Henry “Hank” Wedaa served 28 years on the Yorba Linda City Council and when he left in 2000, he had no intention of running for public office again.
But six years later, a newly formed political action committee calling itself the Yorba Linda Residents for Responsible Representation or YLRRR, asked the 84-year-old veteran council member to come out of retirement.
To get Wedaa back on the city council, former Councilwoman Jan Horton told Voice of OC that at least three high-ranking members of the political action committee pressured her to vote for Wedaa’s appointment to fill a vacancy left when Republican Mike Duvall was elected to the Assembly.
The PAC had endorsed Horton when she ran for the city council in 2006 and spent $6,000 in that election to support her and Councilman John Anderson. Both candidates won and Wedaa’s reappointment shortly after the election would have given candidates favored by YLRRR a majority on the city council.
When the newly-elected Horton refused, citing her concerns about Wedaa’s age and his Parkinson’s disease, the YLRRR turned against her, Horton said.
“Our group got you elected. No questions about it. You have virtually no qualifications … If in fact you are going to do vote (sic) against Hank [Wedaa], you and I will be arch enemies and I will work harder than ever to get your story out to the public. I will be relentless … I will commit to taking you out of office at the earliest possible date,” former mayor and YLRRR member Nancy Rikel wrote in a Dec. 18, 2006 email to Horton obtained by Voice of OC.
The PAC opposed Horton in her 2010 re-election bid and she lost.
Nine years after it was created, Yorba Linda Residents for Responsible Representation is perhaps the most influential behind-the-scenes political force in the town of 67,000 residents. On the all-Republican city council, three of the five were backed by the PAC—Anderson, Mark Schwing and Tom Lindsey.
Its most recent success? It organized and financed the campaign that led to Tuesday’s recall election for Mayor Craig Young and Lindsey, the man YLRRR once supported.
Rikel is running to replace Young if voters remove the mayor from office. The Orange County Republican Party officially opposed the Oct. 7 recall election.
Who Is YLRRR?
Yorba Linda Residents for Responsible Redevelopment was created as a residents’ group in 2005 to slow development of the city’s Town Center.
The then-city council wanted to use eminent domain to help shape a downtown area near Main Street with restaurants, a movie theater and retail stores. The PAC complained those plans did not fit Yorba Linda’s rural character, or its low density general plan, said Mike Burns, one of YLRRR’s founding members who has since left the group because, he says, it became “too political.”
Ed Rakochy, a twice-failed city council candidate with the distinction of losing by one vote in 2010, is the group’s spokesman and a regular at city council meetings during public comments.
The PAC’s members, most of them retired, push for low-density construction in the city and oppose state-mandated affordable housing. But it also successfully sponsored a city conflict of interest ordinance and then used it to file complaints against its adversaries, including Young.
According to the ordinance, even unsubstantiated claims of unethical behavior must be forwarded to the Orange County District Attorney and independent legal counsel for investigation. The cost to taxpayers in legal fees since it went into effect in January is more than $72,000.
“Of course it’s been used as a political maneuver,” Rakochy said, adding that it’s not just YLRRR that has used the ordinance – ethics complaints have been filed against Anderson in the past, as well.
Following months of thorough investigation, no ethics violations have been found, Young announced at an Aug. 29 council meeting.
“It’s kind of a small group,” Rakochy said, “But as causes grow, we grow. If there’s a single issue, they [groups like his] grow really big, then they go away, but we never really went away. We just took on other issues.”
There is no official membership roster, but YLRRR emails go to about 800 residents. Largely funded by $100 to $500 donations, the PAC garners most of its support from garage sales and contributions from residents. Since forming, it has amassed about $120,000 in donations, but its war chest has never exceeded $40,000 in a single period.
Former members of the group, including Horton, say the PAC’s seven-member board of directors endorses candidates and in return, expects them to act as “puppets.”
Rakochy denies the group holds undue influence over those it helps elect.
“There’s no flipping agenda here. What’s in it for me and a bunch of old farts? Nothing. I am thoroughly disgusted by these people trying to paint a bunch of old retired people as trouble makers and naysayers trying to run the city,” Rakochy said.
At the same time, he defends the group’s dealings with Horton.
Not long after she was elected, in a Dec. 22, 2006 email obtained by Voice of OC, titled “’It’s Time for a Change’ In Your Reasoning,” Rakochy suggested to Horton that she should have been discussing city policy decisions with the group before meetings.
“Meeting with your core supporters is not an ethical violation,” Rakochy wrote, adding “it would appear that you [Horton] somehow believe, that you and you alone are responsible for getting those 8,300 voters you claim you are speaking for … but 20 people and a core group of five to 10 convinced those 8,300 to click the box next to your name … That core group donated handsomely to your campaign … And now, you have deserted and alienated that core group. Shame on you.”
The expectation of meeting with council members the PAC endorses comes with the political contribution, Rakochy said, “otherwise, why donate the money?”
But opponents argue the PAC has divided the city on key issues and stalled the development of the Town Center project. Almost a decade after YLRRR, the project has been scaled back in size and hardly a shovel of dirt has been moved.
Wedaa ultimately won a seat on the city council in a 2007 special election, but quickly distanced himself from the citizens-group.
“I switched sides…,” he said. “… my goal was to help build a good city. Their goal was power.”
When he ran for re-election in 2008, YLRRR opposed him and Wedaa lost.
During Horton’s unsuccessful 2010 re-election campaign, the PAC spent about $9,400 on newspaper ads, radio blurbs, and flyers opposing her – more than nine times what they spent supporting three candidates they endorsed. Horton lost and YLRRR-backed candidates Lindsey—whom they’re now trying to recall—and Anderson, won.
Since its inception, YLRRR has backed the majority of two separate city councils, once in 2008 and again in 2010.
Currently, two council members, Anderson and Mark Schwing are backed by YLRRR and Lindsey, one of those up for recall, formerly had its support.
Anderson first won his seat in 2006 with financial backing from YLRRR.
Schwing, along with his company, Electronic Model Systems, has donated more than $1,100 in loans and nonmonetary contributions to the PAC, according to campaign finance records.
The PAC initially supported Lindsey but turned on him when he, Young and Councilman Gene Hernandez, voted against Anderson’s December motion to initiate a moratorium on a 159-unit high-density housing development planned on Lakeview Avenue.
“The guy has completely turned. We supported him and he completely went to the dark side,” Rakochy said.
The recall, Rakochy says, is in direct response to the Lakeview development and the council’s decision to move forward with the project.
The Recall Election
The special recall election is costing taxpayers between $187,000 and $210,000, according to the city website.
Lindsey has said on several occasions that his decision to move forward with the project is based on earlier approvals by voters of city ballot measures that authorize high-density home construction projects that comply with overall state requirements.
Anderson, a retired Orange County assistant district attorney, said “there’s this belief that somehow they (YLRRR) control people – they don’t control me.”
“I share many of their [YLRRR’s] values. It’s not a matter of being influenced, but a matter of sharing, not all, but many of those values,” Anderson said.
He pointed to multiple times when he disagreed with the group on city projects, including the construction of an equestrian center on Lakeview Avenue near the Vista del Verde golf community.
YLRRR advocated for it, but Anderson refused to see the project though, citing community outcry.
“They wanted to meet with me and I told them there was no reason to meet,” Anderson said. “I already told residents I won’t support this.”
Anderson recently recorded a radio blurb encouraging voters to recall Lindsey and Young for receiving “tens of thousands of dollars in support from developers.” YLRRR paid for the ad.
Among the PAC’s accomplishments, Rakochy says, is a referendum that halted the Town Center project, the passage of Measure B, known as the “Right to Vote Measure,” which requires that rezoning and high-density homes gain voter-approval, lobbying for the city’s ethics ordinance and the elimination of eminent domain.
“We care about our city and are passionate about our city. We care about the quality of life here. We stand up for that, and we’re evil? Because we’re recalling two guys who broke their campaign promises?” Rakochy asked.