTS dropped their lawsuit against us following

 mediation," Kiff says. "At mediation, we set up a protocol to spread SLBTS

 homes out (over time), to cap beds overall in the community and in the most

 impacted area (the Peninsula) and to adopt various 'good neighbor' policies

 for homes."


Kiff says over the past several years, there have been "nearly zero complaints

 from city staff or residents about SLBTS homes," and as the "biggest single 

operator of beds in Newport, the settlement was a big deal. To the extent Scott

 helped SLBTS come to that conclusion, kudos to him."


Licensed and unlicensed sober-living beds in Newport are probably a third

 of what they were in 2007-08, reports Kiff.


Though Baugh's efforts ended with Newport, the issue is critically important to 

cities in the 48th District, especially Costa Mesa, where residents vocally oppose

 their proliferation.


Baugh believes solutions can be found at the federal level by amending the 

Fair Housing Act, giving local communities more control."What you need to

 do is strike  a balance so they can restrict location and concentration as not

 to disrupt neighborhoods and communities," 


Baugh says.He also wants to see rogue operators engaging in insurance fraud

 rigorously dealt with.


I contacted Rohrabacher for a comment on the rehab home issue. 


His representative, Ken Grubbs, sent this on the congressman's behalf.


"It's a travesty to put alcoholics and drug addicts in homes next to ordinary 

families," he says. "My alternative would be to have rehab centers with doctor 

oversight placed in industrial and commercial areas rather than inserted into

 residential areas."


Grubbs shared this anecdote as well:

Rohrabacher "was alerted to the potential problem when, a few years ago

 and living across the street from one of these residences, he looked out the 

window to his front lawn and saw his young son talking with a drug addict

 under treatment there," he says. 

"He did the fatherly thing and told his son not to talk with strangers."


He was only alerted about this issue a few years ago?


Where's this guy been?


Granted, he previously lived in Huntington Beach, where the issue had

 not yet  become as pronounced, but Costa Mesa was still in the district 

and residents were furious.


"If Rohrabacher was serving this district instead of promoting Putin and

 marijuana, he would have solved this federal problem," says Baugh.

BARBARA VENEZIA is an opinion columnist writing

 political and social commentary since 2007. She can be 

reached at bvontv1@gmail.com


Dixon, Herdman stand up for Kiff and up

 to the Newport Beach council majority

4/12/2018


Newport council members Jeff Herdman and Diane Dixon rocked the 

council chambers April 10 as the city manager saga came to a head.


To recap, the majority of the council wanted Dave Kiff kicked to the curb,

 though he'd done nothing wrong, his performance reviews were excellent, 

and he was getting ready to retire mid-2019 after transitioning a new council.


Why the rush to remove Kiff remains a mystery.


Tuesday's meeting brought the mess to a crescendo as his exit package, 

$200,000-plus, was approved by unanimous vote, but not before Dixon 

and Herdman blew the doors off this drama.


Dixon had harsh words for the council majority: Mayor Marshall Duffield, 

Mayor Pro Tem Will O'Neill and council members Scott Peotter and Kevin

 Muldoon.


"They wanted to fire him. They decided to fire him. They fired him. But they 

didn't tell anyone," Dixon alleged.


She chastised Duffield and Will O'Neill for approaching Kiff in February without

 asking all council members for input, advice or approval "to demand that he 

retire four months earlier than planned.


"She wasn't too happy, she asserted, that "they took steps to terminate the

 contract of the city manager and single-handedly dictated and negotiated the

 terms of a new contract to end his employment," again without full council 

participation.


Then she outlined a timeline of events she said Kiff confirmed for her.


I'm highlighting them here, but I urge readers to watch "Item 12. City Manager

 Employment Agreement Amendment and Commencement of Process for

 Recruitment of New City Manager" to get the full powerful statement at newportbeach.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?publish_id=6789bcdc-3d9b-11e8-8cc7-00505691de41.


Dixon, reading from a projected slide, quoted Duffield as saying, in 2015, 

"`We have Kiff where we want him. We want to get rid of him.'" 


She then stated several people in the community reported this comment to Kiff.


Then, in 2016, according to Dixon's slide, Duffy, in a Newport Harbor Yacht 

Club table conversation, said "'Dave will be fired and given a gold watch and

 patted on the back and retired.'"


This, according to the slide, was reported to Kiff by mutual friends.


In 2016 and 2017, according to Dixon's slide, Peotter recommended Mark Denny,

 assistant city manager of Dana Point, as Kiff's successor.


Readers may remember my last column in which Denny denied knowing anything 

about being considered.And why would anyone even think he was an appropriate 

replacement?


In 1996 Denny entered a guilty plea for misdemeanor election fraud.


And as county CEO, controversy swirled about "the granting of nearly $1 million 

in questionable contracts inside the OC Parks Department he formerly ran," 

according to the Voice of OC.


But getting back to Dixon's timeline:On Feb. 12, according to her slide, Duffield 

and O'Neill met with Kiff.Duffy, according to Dixon's slide, told Kiff: "`We want to

 talk some serious business with you about speeding up your retirement.'"


Kiff, according to Dixon, replied: "`I was planning to retire after the November

 election, as the timing might allow for better candidates to apply.'"


"That makes sense,'" Duffy said, according to the slide."'No. That's not going to work,'"

 O'Neill said, according to Dixon's presentation. 


"'We want this change during summertime. We will make sure you are whole. 

We will have time to celebrate your career.'"


Dixon received thunderous applause and a standing ovation. Interestingly no council 

members challenged her information.


Next Herdman raised concerns about the upcoming city manager search process in 

regards to public transparency and about the city charter revisions made by the ad-hoc 

council committee appointed by then-Mayor Muldoon.Changes here, Herdman said,

 intentionally paved the way for Kiff's removal "without any explanation to the entire

 council or the public."


And Herdman said that when it came to Kiff's "termination package of over $200,000 

of taxpayer money, "I thought about how Peotter, Muldoon, O'Neill and Duffield all 

ran on fiscally conservative platforms.


"Yet they're OK spending this kind of dough to get rid of Kiff months before he was 

going to retire anyway?"


"Looking to the future, I hope that the result of this sad chapter in our city's history

 will result in a new majority on the council that will return transparency to our city

 government, respect to our citizens and restore the mutual bonds of trust that must

 exist in a representative form of government," Dixon said.


After Tuesday night, Dixon emerged Newport's newest power player on the 2018

 political chessboard.


Not only is she unopposed in her re-election bid, she's raised enough funds to

 support candidates opposing Peotter, Muldoon and Duffield in 2018 — if she wishes.


 And that's a big if since she is a member of their "Team Newport" bloc.


The actions in this Kiff debacle have obviously angered Dixon. 


And hell hath no fury like a politician scorned.

BARBARA VENEZIA is an opinion columnist writing political and social commentary since 2007. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com

Is Newport city manager retiring, resigning or being fired?


4/5/2018


Retiring, exiting early, fired — semantics are playing out in the next 

phase of the political drama in Newport Beach regarding City Manager

 Dave Kiff.


In March 26, I wrote that Kiff allegedly was being pressured by the ruling

 majority of the City Council to leave his position before his originally planned 

retirement in mid-2019.


 Kiff announced March 25 that he plans to exit later this year.


Residents who attended the council meeting March 27 shared their support

 for Kiff and outrage over what allegedly was happening.


City Attorney Aaron Harp said Newport Mayor Marshall Duffield "asked 

to have a sixth amended and restated employment agreement for Mr. Kiff 

placed on the agenda for the next City Council meeting" on Tuesday.


Kiff's departure is imminent and nothing's going to stop it. But residents

 should understand the language as this unfolds.


According to the fifth amendment of Kiff's contract in April 2017, Kiff serves

 at the "pleasure of the City Council."Nothing prevents Kiff from resigning with

 45 days' notice, but "upon the effective date of resignation, employee forfeits all

 compensation and benefits owing for the remainder of the term of this agreement,

 as well as any potential severance pay.


"So if Kiff resigns, he gets no severance.


The agreement goes on to say: 

"If employer terminates this agreement (thereby terminating employee's

 employment) without cause, as determined by the affirmative votes of a 

majority of the members of the City Council at a meeting of the City Council ...

" the city will pay "a lump sum benefit equal to six months of his then-applicable

 base salary and shall provide six months of medical coverage as provided 

under the compensation plan, as long as employee is already enrolled and

receiving medical coverage through the city medical benefits plan at time of

 termination (collectively, 'severance').


"The word "severance" is important here because if Kiff were to retire when 

he planned in mid-2019, he would only receive his city pension and no 

severance package.


If the council majority votes on the sixth amendment and Kiff agrees to leave 

this year, is he technically resigning? 


In that scenario, he gets no severance, according to the contract.


But doesn't this really mean the majority of the council would be removing 

him without cause and firing him?


Like I said, this is all about semantics. But at some point you can't get around

 the reality of what's happening.Councilman Jeff Herdman, who is not in favor 

of Kiff's early departure, says my assessment of the situation is correct and 

tells me it's his understanding that a "severance package" has been negotiated

 with Kiff's lawyer and will be included in the sixth amendment to be presented 

at the next council meeting.


The reality is, Kiff is done. Even though I feel he should thumb his nose at these

shenanigans and stay until mid-2019, I understand the guy's just had enough, 

and I don't blame him.


Herdman, who is in the minority along with council members Diane Dixon

 and Brad Avery, knows they can't turn the tide of events.


He's looking to November for change."We need to focus on the next election

 to elect one or two new members. Then a new council can clean up what's taken

 place here and get back to a council that's ethical, transparent and truly interested

 in working for the people of Newport Beach," Herdman says.


That being said, Herdman already has endorsed my neighbor and friend Tim Stoaks, 

who is running against Duffield, and Joy Brenner, who is challenging Councilman 

Scott Peotter.


He's also endorsing Dixon for re-election.At this point, Dixon doesn't have 

an opponent, though that could change. 


But Herdman feels Dixon is "hard-working" and has proved she's an independent

 thinker by moving away from the "Team Newport" majority she was elected with.


After this next council meeting, the process of finding Kiff's replacement will begin.


It will be interesting to watch this unfold.One person who said he does not want 

Kiff's job is Dana Point City Manager Mark Denny.


Though rumors flew last week that he was in the running, Denny was shocked to

 hear it when I spoke with him Monday.Appointed in July, he just moved his family 

to Dana Point from Tustin, loves his job and has no intention of leaving, he tells me.


Denny says he knows Kiff well, has enormous respect for him and hopes Kiff 

hangs on a while longer so they can continue to work together and with other

 Orange County city managers to solve the county's homelessness issues.

BARBARA VENEZIA is an opinion columnist who has been

writing political and social commentary since 2007. She can be

 reached at bvontv1@gmail.com


Newport Beach city manager 

should stay on the job as long 

as he wants

3/28/2018


The only thing missing were the pitchforks and torches as angry residents 

stepped to the podium in public comments at Tuesday's City 

Council meeting.


Residents praised their beloved city manager, Dave Kiff, 

begging him to stay and not take early retirement in one breath and 

chastising council members Scott Peotter, Will O'Neill and Kevin Muldoon 

and Mayor Marshall "Duffy" Duffield in the next. 


Speakers claimed those men played a behind-the-scenes role in Kiff's

 premature departure.


At the heart of many comments were the same issues I raised Monday 

regarding the allegations of how some council members pressured Kiff

into announcing his early adios in a news release Sunday night.


Kiff originally had planned to retire in mid-2019 after this fall's council 

elections, as he wanted to transition new council members before 

he stepped away.


My column questioned the rush of the news release, the circumstances

 leading to Kiff's decision and whose agendas may benefit from his early

 retirement.


I  wasn't the only one who thought something wasn't adding up, which 

was apparent Tuesday night.


I'm not going to go into the rudeness Muldoon exhibited from the dais 

to former state Assemblywoman Marilyn Brewer as she made her strong

 feelings known on the subject.


Or how former Mayor Nancy Gardner's emotions overtook her and she

 abruptly left the podium.


Or how eloquently former Mayor Mike Henn skewered council members

 with his biting comments.


Watch the video for yourself here.


Kiff prepared a statement he was going to read at the end of the council 

meeting, announcing his early departure. That didn't happen.


So in reality, firming up his retirement timeline is still open.


I figure he has few options.


He could just quit, leaving city staff and government in chaos, but I don't

 see that fitting his strong moral compass.


So that leaves him either retiring before the end of the year, as the news

 release states, or sticking to his original timeline and leaving in mid-2019.


In light of the community sentiment in Kiff's favor expressed Tuesday night, 

any council member who would even think about trying to make Kiff's life 

miserable would be crazy to do so.


Personally, I'd like to see him take his original road because Kiff's pathway

 to retirement has been handled so poorly by city officials that someone needs

 to hit the brakes here.


There needs to be a clearer exit strategy that ensures optimum results for 

residents and a smooth transition for city government — minus any personal 

agendas.


And since the council never took a formal vote directing members to have 

discussions with Kiff about his employment situation, and there was nothing 

on the agenda Tuesday night to deal with Kiff leaving, council members

 haven't yet talked about any of this formally in an open meeting.


They will soon.


"The mayor has asked to have a sixth amended and restated employment 

agreement for Mr. Kiff placed on the agenda for the next City Council meeting,

" City Attorney Aaron Harp tells me. "This was reflected on the tentative agenda

 distributed prior to last night's meeting."


Amend his agreement in two weeks?


Councilman Jeff Herdman, who strongly supports Kiff, said that without prior

 council authority to even start talking about Kiff's contract, how could he even 

be asked to vote on an amended contract?


The whole thing is a mess.


I believe council members Diane Dixon, Brad Avery and Herdman were kept 

out of the loop regarding Kiff's early retirement.


And I believe Duffield, Peotter and O'Neill want Kiff gone to satisfy their 

agendas.


I'm convinced something went on here, and maybe we need to rephrase

 the question since everyone on the council seems to be denying there was 

an unauthorized "meeting" with Kiff and certain council members were

 urging his early exit.


On Wednesday, I asked Peotter, Duffield, Muldoon and O'Neill whether at 

any time they'd had individual conversations or sent emails to Kiff asking or 

suggesting that he retire early.


As of deadline — no word back. I'm not holding my breath.


Moving forward, I feel the poor handling of the Kiff situation will affect this 

year's re-election campaigns of Muldoon, Duffield and Peotter.


Politics is all about optics, and based on what I saw Tuesday night, the public

 has lost trust in those officials, with some calling them an embarrassment to

 the city.


It's tough to come back from something like this.


Maybe Kiff won't be the only guy leaving City Hall before January.

BARBARA VENEZIA is an opinion columnist writing political and social commentary since 2007. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com



Newport Beach council majority doesn't realize what 

it has in City Manager Dave Kiff

3/26/18

Newport Beach council members Jeff Herdman and Diane Dixon met

 with City Manager Dave Kiff Monday morning after a weekend of 

speculation about Kiff's unexpected announcement that he plans 

to retire.


Kiff confirmed the meeting, saying he explained some of the processes

 to Dixon and Herdman and that he is ready to move on after 20 years 

with the city, nine as city manager.


But Herdman contends certain council members put undue pressure on Kiff 

to speed up his departure before his contract ends next year.


And that this wouldn't have occurred if those who want to see Kiff go 

didn't have support of a majority of the council.


What troubles Herdman is council members who would have spoken 

to Kiff about leaving did so without prior authorization from the council 

as a whole.


Herdman plans on bringing this up at Tuesday's council meeting, and I'm sure

 there will be differing opinions as members hash this out.


Getting rid of Kiff isn't new news. In January 2017 I wrote about how 

Herdman, then recently elected, met with Councilmen Marshall "Duffy"

 Duffield and Scott Peotter. 


Kiff came up in the conversation."They both expressed their dissatisfaction 

with Dave," Herdman said, though he wouldn't get into specifics.


When that column ran, and word got out getting rid of Kiff might be in 

the wind, reader response was overwhelmingly in Kiff's corner, as he's always 

been a popular and well-respected city manager.


Even though talk of removing Kiff died down, the underlying feeling that 

he needed to go by some on the council remained, apparently heating up

 recently, according to Herdman.


All weekend long my phone was blowing up about Kiff being allegedly forced 

to retire before the end of his contract. 


Several former mayors weighed in.


Rush Hill calls Kiff a "qualified city manager" and the idea of removing 

him "immoral and just plain stupid."


Former Mayor Keith Curry says hiring Kiff as city manager was the best

 decision made during his 11 years on council."We would not have the financial 

stability we have today if not for Dave," he says. "He managed the city through

 one of the worst recessions since the Great Depression."


Former Mayor Ed Selich tells me Kiff is one of the best city managers he's 

ever worked with and feels there will be a mass exodus of seasoned city staffers

 once Kiff leaves.


On Sunday evening I received the official city press release about Kiff's 

Tuesday retirement announcement, stating he would leave by end of 2018.


I found the timing odd.


Why rush a statement out on a Sunday?


Did city staff have to be called into work on the weekend to 

produce this press release?


Couldn't this wait until Monday?


Or after Kiff made a formal announcement at the Tuesday meeting?


There's a lot here that just doesn't add up.Kiff tells me he was planning

 to retire mid-2019 so he could transition council members after the November 

election.


And that seemed like good reasoning.


So why fast forward to retire if he wasn't being pressured behind the scenes, 

as Herdman alleges?


Let's look at the political chessboard.I don't believe council members would

 threaten to fire Kiff if he didn't retire early. 


It's an election year and the optics would be disastrous for reelection campaigns.


I do believe they could make the guy's life miserable if he stayed.


I feel Team Newport is looking for a more amenable city manager for its political 

agenda.A


re the powers that be that support Team Newport members for re-election

 looking to further their reach into City Hall?


Now, if some are not reelected, the dynamic of the council changes.


 I would imagine a new council's criteria for hiring Kiff's replacement would

 differ from those there now.


And if the current council hires a new city manager more along the lines 

of their political ideology, what could that mean for residents?


Residents should be questioning how this scenario tilts the balance of 

reasoning as city provides recommendations to council for its decisions.


It's no secret Kiff hasn't always seen eye to eye with the majority on this 

council.


I get that Kiff has put up with a lot since Team Newport came into power in 2014

, and he's probably at the end of his rope.


Remember that whole anti-g​​​​​​​ay marriage rant of Peotter’s that caused 

quite a controversy in July 2015?


At the time Kiff put out a statement:"As the city manager, who happens to be

 a married gay person, I will continue to administer the city's detailed personnel

 policies and rules in a manner compliant with state and federal law."


He took the high road.


I can't imagine how he's kept on working in a position where he knew 

basically one of his bosses opposes what he stands for.


The circumstances surrounding Kiff announcing his retirement this week 

leaves many unanswered questions, which will certainly linger far into this

 election season.


BARBARA VENEZIA is an opinion columnist writing political and social commentary since 2007. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com

Republicans are tripping over each

other in the 48th Congressional

District race


3/22/2018

Last week I wrote about former Orange County Republican Chairman Scott 

Baugh jumping into the 48th Congressional District race, challenging his 

longtime friend and incumbent Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa).

This didn't sit well with the O.C. Republican Party since Baugh dared to not abide

by a party maxim: "Thou shall not run against an incumbent Republican."

 

He even received a letter from OC Republican Party Chairman Ken Whitaker and

other heavy hitters, chastising him for his actions.

 

One name on that letter: California Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte.Only problem is

no one informed Brulte. Brulte wrote to me saying, "I did not sign the letter. It was never

sent to me, and no one asked me to sign."

 

Guess these guys need to get their act together if they plan on sending letters to other

protocol breakers — Republican Supervisor Todd Spitzer's running against incumbent

District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, also a Republican, as just one example.

 

And what about candidates running in Costa Mesa and Newport Beach? Republicans in

these races challenge each other all the time.

 

Considering the Republican Central Committee has a history of endorsing candidates in

these nonpartisan council races — pitting Republican against Republican — I'm confused

as to why party panties are in a bunch about Baugh running against Rohrabacher.

 

Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) shared his thoughts about all of this in his email blast.

"The congressman has stated he was going to retire in two years so many times in the past

that he's been dishonest and abusive to those that are ready to get some real work done

in D.C.," Moorlach wrote.

 

Moorlach talked to Baugh,"I told him that if he decided to run anyway, I would support

him," and went on to explain that though he's supported Rohrabacher's past runs, he won't

this time.

Moorlach says that 30 years later he "cannot recognize any major committee chairmanships

or legislative accomplishments by our congressman."

 

Though this is a rare move for Moorlach, he feels, "A protocol should not be an umbrella

that protects mediocrity and stagnation. The Republican Party deserves better. And, in my

opinion, Dana has made severe missteps of late, and I am one who really wants to improve

the brand."

 

So Moorlach's sticking to his political moral compass — not the party line.

 

But is Baugh's entry some kind of twisted political conspiracy to make sure the

two top vote-getters in the open primary are Republicans, as one reader wrote after

my column posted last week?

 

"Arrangements don't involve threats, intimidation tactics and letters dropped off at

doorsteps in the dark of night," Baugh says. "There are very real and legitimate differences

of opinion as to whether a party protocol should try to silence an alternative choice for the

voters when the incumbent has been in the same office for 30 years. 

 

"How many years are too long?" he asks. "I don't know the magic number, but 30 years

seems to be considerably past that number."

 

Though the Rohrabacher-Baugh match-up is an explosive upset for their county party, and

there are a total of five Republicans in the race, Democrats are pretty messy too.

 

With far too many candidates — eight at last count — for any one to be viable, it seems

their county party can't reign in loose cannons either.

 

This is political theater at its best and too good to pass up. So for the first time the

Feet to the Fire Forum gang will tackle a congressional race at 7 p.m. Sept. 17

in the Orange Coast College Robert B Moore Theater. We'll speak with the two 48th

Congressional race primary winners.

Initially, we were planning for May 30, before the June primary, but with so many

Democrats, Republicans and at least one independent candidates, not to mention the

media panelists, we'd have almost 16 to 18 people on stage. That isn't feasible.

 

So we've decided to wait until after the primary for a 60-minute chat with the top-two

candidates, which could very well be Rohrabacher and Baugh, or one of them and a Democrat.

 

Baugh says he welcomes facing any challenger on F2F — if he's a primary pick.

 

There are other live forums. On Sept. 19 the F2F conversation will be dedicated to

Costa Mesa. The 90-minute debate will be split into two parts — the first devoted to council

candidates, the second to the mayoral race.

 

We'll turn our attention to the Newport council race Sept. 20.

All forums will be taped for re-broadcast on CMTV, NBTV, YouTube and streamed live. I'll have more

 information as production meetings progress.

 

And we're also doing Feet to the Fire podcasts. Check out the latest at feet2thefireforum.com.

BARBARA VENEZIA is an opinion columnist writing political and social commentary

 since 2007. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com


A political insider goes rogue, challenges powerful friends and a core principle of his party: Thou shall not run against an incumbent.

An intriguing pitch for a TV pilot, sure, but this drama is actually the new reality facing the Orange County Republican Party.

Republicans have a renegade in the 48th Congressional District race with former O.C. Republican Chairman Scott Baugh challenging incumbent Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of Costa Mesa.

In 2016 Baugh told me Rohrabacher made it clear to him that he was "looking for a departure in 2016 or 2018." This prompted Baugh to file a statement of candidacy and start fundraising to the tune of about half a million dollars.

Baugh said he wouldn't run for the seat unless Rohrabacher retired.

When that didn't happen, Baugh backed off.

That was until last week, when he pulled papers to run against his pal and challenge his party's principle.

Was his original strategy not to have a two-year fight with Rohrabacher, but rather a three-month primary battle now?

Baugh chuckles at that suggestion, saying that certainly wasn't his long-term game plan, and tells me he didn't make the decision to run lightly.

"We have big issues facing the country — from the debt, dysfunctional heath care, open borders — and we need everyone pulling together, working on solutions," he says.

Baugh points to his work as party chairman, managing opposing viewpoints and coming to consensus.

"I have a record of reaching across the aisle with the Democrats and solving problems," he says. "If you're in public office and not doing that then you're not doing your job."

Baugh explains it's not enough to "vote the right way, but more important to create the voting opportunities with coalition building," to get things accomplished.

Squarely in Baugh's corner is state Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa), who understands his party won't be happy with him supporting Baugh, but there are bigger issues at stake.

Both Baugh and Moorlach feel Rohrabacher has been in this seat too long, 34 years, accomplishing nothing monumental, and it's time for a change.

Considering the current fractured state of the party, disenchanted Republican voters might welcome this shake-up, offering someone other than Rohrabacher to support.

Couple that with the fact Baugh and Rohrabacher have been long-time friends (who knows your strengths and weaknesses better than a close friend?), this is going to be an interesting battle.

As party chairman, Baugh was a maverick of political strategy and fundraising, using these skills to support his candidates, including Rohrabacher's past reelection bids.

He'll certainly be a force to reckon with.

I wondered how Rohrabacher felt about all of this, but he wasn't available for comment, according to his press person.

Rohrabacher's already facing a crowded field of Democratic opponents. If this herd doesn't thin, they risk splitting the opposing vote, because of California's open primary, which means the top-two vote-getters face off in the general election.

In this scenario Rohrabacher could win, unless he faces another strong Republican, which Baugh is.

The county party isn't happy with the prospect of this Clash of the Republican Titans.

On March 12, OCGOP Chairman Fred Whitaker sent out an email statement saying he's "fielded dozens, if not a hundred emails and phone calls, asking why the Republican Party would allow Scott Baugh's challenge to Congressman Rohrabacher in the 48th Congressional District."

"Let me reiterate, we are a republic, not a dictatorship," he wrote. "We can persuade, but we cannot prevent, nor should we want anyone to have that type of power. Party leadership actively communicated with Scott Baugh and others that challenging an endorsed Republican incumbent in good standing would not be well held."

Whitaker acknowledges he holds the chairmanship in part because of Baugh.

"I would not be chairman, but for him asking me to run to succeed him," he says. "I consider Scott to be my friend. I hope to work with him for our cause in the future. However, this path he's taken is pitting Republican against Republican, taking dollars, donors and volunteers from our efforts to fight Democrats."

Attached to Whitaker's email notice was the letter sent to Baugh urging him not to run.

"Proceeding on your current path is destructive to the Republican Party of Orange County, which you helped build," the letter warns. "It is divisive and presents an unnecessary distraction."

As I read the release and the letter, nowhere did Whitaker call out specific accomplishments of Rohrabacher over the past three decades, but rather hung on to the principle that Republicans shouldn't challenge incumbents.

​Baugh's reaction to Whitaker's letter?

"It was very immature," and dropped at his doorstep at 10:30 at night, Baugh says.

Baugh questions an attached list of names, including Orange County-area elected officials, supposedly endorsing the letter.

"About half the people either never heard of the letter or called to apologize for the letter," he says. "I also received several calls from people who were being pressured to sign it but declined. The party has some well-meaning people but they are following dogma that protects all incumbents, even those that have been there for 30 years and should retire. It's time for a change. My campaign is focused on voters, not back rooms where schemes are hatched."

Feet to the Fire plans to explore this interesting race, giving all parties an opportunity to face each other, with a candidates forum at 6 p.m. May 30 at the Orange Coast College Robert B. Moore Theater.

BARBARA VENEZIA is an opinion columnist writing political and social commentary since 2007. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com


Signature-gathering firm owner wants allegedly errant employee prosecuted



Last week I looked at the legal ramifications of the dueling investigations by the Newport Beach City Council and the Orange County district attorney's office into potentially fraudulent petition signatures gathered in the effort to recall Councilman Scott Peotter.

The D.A'.s office has the ability to prosecute and interview witnesses with certain legal protections; the city doesn't. That's why I urged Newport to back off and let the D.A. do its job.

This week I delve deeper into the paid petition gathering at the heart of all of this controversy.

The practice isn't new, and the industry saw an increase in 2016, and is seeing another one now in 2018, as discontent among voters with their elected officials leaves referendums the only recourse.

But the number of signatures required to get referendums on ballots, in some cases tens of thousands, in others hundreds of thousands, makes the task almost impossible to accomplish without professional help.

Enter paid signature gathering companies like PCI Consultants Inc.

One of the "the largest and most successful full-service petition and field management firms in the country," PCI was founded in 1992 by the company President Angelo Paparella.

PCI has "gathered more than 44 million signatures and qualified hundreds of state and local initiatives," according to the website.

Now PCI is at the heart of the Newport controversy, as it worked for the recall committee seeking to remove Peotter.

Paparella and I talked Tuesday.

He explained his staff trains those hired to gather signatures, instructing them to stay on message and follow the rules.

The crew that worked the Peotter recall has worked for Paparella before in Irvine and in other cities without a problem.

Paparella said it's PCI's practice to verify signatures with state-of-the-art software before turning them in to the Orange County registrar's office, but admitted that time restraints to qualify the Peotter recall for the ballot led to fraudulent signatures being missed.

But as soon as he was alerted there was a problem with 50 to 52 signatures of the 10,696 gathered, he was able to identify whom he believed to be responsible.

"It was only one person, and she didn't even work the entire campaign," he said.

Paparella was unfamiliar with the employee, who hadn't worked for him before, and because she had gathered so few signatures, unfortunately fell under the radar.

"These things can happen," he explained," but it's not the norm, less than 1%."

And, he added, the bogus signatures weren't the cause of the recall failure. Some 8,339 were validated, 106 shy of what was needed.

Paparella said when he saw the fraudulent signatures he acted quickly by identifying the person who turned them in and giving her pertinent information to the registrar.

He said he's cooperating fully with the D.A.'s office.

"I have a vested interest in seeing this person prosecuted," he said. "We want these people out of the business, doing jail time."

When news broke the city had issued a subpoena for Paparella's records, I asked if he'd received anything.

He hadn't.

So where does the legal responsibility lie here?

Is it with the recall committee who hired PCI?

With PCI Inc.?

Or with the actual individual perpetrating the fraud?

Once again I consulted Mario Mainero, professor of academic achievement and executive director of bar preparation and academic achievement at Chapman University.

"All the code sections appear to be directed at individuals who use various fraud, concealment and use of artifices in the collection of signature," he wrote. "It does not appear that there is any direct regulation of signature-gathering companies — probably because the sections prohibiting individuals from engaging in signature collection fraud are fairly comprehensive sections, and because in the end, the prosecution would be of individuals, not companies. So people who violate these laws are individually responsible, and are subject to both criminal fines and jail/prison time."

The issue of paid signature gathering is certainly not just a Newport issue.

District Attorney Tony Rackauckas sent out a press release June 25 warning voters to be cautious "as the election season brings a large influx of professional signature gatherers" and to know what they're signing.

I also talked with attorney Phil Greer, who represents the Peotter Recall Committee and knows Paparella.

He tells me he met with Neal Kelley, the county registrar, the day fraudulent signatures were discovered, offering his and the committee's full cooperation in the D.A.'s investigation.

So considering all involved are apparently more than willing cooperate with law enforcement and the registrar, plus an alleged perpetrator has potentially been identified, it seems to me the city investigation is unnecessary and a foolish waste of time and money.

That is unless, as I stated last week, the majority of this council, with the exception of members Diane Dixon and Jeff Herdman, is looking for retribution against those who dared attempt to recall one of their own.

BARBARA VENEZIA is an opinion columnist writing political and social commentary since 2007. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com



Newport should back off on investigation and let D.A. do his job

The action taken by the Newport City Council Feb. 13 to use its subpoena power as it launches its own investigation into potential fraudulent signatures gathered in the effort to recall Councilman Scott Peotter — even though the district attorney has initiated an investigation — is problematic on many levels.

The obvious optic is the majority of this council, with the exception of members Diane Dixon and Jeff Herdman, is looking for retribution against those who dared attempt to recall one of their own.

That aside, what are the legal ramifications with both agencies investigating?

I asked the best legal mind I know, Mario Mainero, professor of academic achievement and executive director of bar preparation and academic achievement at Chapman University, to weigh in.

He confirms that legally the city has the authority to do this because it's a charter city. The charter, he explains, supersedes the state's general law, which governs non-charter cities like Costa Mesa, on the subject.

"The legislative body may issue subpoenas requiring attendance of witnesses or production of books or other documents for evidence or testimony in any action or proceeding pending before it," according to the California Government Code.

"However, this is a far cry from whether the City Council should do so," Mainero said. "In my view, it should not."

Explaining that this fraudulent signature gathering is a potential criminal offense, Mainero said, "Only the D.A. has the power to bring charges, if an offense was committed."

Mainero went on to raise questions like, what if the city tries to grant someone immunity, or witnesses are dissuaded from speaking to the D.A., which could potentially cause the legal investigation to drop charges?

While this wouldn't "constitute a legal obstruction of justice, it may well constitute a practical one, and achieves nothing that is not just as well achieved by the district attorney's investigation," Mainero said.

And what happens if a subpoenaed witness refuses to show up?

Is the city going to seek a contempt complaint?

"That is an expensive proceeding in Superior Court (it would be a form of civil contempt), and one which the city would have to pay for," Mainero said.

When I posed this issue to City Attorney Aaron Harp he said this in an email:

"We are using city staff to work on the subpoenas and do not anticipate any outside costs for this investigation. We are hopeful the professional campaigners that allegedly committed voter fraud will do the right thing and comply with the lawful subpoenas issued by the city."

In my opinion, Harp is being unrealistically optimistic here, and the city attorney may also not know the evidence codes as well as lawyers who use it regularly in their practices.

"The city attorney may be well-versed in municipal law, but not evidence law (I know — I teach evidence)," Mainero said. "There are no real protections of due process in a clearly political proceeding, other than invocation of privileges — whether they be self-incrimination, the voting privilege, attorney-client privilege or any other privilege."

In short, Mainero concluded, "The city is not well-suited to conduct this kind of investigation, where the conduct being investigated is a crime already being investigated by the proper office to do so — the district attorney."

I wondered if the D.A.'s office had contacted the city or council members asking they not take investigative action and let prosecutors do their jobs.

City Manager Dave Kiff said he hasn't received anything.

But do the council's actions here imply little faith in the D.A's office?

One person openly critical of District Attorney Tony Rackauckas is Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who is challenging Rackauckas in the upcoming election.

Spitzer said the D.A'.s office under Rackauckas has a history of not prosecuting political corruption, and feels his office should have contacted Newport City Hall, asking it not to compromise the D.A.'s investigation.

"You don't want multiple agencies in a potential criminal investigation," Spitzer said.

Spitzer, who served for nearly 10 years as an Orange County deputy district attorney and assistant district attorney, tells me there's a big difference between being interviewed by non-professional law enforcement investigators and D.A. investigators, who operate with different rules and protections for witnesses.

Spitzer said the D.A. remaining silent regarding Newport's actions is basically creating a scapegoat for that office, should the investigation go nowhere because of Newport's interference.

How does the D.A.'s office feel about all of this?

I asked Michelle Van Der Linden, a district attorney spokeswoman, if anyone had contacted Newport asking it not to persue an independent investigation, the criticism about the D.A.'s track record on prosecuting political corruption and why prosecutors are better-suited to investigate this issue than the city.

The matter "is ongoing and under review by the Orange County district attorney's office and therefore we are not able to provide additional information at this time," she wrote in reply.

​I reached out to Mayor Marshall Duffield and Councilman Kevin Muldoon, who once worked for the D.A.'s office, asking why they felt the city could do a better job investigating here even though they don't have the ability to prosecute as the D.A.'s office does. ​They didn't get back to me.

So will these dueling investigations create even a bigger mess than the fraudulent signatures?

And who investigates this when things go sideways?

Next week I examine the scope of fraudulent signature gathering: It's more prevalent than you think.

BARBARA VENEZIA is an opinion columnist writing political and social commentary since 2007. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com


Here's some good news for lovers of pets, film, tourism, Newport, Costa Mesa


By Barbara Venezia

FEBRUARY 22, 2018, 9:50 AM

I took a break from writing last week to celebrate my 25th wedding anniversary.

Though I was having all sorts of fun, I kept my eye on happenings in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa.

The Costa Mesa animal shelter issue is, of course, one I continue to monitor. And I am keeping in touch with Dr. Anthony Rizk, owner of Newport Center Animal Hospital and Pet Hotel Suites in Fashion Island.

Rizk called last week, saying since entering into a six-month contract with the city to provide medical services to strays as a temporary animal shelter solution for the city of Costa Mesa, things are going great.

He’s working with Priceless Pet Rescue, and the collaboration is developing into a productive one.

As I previously reported, Priceless Pet has locations in Chino Hills and Claremont, and are now scouting a Costa Mesa location.

Board member Lynette Brown tells me this week they’re getting “closer to a location announcement.”

Animals are being brought in from the Costa Mesa Police Department’s animal control unit. Dr. Rizk clears them medically, and Brown says adoptions are going well.

Several senior special-needs animals have come in, and Brown asked I highlight this to readers.

These animals have been placed in foster care, and Brown hopes someone will reach into their heart and give them a forever home soon.

Rizk asked that I mention the shelter operations could use blankets, towels and dog beds. If you’d like to donate, items can be dropped off at the animal hospital.

Costa Mesa Mayor Sandy Genis reached out in an email saying, “Even though neither Costa Mesa nor Newport Beach currently use the services of the Orange County Humane Society, please continue to write about them. The animals there deserve better care, regardless of where they came from.”

She went on to mention, “The county was going to take away OCHS's license to operate, but OCHS appealed. The appeal seems to be dragging on. The first hearing was in December, now, in February, the county is still anticipating several more days of hearings, all spread out over weeks, maybe months.

“Please don't forget about the poor little ones stuck at OCHS.”

Rest assured, mayor, I’m staying on this story and plan on calling Garden Grove city officials in the coming weeks to see if they’ll continue contracting shelter services with OCHS — now that Newport and Costa Mesa have left to start their own shelters.

Speaking of pets, I talked with Dan Pittman, who runs Pittman & Associates Public Relations.

He called to invite my rescue dogs, Stasha and Rocco, to a very dog-friendly hotel, the Westin South Coast Plaza, for “Yappy Hour” from 4 to 6 p.m. Friday at the Waterfall Terrace.

Stasha and Rocco look for any excuse to party, so they’re in.

The event benefits the Bichon Rescue of Orange County’s Seniors for Seniors Dog Rescue, and they plan to have a few dogs available for adoption at the event.

Fur babies and humans attending Yappy Hour will enjoy complimentary appetizers, drink specials, “Dogtails” and local, handcrafted treats from JustFoodForDogs.

Yappy Hour will celebrate the Year of the Dog in collaboration with the Lunar New Year celebrations at South Coast Plaza.

Pittman tells me folks should RSVP by calling (714) 662-6668 or emailing aileenhazel.gaccion@westin.com.

On another note, I have to give a shout out to one animal lover who continues to globally promote how dog-friendly Newport Beach is: Newport Beach & Co. President Gary Sherwin.

He’s pet parent to his Lhasa Apso, Sophie, and cat, Brinkley, and just got back from a successful trip to London’s BAFTA Awards.

The BAFTAs are the United Kingdom’s version of the Oscars, so it’s a big-deal event: red carpet, international press and celebs, you get the picture.

Sherwin explained the U.K. is a lucrative travel market, and cities across our state court its business. Having such a high profile at this event was significant for Newport.

Partnering with the Newport Beach Film Festival and Variety magazine for an official BAFTA opening night event “was a unique to have our story told through popular culture,” says Sherwin.

The Newport Beach Film Festival kicked off BAFTA weekend Feb. 15 with the Newport Beach U.K. Honors.

Variety partnered to use the opportunity to present its annual list of 10 Brits to Watch.

Sherwin went on the radio in the U.K. the day before to promote the event.

“That’s a way for us to talk about what a glamorous place Newport is — the Cannes of Southern California,” says Sherwin, who was heard on 52 stations.

According to Sherwin, the United Kingdom is one of Newport’s largest source of international visitors, and statically these tourists stay longer and spend more when they visit.

Kudos to Sherwin's efforts ensuring Newport made a big splash at BAFTA.

BARBARA VENEZIA is an opinion columnist writing political and social commentary since 2007. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com

Feet to the Fire will blaze new trails in 2018, but will cities televise forums so voters can watch?

2/9/2018


I'm dusting off my leather, flame pants and gearing up for another season of Feet to the Fire Forums.

Since we started in 2010, my co-founders, John Canalis, executive editor of Los Angeles Times Community News; Norberto Santana Jr., publisher of Voice of OC.org; and Tom Johnson, publisher of Stu News Newport online, have been committed to asking tough questions of candidates in this no-holds-barred talk show format.

With this media collaboration, Feet to the Fire, — or F2F, as we refer to it — has grown in popularity each election cycle.

The 2018 season finds the F2F gang back on stage at the Robert B. Moore Theatre at Orange Coast College for three exciting forums.

We'll explore the city council races in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, the inaugural Costa Mesa mayoral race, and, for the first time, dip our toes into the 48th Congressional District contest.

As producer of the events, I've already locked in May 30 for the 48th District — currently represented by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa), who is running for re-election.

With a bevy of new faces opposing Rohrabacher, this should be an interesting and informative discussion.

By the end of February, dates for Newport Beach and Costa Mesa races will be set, so stay tuned.

Months of planning go into F2F. Panelists started discussions at the end of 2017 as to what races to focus on in 2018, since we were getting requests countywide.

Unable to cover every race, Santana is creating a F2F podcast that will include countywide candidate interviews, discussions about issues and conversations among the F2F gang.

At VoiceofOC.org readers can visit the new Election Central page for information on the county congressional races taking shape, as well as find candidate information, maps, voting history, demographics and the latest news.

The live tapings at the Robert B. Moore Theatre will be available on YouTube, NBTV and, we hope, CMTV.

Readers may remember that in January 2016, Costa Mesa council members, led by then-Mayor Steve Mensinger, voted not to continue airing or taping council candidate forums.

At the time, Mensinger explained to me city attorneys advised the city could be liable if it were to pick and choose which forums to tape and air.

Of course I wasn't buying this for a minute. I felt this was just an excuse to control information.

I suggested Mensinger and Councilman Jim Righeimer come up with a forum policy to include a criteria to apply to the city for airing and taping.

Two years later that has not happened.

The forum issue was supposed to be heard at the Tuesday council meeting, but it wasn't.

There was talk of a study session. In my opinion, that's just another bureaucratic stall.

Looking at the report prepared by Dane Bora, city public affairs manager, he estimates $750 in labor costs per forum.

And it's not like they tape an exorbitant number of them.

As Bora wrote: "The following are the forums that have been taped in the past and the number of times each has been recorded: Mesa Verde Community Inc. (7), Feet to the Fire (6), Cable Company/Daily Pilot/Chamber of Commerce (5), Eastside Homeowners Group (3) and Latino Business Council (2)."

This whole thing hasn't been a problem. Mayor Sandy Genis should take the lead here, and convince the council to let Bora get on with forums and stop wasting time.

The issue also came up in September 2016 with Newport's council.

Then-Councilman Ed Selich defended forums taped and aired by NBTV, saying of the approximately 12 in the city that year, four forums were requested and taped: Feet to the Fire, Speak up Newport, the West Newport Assn. and Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce.

Then-Councilman Keith Curry also favored forums and felt the sentiment behind not taping them was politically motivated by the Team Newport bloc.

Though the issue thankfully went nowhere in 2016, my favorite argument against forums came from Team Newport's Kevin Muldoon, who was then mayor pro tem.

"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, he said.

Two years later, I still don't see a neo-Nazi problem in Newport.

Political forums are, by their very nature, political. This anti-agenda argument made no sense then, and still doesn't.

Those working to limit access to information that enables voters to form opinions mustn't prevail.

Since 2010 NBTV and CMTV have been good partners of F2F. That should continue to ensure voters have the information they need to make good governing choices.

BARBARA VENEZIA  can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com.

Nonprofit Priceless Pets sniffs out locations for Costa Mesa animal shelter


2/2/2018


Last week I wrote about how Dr. Anthony Rizk, owner of Newport Center Animal Hospital and Pet Hotel Suites, 1333 Avocado Ave., had entered into a six-month contract with the city of Costa Mesa for medical services to treat strays. The agreement is a temporary animal shelter solution since the contract with the Orange County Humane Society (OCHS) expired Jan 21.

Readers asked me for more information on the city's animal adoption process.

Due to city insurance and liability issues still being sorted, adoptions can't currently be done by Rizk's hospital (though he'd prefer to do them).

So this is how it works now: Once the seven-day hold is up, and an animal is deemed medically fit by Rizk, transportation is arranged to the nonprofit Priceless Pets Rescue, which has adoption locations in Chino Hills and Claremont.

Costa Mesa has a non-exclusive agreement with the no-kill shelter, paying it a $25 per animal transfer fee, providing the animals are spayed or neutered and micro-chipped.

Locations aren't convenient to Costa Mesa, but Priceless Pets, which was founded in 2007, has a stellar reputation and is zeroing on a local location, according to board member Lynette Brown.

After reading my Dec. 18 column about Costa Mesa's need for a temporary solution for strays, Brown said she called Councilman John Stephens, offering her organization's help.

Stephens put her in touch with City Manager Tom Hatch.

Coincidentally, Priceless Pets was already scouting an O.C. location in Huntington Beach.

That focus has now changed to Costa Mesa.

"I want to reassure people we want to get as close to the community as possible," Brown said. "We are all about the animals."

She hopes to have a lease shortly.

Depending on how long the city permitting process takes, Brown estimates things could be up and running in three to four months.

I'd like to see the city's Animal Services Committee and City Council make approvals a priority, continuing to fast-track plans to stabilize animal control.

In the meantime, Brown tells me she's doing all she can to streamline adoptions for Costa Mesa's strays and has reached out to partners at PetSmart Charities.

Plans are underway to work with the Costa Mesa store, 620 W 17th St., and its mobile adoption program.

On Monday, Brown toured Newport Center Animal Hospital and Pet Hotel Suites with Rizk.

"I was very impressed," she said.

Just missing Brown, I toured the facility that day with my dogs Rocco and Stasha.

We ran into Justin Martin, Parks and Community Services director, visiting the facility with city staffers as part of a new, weekly routine.

Martin and his team spoke with hospital staff regarding the animals on site, "photographing and videoing the impounded animals so they can be tracked and promoted for adoption on the city's website," he told me, offering links to my readers.

Here's a list of impounded animals: costamesaca.gov/impoundedanimals

And here's a list of adoptable animals: costamesaca.gov/adoptableanimals

Martin's department will work closely with Animal Control on assisting impounded animals and overseeing the current contractors for animal shelter and adoption services.

They'll also serve as liaisons to the newly appointed Animal Services Committee, which will assist in making recommendations to the City Council regarding long-term solutions/options for improving animal services.

Committee member Christie McDaniel has been doing her homework in anticipation of the panel setting its first meeting.

She's talked with my friend Tim Stoaks, president of the non-profit Friends of Newport Beach Animal Shelter, in gathering information for Costa Mesa to form its own non-profit resident support group in the future.

Stoaks said he's happy to share his experience and mentioned Costa Mesa in a recent update letter to FONB AS supporters:

"The City of Costa Mesa, after a long search, has contracted with a veterinarian in Newport Beach to handle Costa Mesa's animal shelter needs," Stoaks wrote. "FONBAS, as a group whose mission is to help every animal find a good home, is pleased Costa Mesa has found, at least temporarily, a solution to their shelter needs. Though the two city's shelters are unrelated, we are all working hard for the benefit of all animals."

In the same newsletter, the organization announced plans to start a capital campaign to build a new Newport Beach Animal Shelter, kicking off fundraising with "The Fur Ball Gala," which I've been asked to co-chair.

I think it's smart for the budding Costa Mesa Animal Services committee to use FONBAS as an example of what can be accomplished with a public private government partnership.

Animals don't recognize city borders, so it's up to us to see both cities have state-of-the-art facilities to ensure their safety and care.

BARBARA VENEZIA is an opinion columnist writing political and social commentary since 2007. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com


Costa Mesa is on the right track with new approach to animal services





1/26/2018

Costa Mesa Mayor Sandy Genis called Friday night to make sure I'd seen the city's press release regarding a temporary solution for the city's stray animals now that the contract with the controversial OC Humane Society in Huntington Beach has ended.

I had.

And I was pleased the city signed an initial contract with the Newport Center Animal Hospital and Pet Hotel Suites, 1333 Avocado Ave., and its owner, Dr. Antony Rizk.

Genis agreed this was a good first step in the process and possibly in finding a permanent solution to the city's shelter issue.

Located in Fashion Island, the hospital has impressive customer reviews on Yelp, unlike the OC Humane Society.

And the location is closer than OCHS, and will open more opportunities for Newport and Costa Mesa residents to adopt animals.

I called Rizk Monday and asked about his background and plans for Costa Mesa.

Rizk has worked with golden retriever and Labrador rescue and done pro bono work for the Orange County Animal Shelter.

But it was his time at OCHS in which I was mostly interested.

Rizk explained right out of veterinary school he worked for OCHS.

"I was basically an employee," he told me.

Citing "professional courtesy," he wouldn't say anything negative.

"The big thing I want to give everyone is confidence we are a different facility," he said. "We are all inside and climate-controlled."

He's open to the public taking tours, asking questions because he's all about "transparency."

Rizk understands the negativity surrounding OCHS and said it's time to put that in the past.

"This is a new beginning," he said. "I'm really excited and glad to be back in shelter medicine. We got our first three strays in today."

As part of the city's temporary solution, Rizk's practice will receive $20,833 per month for veterinary services.

Rizk said the city is still trying to figure out how adoptions will be handled, due to insurance and liability issues.

He'd prefer to take care of the animals on Day One, using the adoption process at his facility.

"I'm all about the animals. I don't want to see animals suffer because people can't make up their minds," he said.

After strays are medically checked out by Rizk, the city has a non-exclusive agreement with Priceless Pets Rescue, a no-kill shelter with locations in Chino Hills and Claremont.

Admittedly, locations aren't convenient to Costa Mesa, but the city is also contacting "almost every rescue organization in O.C. "to work on adoptions temporarily," Councilman John Stephens explained.

Rizk is excited about working with the city and is already developing a plan to become its permanent animal-care solution.

He said by remodeling his facility's second floor, providing a separate entrance, an isolation space for new arrivals and a "comfort room" where families can bring their own pets to meet potential adoptees, this would be a state of the art shelter/adoption facility.

And he's willing to spend "what it takes" of his own money — an estimated $100,000, plus — to make the changes it if the city sees his office as a long-term solution.

In the interim, he's eager to start a foster care program for cats and dogs and a volunteer training program. Those can't get underway until the city sorts out volunteer procedures, insurance, etc.

Stephens said volunteers can get on a waiting list by calling the city at (714) 754-5000.

It's commendable that city leaders have moved quickly here, but more, obviously, needs to be hashed out.

Stephens said he's pleased the transition coincides with the launch of the city's new Animal Services Committee.

"It gives them laser focus right out of the gate," he said.

Committee member Christie McDaniel met with Rizk this week and toured the facility.

McDaniel told me she's convinced Rizk will "do whatever he can to accommodate the concerns and questions that residents may have," adding that he's "kind and gracious."

"No one loves animals more than me," Rizk said, adding he plans on offering a free office visit to any animal adopted there, as well as discounts for future visits.

He doesn't want the Fashion Island address to scare off folks concerned about pricing.

When he took over the practice in 2016, office visits cost upward of $70. Rizk reduced that to $48.

"I want this to be the shelter on Avocado that every knows and get rid of the stigma of doggie jail," he quipped.

I like Rizk's enthusiasm, sense of humor and genuine love for what he does.

Costa Mesa is on the right track here, and might be on the verge of becoming the gold standard in animal services.

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


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.