This Week Behind the Orange Curtain

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A news story that assumes a life of its own we call a story with “legs.” This week it became clear that the controversy over the $158-million city subsidy handed out for two proposed hotels has legs.

In the more than two weeks since the three-member council majority approved the subsidy for two planned four-star hotels in Anaheim’s GardenWalk district, we’ve witnessed an unsuccessful attempt to get the vote reversed, protests at City Hall, and now, calls for the identities of the project’s investors to be revealed.

And from what we’re hearing, the story still has a bit further to run.

Speaking of long-running sagas, Orange County Public Administrator John Williams finally agreed to retire this week. All it took was an ugly and drawn-out political battle involving some of the county’s most high-profile players, a lawsuit and the threat of a recall election. It was the kind of long goodbye that Raymond Chandler might have enjoyed chronicling.

Just as Williams exits, two of the main players in his drama — District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and Todd Spitzer — have stepped back onto center stage. The two former colleagues are now sworn enemies who continued their fisticuffs this week over a letter Spitzer sent as part of his campaign for Bill Campbell’s open seat on the Board of Supervisors.

If you don’t already know the story, it involves anger, recriminations and a lot of letters. We have written balanced and authoritative accounts of the uproar that you can read here and here. But if you’re looking for pure entertainment, your best bet is to read the actual letters written by Rackauckas, Spitzer and Susan Schroeder, Rackauckas’ chief of staff. They are attached to the articles.

Moving from the craziness of county politics to things that might matter a little more, two coastal Orange County cities — Dana Point and Laguna Beach — moved closer to implementing plastic bag bans, which environmentalists say will lessen coastal pollution and help save endangered marine life.

The Surfrider Foundation has made passing the bans one of its main goals in 2012. Meanwhile, members of the business community — primarily grocery stores — oppose the bans, saying they will significantly increase costs that will be passed on to consumers. We will continue to track this issue.

Another endangered species — the Costa Mesa medicinal marijuana distributor — was in the news this week. Users came to the Costa Mesa City Council meeting to plead with council members not to shut down dispensaries in the city. In recent weeks, federal agents have closed two dispensaries and issued warnings to several others.

And we now know that not only did the Costa Mesa City Council send a letter to the feds asking for the crackdown but also decided to do so in secret, which our open-government expert says is illegal.

Here are some other items of interest from the week that was:

• Members of the Santa Ana firefighters union are at odds over a proposal for the Orange County Fire Authority to take over the city Fire Department. Our sources say that younger firefighters are in favor of the takeover because it will save jobs, but older firefighters don’t want to lose their 128-year-old department.

• Costa Mesa Councilwoman Wendy Leece is tired of her colleagues texting during City Council meetings. She consider it rude and a potential violation of the state’s open meetings law. Leece’s colleagues do not share her views; she couldn’t get a second to her motion to consider a texting ban during meetings.

• What interests the majority of Leece’s colleagues in Costa Mesa is placing a draft charter on the June ballot. Passing a charter would give the city greater flexibility in outsourcing city services, which is the council majority’s signature issue. We filed a dispatch this week that examines recent charter efforts in other California cities and shows the similarities and differences of Costa Mesa’s drive.

• Supervisor Janet Nguyen worked hard for a few months to get more hospital industry representation on the board of CalOptima, the county’s $1.4-billion health insurance program for poor people. Now representatives from the industry are preparing to host a campaign fundraiser for Nguyen.

• Orange County has historically had two problems when it comes to its computer systems: They tend to need a lot of expensive fixes, and the county bureaucracy is rarely honest about how expensive the fixes will be. This week the Board of Supervisors finally got the ugly truth about the county’s property tax system upgrade. Yes, it will take more time and cost more money.

That’s all for now. As always, we thank you for reading Voice of OC and urge you to support our efforts. Have a great weekend.

— DAVID WASHBURN

 

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