If you ask San Juan Capistrano Mayor Londres Uso, Public Works Director Nasser Abbaszadeh and council members Tom Hribar and Mark Nielsen are all in on one big bluff.
In short, Uso said, city staffers are willing to take the fall for council members.
At last night’s City Council meeting, Uso continued to accuse Hribar and Nielsen of overstepping their bounds and ordering city staff to make some trail-head access site improvements even though the two council members and the staffers denied that’s what happened.
If the two council members did give the orders, it would have been a violation of city policy limiting council members from issuing orders without full council approval.
The accusation was the latest blow in a power struggle between Uso and Nielsen that started when Nielsen introduced a policy clarifying the role of the mayor. That policy — which Nielsen said he was compelled to introduce because city staffers had been complaining — says the mayor can’t bark orders at city staff.
Uso fired back, saying that he’s not the only one who has been violating the policy. Uso said Hribar and Nielsen had ordered city staffers to make the site improvements.
Abbaszadeh said the improvements started small for such things as a trash can and a dog-waste-bag dispenser, but they gradually took on a larger scope.
It eventually got to the point where staffers were getting ready to open the site up and post parking restrictions.
Signs that were put up restricting parking hours at the site are technically policy-making decisions left to the discretion of the council. City staffers had no authority to put up the parking signs without council approval, according to council discussions last night.
After Abbaszadeh made his admission, Uso verbally punished him from the dais. But he also said that Hribar told him in a separate conversation that he gave the direction. He said he was “disappointed” that Hribar and Nielsen let Abbaszadeh take the blame.
“The right thing would have been for those council members to step up and say, ‘You know what? It was unintentional,’ ” Uso said. “Somebody had to take the heat for what happened, and it’s unfortunate that it was staff alone.”
Nielsen said that staffers shouldn’t be “castigated” because the improvements may have been part of a council decision that just hasn’t been discovered yet.
“Before we go accusing staff of things — beating them up in public — we need to have all the facts straight,” Nielsen said.
City Clerk Maria Morris said that staffers had scoured the past 10 years’ worth of council minutes and found no council action on the subject.
A handful of angry residents who live near the site showed up last night to question why they weren’t included in the decision-making process.
David Robinson, who lives near the site, said that before a fence was installed limiting access to the site, he would catch teenagers partying there.
“Teenagers haven’t changed at all, if they find a dark corner, they’re going to smoke and drink and do all the things teenagers do in dark corners,” Robinson said.
Robinson claimed that the only way any of the residents knew is because he noticed the improvements going on one day.
“They weren’t going to notify me or any of my neighbors about their intentions,” Robinson said of city officials.
— ADAM ELMAHREK