Santa Ana Planning Commissioner Resigns Amid Residency Questions

Sean H. Mill, a longtime player in Santa Ana politics, abruptly resigned from the city Planning Commission last week, after he was caught living 24 miles outside city limits.

It all came to a head last Tuesday evening, when Mill’s wife discovered a private investigator outside her home in Riverside. She confronted the investigator, who reportedly revealed that he was looking into Mill’s residency and didn’t believe that Mill lived in Santa Ana.

Mill resigned from the commission the next morning, saying he no longer lived in the city.

“I will be stepping down from the Planning Commission effective immediately.  I was planning to do so prior to the meeting Monday night but have decided to do so now,” Mill wrote in his 7:55 a.m. email to the city clerk.

“While I will continue to have some residence in Santa Ana, in order to be more actively involved in my 16-year-old [step-daughter’s] activities I have relocated my primary place of residence outside the city limits.”

Mill married a Riverside woman over a year ago, though he says his primary residence was in Santa Ana until about 2-1/2 weeks before he resigned.

In an interview, Mill said he promised his wife that he would start living “full time” with her around the time of their one-year anniversary, June 20. Mill said that’s what he ended up doing, and that he was planning on stepping down around the time of the following commission meeting, on July 11.

“I’m kind of bummed that I won’t get to serve the people of Santa Ana anymore and it’s something I really loved doing,” Mill said. “And given my long history in the city, it’s sad to have to step down, but sometimes you have to do what’s best for your family and that’s what I chose to do in this case.”

But those who hired the investigator – Santa Ana resident Thomas Gordon and Liberal OC blog publisher Dan Chmielewski – are suspicious.

“It just doesn’t make sense to get married to someone who lives a few miles away and to live in Santa Ana that whole time after” getting married, Chmielewski said. “One of the advantages of being married is going home to the person you love every night.”

Chmielewski said the investigator looked into Mill’s residency for several weeks in May – well in advance of when Mill said he moved to Riverside – and concluded that Mill likely doesn’t live at the Santa Ana home where he’s been registered to vote.

“This is fraud,” said Gordon, questioning Mill’s collection of city compensation for serving on the planning commission.

“He knew he didn’t live in the city, he knew he wasn’t eligible to serve on the Planning Commission.”

Mill said Gordon and Chmielewski are wrong.

Allegations that he had been living outside Santa Ana before approximately June 20 are “just not true,” Mill said. “I mean, is there [occasions] where I [spent] time in Riverside? I mean, I split time….[but] every piece of mail that I get is in Santa Ana. Everything I have is in Santa Ana. All of my money gets sent to Santa Ana,” he said.

The timing of Mill’s move to Riverside is important, Chmielewski says, because the city could face thousands of dollars in litigation if Mill took deciding votes as a commissioner while not a city resident.

Chmielewski and Gordon met with City Manager David Cavazos and City Attorney Sonia Carvalho last Thursday to present the findings of their investigation.

But the city appears to have accepted Mill’s representation that he only moved to Riverside very recently.

Chmielewski, meanwhile, said he’s given a copy of his investigator’s report to District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ office and has reached out Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley.

Councilman Sal Tinajero, who appointed Mill to the commission, said he appreciates Mill’s service and that he leaves big shoes to fill.

“I believe it’s a loss to our Planning Commission because he’s been around for such a long time and has this institutional memory that he brings along with him,” Tinajero said.

There’s been a “a history of political disaccord” between Mill and his accusers, Tinajero added, making it important for there to be documentation backing up claims of wrongdoing.

“Sean Mill works here in Santa Ana, so I find it hard to believe that he was making the long trek to and from [Riverside],” Tinajero said.

Mill’s involvement in Santa Ana politics dates back to at least 1989, when he served as chairman of the city’s parks and recreation board and wrote a now-controversial opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times about a proposed Orange County gay pride festival.

“Homosexuals have the right to do as they wish in their bathhouses and bedrooms,” Mill wrote.  “Now, they want to desensitize the moral standards of our community. This will be damaging to our children, families and country.”

In 1990, while serving on the city Recreation and Community Advisory Board, he helped craft a plan to make the city’s park rangers the first in Orange County to be armed. He ran unsuccessfully for the City Council in 1992, and has served on a variety of city commissions in the years since.

Mill said his greatest accomplishment on the Planning Commission was helping make affordable housing a priority for the city.

Prior to his appointment to the Planning Commission in 2007, developers had few incentives to provide affordable housing, Mill said. Now, when housing projects are being approved, they have to either provide affordable housing or pay a fee, a major change, he said.

Mill’s term on the commission was until December 2018. His replacement for the rest of the term is expected to be appointed by council members in the coming weeks.

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. He can be reached at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

  • John Claxton

    It’s a shame that he has been so active in local politics to end in shame. I have no doubt his resignation was only submitted because he was caught.

  • Cynthia Ward

    I don’t know Sean Mill, and from all I have heard would not likely care much for the gentleman, so I have no dog in this fight. (what a terrible phrase. How about I have no horse in this race?) but there are two separate issues being discussed here and they are not necessarily interconnected. Did the PI discover where Mr. Mills lays his head at night? That he is not universally liked is obvious. That he is married to someone in a nearby County is not as cut and dried as it seems. Where does HE sleep during the week? Surely that was determined?

    I DO know several couples who own, and live in, separate homes in separate cities. They swap who makes the drive to the other’s home on weekends and have mid-week date nights when one comes to the others’ city. And by all descriptions they have very healthy, happy marriages/long term monogamous partnerships. In fact, they argue that NOT tripping over each others’ shoes in the middle of the night and the anticipation of seeing other, rather than the monotony of monogamy keeps things exciting. My own parents lived that way for about 2 years when Dad was starting a business in another State, and while it was NOT in the least bit fun for anyone, there is no arguing it happened and worked. (except for the divorce once they were reunited after learning to be independent, but that is not germane to the discussion of Mr. Mills.)

    I couldn’t do it. I would starve to death and the custody fight for the corgis would be brutal. Bigger than that, the certain knowledge that someone waits for me at home to high five my daily triumphs or offer an emotional Band Aid for the skinned knee where I tripped and fell over life and my own stupidity, that is what “the two shall become one” is. (You thought it was dirtier than that, we know.) But basing what OTHERS do to make a modern life work on what WE can or cannot tolerate is not a basis for whether someone is on the Planning Commission.

    If he was shown to spend more nights in Riverside than in Santa Ana, he has a problem. At what point does getting the mail, paying the bills, and spending SOME nights at an address not constitute “primary residence?” Is there a legal standard? Ruling out staying with Mommy during the week to avoid the brutal commute to Santa Ana for work, when couples routinely buy “city condos” to compliment their Inland Empire McMansions is part of the new normal. Again, I don’t know the guy, but I am still waiting for what the PI said about where he SLEEPS.

    BTW-Can i have the name of the PI, so we can check the occupancy of a certain West Anaheim candidate renting an apartment on Magnolia while retaining his very, very nice home in a guard-gated community in Murrietta? (with a VA mortgage I believe does not permit using it as a rental) Thanks.

    • Taylor Vasquez

      Very well said. Seems like the PI here only did the most brief reconnaissance, perhaps due to a thin budget. So, I cannot draw concludions other than some detrrmined folks despise Mr. Mill.

      • Mike Tardif

        What don’t you understand about HE RESIGNED??

        • Taylor Vasquez

          Thanks for making the point again. He resigned as he should and as he did. I don’t think we have a disagreement.

    • David Zenger

      “BTW-Can i have the name of the PI, so we can check the occupancy of a certain West Anaheim candidate renting an apartment on Magnolia while retaining his very, very nice home in a guard-gated community in Murrietta?”

      Oh, you must mean Steven Chavez Albert Henry Cabot Lodge.

    • Mike Tardif

      I think Mill answered most of your questions by resigning.

  • Taylor Vasquez

    If these allegations are true, then Mr. Mill did the right thing and resigned.

    Who paid this private investigator and why? Seems odd. Someone should to hire investigator to follow Jose Solorio around.

    • John Claxton

      Yes, I would like to see answers to these questions as well.

    • Mike Tardif

      The answer to your question is stated within the article.

  • Ron

    If true, shame on Mr. Mill. I’m more bothered by someone hiring a PI to investigate their enemy. Santa Ana politcs attracts some sick people – Cavasos, Gordon, Chimelwasi, pulido.

  • Timothy Dennis Rush

    There have long been rumors of whether Mr. Mill lived in town as it was an open secret that he had involvements in the Riverside area. Few people really believed that a man of his age was still residing at him Mother’s address, which is the address he has used for decades. I would echo Mike Tardif’s statements. Mr. Mill is far more well known for his negative and divisive efforts that that of being a community builder.

  • Mike Tardif

    A job well done by Santa Ana resident Thomas Gordon and Liberal OC blog publisher Dan Chmielewski – someone has to take the trash out. Sean Mill is a mean spirited, nasty poseur. He never was good for the people of Santa Ana – good riddance.

  • Diego Vega

    He’s doing what’s best for his family…only after he got caught commiting fraud. Love these guys!

  • Robert Jordan

    Is Sarmiento’s North Tustin home next on the surveillance list?

  • RyanCantor

    “It just doesn’t make sense to get married to someone who lives a few miles away and to live in Santa Ana that whole time after” getting married, Chmielewski said. “One of the advantages of being married is going home to the person you love every night.”

    Hope he has the same message for Solario.