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

Venezia: Celebrating Ten Years and Continued Success

June 3, 2019 

If timing is everything, than Voice of OC publisher Norberto Santana Jr, was spot on 10 years ago launching Orange County’s only online nonprofit news room.

Back in May 2010 I had the opportunity to interview Santana for my then YouTube series “Barbara’s Bits” as he was launching the concept.

Santana spoke freely about the idea  of non-profit investigative news, comparing his innovative model to that of PBS television and NPR radio- both supported by public donations and grants.

I remember thinking during that interview that Santana’s plan was ambitious at best, but as a freelance political columnist myself, I was rooting for him.

I understood only too well that local government needed more light shined on it.

Santana’s timing couldn’t have been better in hindsight. In those days the writing was on the wall, investigative journalism was becoming a thing of the past as newspaper’s budgets were being cut as papers were being bought and sold.

It seemed every time a newspaper changed hands, there was less time and money allocated for investigative  journalists to do the deep dives needed to look into stories of corruption and the plain old stupidity that seems to breed in political bureaucracy.

It was the perfect storm for a new type of news outlet with a no-holds-barred, reporting concept.

Over the past ten years I’ve gotten to know Santana personally and professionally.

One thing we’ve always agreed on is that the form of government that affects you the most is on the local level.

City councils, county supervisors, school boards, planning commissions, etc. aren’t sexy to cover as a journalist, or even read about as a resident. But the decisions made by these folks can mess with you big time, and for years to come.

Covering the local political scene is how Santana and I became friends.

Funny thing, before I started writing in 2007, I actually contacted Santana while he was still an investigative reporter at the OC Register.

I was trying to get someone to pay attention to issues with the Santa Ana Heights Redevelopment Agency in my neighborhood.

Who knew a few years later, I’d run into him professionally covering my first big story, the attempted sale of the OC Fairgrounds in 2010.

I’ll never forget being denied entry into a packed OC Fair Board meeting during that time.

Santana saw I was being blocked from the door by a Fair official, got up from his seat and demanded they let me in because I was press.

He sternly told me never to let anyone stop me from chasing a story again. He was, and still is, fierce in that belief.

That moment was a game changer for me.

In the 12 years I wrote political and social commentary for the OC Register, and later the LA Times Daily Pilot, I followed my leads with unrelenting tenacity no matter what.

And in moments of uncertainty I’d think, “What would Norberto do?”  Then I’d fearlessly forge full speed ahead into the eye of the storm of controversy without hesitation.

Of course I’ve enjoyed my partnership with Santana and L.A. Times Community News Executive Editor John Canalis as co-creators of the Feet to the Fire political forums.

Over the years he’s taken to task many a candidate asking tough questions.

As the producer of the event, I’ve had my share of candidates whine about his aggressive questioning at times.

I remain unsympathetic.

My feeling is if you’re stepping into the political boxing ring, Santana is the George Foreman of journalism. If you can’t verbally spar with him, politics probably isn’t for you- go home now.

I’ve watched with great pride Voice of OC grow and flourish this past 10 years.

One thing I truly admire is Santana’s support grooming young journalists.  Working with Chapman University, teaching classes on journalism, and putting interns into the field getting firsthand experience covering local municipal meetings, is great to see.

This kind of training is invaluable to budding journalism careers.

Voice of OC also encourages community editorials so your voice is heard as well.   Democrat or Republican can step up with their point of view.

Ten years later I believe Voice of OC is more important than ever to this county as we need government to be accountable and transparent.

If Voice isn’t watching and reporting, who will?

I have an interesting perspective when it comes to local political coverage, as I’ve had a ring side seat to the good, the bad and especially the ugly side of this game.

Voice of OC brings the reader stories not only about the inner workings of government, but many times shines light on the conflicts of interest which motivate decisions that could ultimately change the quality of life in this county.

The nonprofit news model enables Voice to go where other news organizations often times can’t or won’t go because of ties to advertising obligations.

The concept of non-profit, publicly-supported news takes those types of roadblocks off the table altogether, delivering a purer form of coverage.

But it takes public financial support for Voice to continue down this road, and I can’t stress that enough.

I believe non-profit news is integral to a well informed and productive political landscape.

And I’m not alone in that thought.  We’re seeing more models like Voice now being explored these days with more than 200 nonprofit newsrooms across the country, according to the Institute for Nonprofit News.

Congratulations to Voice of OC on their first decade – Cheers to the next ten!



Barbara Venezia serves on the Voice of OC Board of Directors and is a journalist, author, producer and podcast host.


Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

I am pressing pause on the political commentary in order to wade back into TV

Feb 2,2019 

I’ve never been a sentimental person, rehashing the past, longing for times gone by.

But this week I find myself thinking about the stories and people I’ve brought to these pages since 2007.

Along the way I’ve met some amazing folks, and some I’d rather forget.

Through it all I’ve tried to bring to light issues that otherwise wouldn’t have been talked about and give readers food for thought.

Up until 1993, I hadn’t paid much attention to the local political scene.

Then I started inquiring about what it would take to remove the electrical poles in the middle of the horse trails in my neighborhood. That led me to the Orange County Board of Supervisors and more than a decade of maneuvering through a tangled web of government bureaucracy.

I learned important lessons, which served me well as a columnist years later.

Becoming a journalist wasn’t something I’d planned.

My first career was hairdressing. I worked for trailblazer Peter Coppola, who started the first chain of unisex salons on Long Island. From there I worked in New York City’s garment center, wholesaling jeans at the time when Jordache and Faded Glory were the craze.

In the mid ’70s I found myself managing a rock ’n’ roll club called My Father’s Place in Roslyn, Long Island, with owner Michael “Eppy” Epstein. Ritchie Havens, Blondie, the Ramones, Billy Joel, Eddie Murphy, Andy Kaufman, Billy Crystal and Bruce Springsteen all played there early in their careers.

Little did I know then that I had a first-row seat to rock ’n’ roll history, as the club and Eppy were inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2010.

In 1982 I left New York for California. More interesting chapters would unfold, from manufacturing a women’s leather and suede clothing line, to “stirring” on the comedy cooking show “At Home on the Range” alongside Fleetwood Motorhome founder John Crean.

In 2006 I walked into the Daily Pilot office to seek its endorsement for Newport Beach City Council in my race against Leslie Daigle. It had been a nasty race, thanks to Daigle’s political consultant, Dave Ellis.

I dropped out, yet still got the Pilot’s endorsement. Daigle won.

It was a crazy time.

Then-Publisher Tom Johnson offered me an opinion column and the freedom to venture into controversial political topics, which I did wholeheartedly.

Over the last years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Johnson; Frank Mickadeit, a former OC Register columnist; Norberto Santana Jr., publisher of the Voice of OC; and my current editor, John Canalis of Times Community News.

These guys have been my champions and helped mold me into the writer I am today. In 2010 we all created Feet to the Fire, which changed the political landscape of community candidate forums.

Thinking about where I’ve been brings me to where I’m going — and yet another crossroads.

It’s time for me to explore writing the next chapter. Last October I took some time off from writing the column to try out a different type of storytelling, working with friends developing a new television project in Los Angeles.

This week that concept grew legs, and I discovered there are more treatments and show ideas in the mix.

Canalis is supporting my decision to take another break from these pages to see where this leads me.

So for the next three months I’ll be doing just that.

I’ll miss the chase of following the local political scene, but will be watching from the wings.

My hope is residents will remain diligent in holding their elected officials accountable for their actions.

This will be an important year to watch who starts fundraising for campaigns in 2020.

The political chessboard is constantly changing. It will be interesting to see which politicians decide to move to a larger arena.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of those who have taken the time out of their busy lives to read this column over the years, as well as to those who have joined us at Feet to the Fire and gotten politically involved in their communities.

And a special shout out to those who’ve complained my opinions were either too far to the left or to the right, depending on the day and column subject matter.

I’ve enjoyed my time with you all.

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

Costa Mesa’s animal shelter experiment is a ‘huge success,’ says orphanage board member

Jan 17, 2019

Last week I wrote about what’s happened with Costa Mesa’s animal shelter experiment and what the future looks like for 2019, now that the Priceless Pets Orphanage has opened.

“The grand opening event on Jan. 12 was a huge success,” Priceless Pets board member Lynnette Brown says. “The outpouring from the community warmed our hearts.”

The event signed up “dozens of new volunteers,” and “13 animals found their forever homes over the grand opening weekend, which reinforces our belief that Costa Mesa was the right place to open our third adoption center,” says Brown, who looks forward to more adoptions in 2019. Another volunteer and foster orientation is planned for Jan. 19.

This all seems to have worked out for the City Hall types as well.

“The Orphanage Grand Opening was spectacular,” says Costa Mesa Councilman John Stephens. “It was so wonderful to see the community turn out for this new facility. I’m very pleased with the way our city staff, Dr. [Anthony] Rizk [of Newport Center Animal Hospital], Priceless Pets and our Animal Services Committee have stepped up in one year’s time to completely transform the way we care for our pets in Costa Mesa.”

We love our furry friends, but there’s much to consider when adopting an animal, namely the time they need and the cost of care.

According to the ASPCA, 3.2 million shelter animals are adopted each year.

In 2017 Stephens told me 75% of his city’s households have pets.

Pets become important members of any household. And like humans, their health care can be costly, as I found out when I adopted my rescue dog, Stasha, seven years ago.

She was 5 months old when I got her pet insurance from Petplan.

Six months later Stasha was diagnosed with a bone birth defect. We opted for orthopedic surgery, and it saved her leg.

After we paid a $200 deductible, Stasha’s insurance covered 80% of the $3,500 vet bill.

In those days there wasn’t much available in the pet insurance marketplace. Fast forward to just two years ago, when we adopted Rocco, and I was amazed at how many pet insurance companies were available.

I chose the largest insurance company in that space, Nationwide, because it offered coverage for wellness visits as well as major illnesses.

Dr. Carol McConnell, vice president and chief veterinary officer for Nationwide, tells me the company was started by a group of veterinarians in Anaheim as Veterinary Pet Insurance.

“At one point it was owned by about 700 veterinarians,” who were shareholders in the company with Nationwide as their “silent partner,” she says, as well as another insurance underwriter.

The concept sprung from local vets who saw animals needing medical help and owners grappling with the decision to treat them based on the cost, McConnell says.

In 2003 the company moved to Brea and, about four years ago, changed its name to Nationwide.

Nationwide, which now insures about 725,000 pets, is one of the only insurance companies offering wellness coverage because McConnell says market research indicated “that’s what most people wanted.”

Many pet insurers don’t cover preexisting conditions, which is why owners need to insure pets early on.

Pet insurance has become so popular that many companies now offer plans as an employee benefit option. McConnell says about half of Fortune 500 companies offer it to employees, as do many smaller firms.

This is a good way for employers to attract and retain talent.

Before you scoff at this concept as gimmicky, a 2018 study conducted by Nationwide, in partnership with the Human Animal Bond Research Institute revealed, “90% of employees in pet-friendly workplaces feel highly connected to their company’s mission.”

I asked McConnell if Nationwide has ever looked at the option of providing free introductory plans to nonprofits like Priceless Pets as an adoption incentive.

She says yes, but underwriting laws prevent Nationwide from doing so.

It’s important to do your research on pet insurance companies because plans’ costs and benefits are based on size, age and health of your pet. Remember, pre-existing conditions won’t be covered, so picking a company to fit your needs is important at the onset.

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

Costa Mesa’s effort to open a new animal shelter shows initiative


This time last year, Costa Mesa officials were scrambling to figure out a plan for animal control services after receiving a letter stating its contract with the controversial Orange County Humane Society Shelter in Huntington Beach would not be renewed.

That was good news, as far as I was concerned, since I had written about this shelter and its problems.

The bad news: the city needed a plan — and fast.

Councilman John Stephens, who was at the forefront of finding a new shelter, reached out in my column, asking the public and animal rescue organizations to contact him to aid in the transition period while the city developed a more-permanent solution.

The response was a game-changer.

In 2018, the city created the first Animal Services Committee with community volunteers and oversight from the Parks and Community Services Department.

The city also contracted with Dr. Anthony Rizk and the Newport Center Animal Hospital as the first stop to care for animals taken in by city animal control officers.

After reading my column outlining Stephens’ plea for help, Lynette Brown, a board member with Priceless Pets, a no-kill nonprofit rescue organization, contacted him. Priceless became the contracted adoption agency for animals released from Rizk’s care.

The only hitch was that the two Priceless Pets locations were in Chino Hills and Claremont, respectively.

Not anymore. Priceless Pets’ new center, The Orphanage, will host a grand opening from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday at 1536 Newport Blvd. in Costa Mesa. Anyone interested in attending can email

“Costa Mesa animals will be able to stay local,” and we will be “recruiting volunteers and fosters to help at the new adoption center,” Brown says.

Brown says that the relationship between Priceless and the city is working, as evidenced by 400 adoptions of “dogs, cats, bunnies, hamsters, bearded dragons, iguana, guinea pigs and more” in 2018.

Rizk also reports strong numbers from this unusual collaboration.

“We have the lowest euthanasia rate (by a large percentage) and therefore the highest adoption rate in the county, including Newport and the O.C. shelter,” he tells me. “We do everything [in] our power to save these animals.”

Rizk, who plans to attend the grand opening, says there is ample room and a strong foster care network for animals in need of homes.

“We are never at capacity, and have many fosters in the area, so the days of shelters euthanizing, due to overcapacity or animals requiring simple treatment, are over,” he says.

He attributes this to “joint communication between the city, animal control, veterinary services and adoptions.”

If Rizk’s city contract continues, he plans to improve his facility to include an “outdoor, artificial grass area upstairs — with a retractable canopy for dogs to play outside — and a larger isolation unit to handle some of the contagious animals in case of emergency.”

Stephens is proud of this experimental venture, which has proven to be a great thing for the city and its animals.

In November, city staff and the Animal Services Committee, evaluated county animal control services against Costa Mesa’s new program.

Hands down, Stephens says, the city’s program has been a huge success, and the committee and staff gave Rizk and Priceless Pets a “vote of confidence.”

“All the statistics are online, and we now have complete and total transparency of animals coming into system, [and the] euthanasia rate is lower than non-kill shelters,” Stephens says.

The last piece of the puzzle was opening The Orphanage.

Having two of my own rescue dogs, Stasha and Rocco, I’m proud to have been a small part of bringing the animal rescue issue in Costa Mesa to light by writing columns about it since 2016.

Moving forward, why not partner with a pet insurance company and see if it would donate a few months of coverage for every dog and cat adopted through Costa Mesa’s system?

Stephens thought this was an idea worth exploring.

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

A look at how area politicians performed this year and what to expect from them in 2019

Jan 1,2019

As 2019 approaches, I have my annual assessments of politicians who sizzled and fizzled in 2018 along with my predictions about what to expect from them in the coming year.

Several women topped my sizzle list in 2018. They rose to the challenge this election season.

2019 holds great promise for newly elected Costa Mesa council members Andrea Marr and Arlis Reynolds; both are bringing fresh ideas, as is a resurgent Mayor Katrina Foley.

Right out of the blocks, Foley made bold moves reorganizing city staff and engaging former Newport City Manager Dave Kiff, who’ll be volunteering his expertise as the city searches for its next top administrator.

Though Kiff’s job in Newport fizzled in 2018 when he was pressed by Team Newport council members to leave only months before his planned retirement, I believe he will vindicate himself in 2019.

Foley is working with Kiff to do what many in Newport felt he should’ve been allowed to do there — transition a new city manager.

Newport’s loss here is Costa Mesa’s gain.

And though many in Newport hoped to clean house this past election by ousting incumbent Team Newport council members Scott Peotter, Marshall “Duffy” Duffield, Kevin Muldoon and Diane Dixon, all but Peotter survived to see another term.

Peotter was defeated by Joy Brenner who has much to prove in 2019, including making good on campaign promises to bring consensus and transparency to the council.

With Jeff Herdman her only immediate council ally, I’d be surprised if she can garner enough support from Team Newport to move the needle and realize any real change.

I predict even more contention and polarization.

Though Peotter fizzled, I feel he’s still a strong influence on his buddy Duffield. I bet we haven’t seen or heard the last of Peotter and his radical ideas.

I’m taking odds that Duffield won’t see the end of his term, predicting he’ll quit midstream, making way for his voting bloc, Team Newport, to appoint his successor.

Could Peotter move to Duffield’s district and be re-appointed to council?

Stranger things have happened.

Newport Mayor Pro Tem Will O’Neill is another one to watch in 2019. O’Neill fizzled, in my opinion, when he took the option of not going for mayor and instead sought — and secured — a second term as mayor pro tem. I wonder whether he will be able to secure the votes the next time around and step into the top job. That remains to be seen.

Many Brenner supporters were angered by his pointed comments on social media during the election. O’Neill has some work to do this year to turn that anger into votes.

Will he ever be mayor? Or will he end up like former Councilwoman Leslie Daigle, who was in line to hold the gavel but was never given the chance by her peers? If he’s not made mayor it could hurt his 2020 bid (if he goes for a second term).

Speaking of 2020, the Orange County Republican Party has some work to do to recover from its 2018 losses. The GOP lost every House seat up for grabs countywide and took a beating in many of the local and state races too. It needs a makeover.

Will that reinvention include replacing Party Chairman Fred Whitaker?

If so, the bigger question is, who would take his place?

One person definitely not interested is Whitaker’s predecessor, Scott Baugh, who told me recently that he’s not counting out another run for the 48th Congressional seat in two years, when newly elected U.S. Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach) is up for re-election.

All eyes will be on Rouda, who sizzled this year, beating out incumbent Dana Rohrabacher, a Costa Mesa Republican, who now plans to move to Maine.

I predict that if Rouda maintains a moderate voice in Congress — as he promised during the campaign — and gets something done for the district, he’ll be hard to beat.

But that won’t stop Republicans from trying to take back the historically conservative seat.

2019 will show us who’ll start fundraising and lobbying the party for support in preparation for that run.

Could we see Baugh, a former state assemblyman, face off against Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel in two years, as some are predicting?

Adding to my list of folks to watch in 2019 are two relatively unknown young guys: Alex Crawford and Riley Hayes.

The creators of “Good Morning Newport,” an online show, took a tongue-and-cheek look at the political scene in this city and quickly garnered an impressive audience.

So much so that they now tape in front of a live audience and their numbers keep growing on social media.

I predict they will continue to sizzle in 2019, engaging the next generation’s interest in community service and politics.

Keep your eyes peeled on the Daily Pilot as the New Year unfolds and I begin my 12th year covering the local political scene and telling stories of interest and intrigue.

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