#176: Temecula, CA 11/27/18

“Are you in the audience this evening?” Mayor Matt Rahn scanned the room for one particular Boy Scout, which should not have been difficult given the scarcity of badges and uniforms in the crowd.

“We wanted to congratulate you on receiving the rank of Eagle Scout, which is the highest achievement in scouting. Let’s hear about your project!”

The scout stood uneasily behind the microphone and softly described his community service. “For my project, I decided to go with Rancho Damacitas [Children & Family Services]. I decided to go with a garden box and benches. But then they decided they didn’t want that anymore. They wanted to build a shed. So I agreed to make a shed for them.”

“God, you started off with a bench and made it all the way to shed,” the mayor exclaimed. “It’s a good thing they didn’t have an annex wing put on!” A group of teenagers grinned and snickered in the second row–although it was less a reaction to the mayor’s joke than to something they were doodling in their notebooks.

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I see you, kids.

Fortunately, they picked the right night to observe a council meeting, as the Temecula Valley Museum’s director stood to introduce visiting dignitaries from Daisen, Temecula’s sister city in Japan.

“They will be enjoying many of the amenities, including the duck pond, the Pechanga Great Oak Tree, and also San Diego,” she said. “They will also be our special guests in Santa’s Electric Light Parade.

“Please forgive me if I mispronounce their names.” She proceeded strenuously to sound out each name, but none of them appeared to mind as they strode to the front of the room for a group picture.

There was minor confusion as the mayor attempted to pass out certificates, but had no idea who was who. Thinking quickly, he flashed the papers to one of the visitors, who pointed him towards the correct recipient.

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Temecula council goal: learn Japanese

“Have you taken them to In-N-Out Burger?” Mayor Pro Tem Michael Naggar grilled the museum manager. “Not yet? And the Cheesecake Factory?”

“Where do we get those jackets like they have on?” quizzed Council Member Maryann Edwards, pointing to the branded jacket of one of the visitors.

“That’s a good question,” Mayor Rahn echoed. “Where did you get the Temecula jacket?”

“You can get those in the visitor’s center around the corner,” replied the city manager, to the pleasant surprise of the whole council.

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I predict five purchases in the near future.

The last large order of business–other than the teens’ excited whispering about something on one of their phones–was the dry but important matter of extending a construction permit for the Temecula Valley Hospital.

“I can personally vouch that because of the hospital–no exaggeration–it has saved the life of my father-in-law, it saved the life of my wife,” Mayor Pro Tem Naggar testified. “There is an impact of the helicopter flying over–it flies about 300 feet over my house. At first, it’s annoying until you think about who’s in that helicopter. Then you find out a little annoyance is meaningless based on what’s going on up there.”

“None of us could have dreamt that it would be this good,” echoed Council Member Edwards. “My husband has been a ‘customer’ on several occasions. How we ever got along without you, we will never know.”

With praise like that, I hope the Japanese delegation gets to visit the hospital–a far, far healthier alternative to the Cheesecake Factory.

Interview #113: West Hollywood, CA Mayor Pro Tem John D’Amico (with podcast)

This podcast interview is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM, and right here:

John D’Amico is in his seventh year on the WeHo council and he is not afraid of wading into controversies. From Donald Trump’s Hollywood star to bad behavior by council members, he discusses the importance of speaking up when necessary.

Q: When did the idea enter your mind that Donald Trump should no longer have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and that you should do something about it?

A: When that star was vandalized again, it occurred to me that we were spending our time thinking about it and more importantly, the city of Los Angeles was spending tax dollars to replace it. And I was just thinking, why are we doing that? Why are we not speaking out? Why am I not speaking out? What very quickly occurred to me next was, why does this person–this sexist, quasi-fascist actor–have a star on the Walk of Fame?

Q: Yeah.

A: I received hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of emails. I responded to every single one with an email back that had my phone number at the bottom. Only two people called me. They were truly amazing people living in the middle of the country. We agreed that we were not gonna see this in the same way.

Q: On August 6, you introduced an actual resolution asking the Los Angeles city council and the chamber of commerce to remove the Trump star. As you might imagine, there were some strong opinions. One man even called you a “bad strategist” for not waiting until after the primary elections to send the letter. How worried were you that your actions may have affected the Wyoming governor’s race or the Alaska state senate primaries?

A: Well, not at all. I’m fairly certain that what we did here in West Hollywood had zero effect on elections across the country. That effect was generated by this president. He earned this “blue wave.”

Q: I can see that commenter’s point, though. This president loves to take legitimate criticism of him and convert it into fuel for immigrant bashers and media haters and mail bombers. Did you consider what might have happened if he had tweeted about you and what that might have meant for your safety or your city’s image?

A: Here’s what I thought: I’m not gonna live in an America where the president targets people. We can’t live in a country where you can say, “well, if the president tweets at you, you might be harmed.” That is not okay!

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West Hollywood, CA Mayor Pro Tem John D’Amico

Q: You do have a reputation for bringing matters out into the open. I’m thinking especially of the meeting of March 7, 2016, when you called out Councilmember John Duran for his inappropriate behavior in council meetings. What prompted you to go public with that information?

A: I’m not always the most eloquent speaker. I don’t always get it right. But I will say that I do think that silence is often tantamount to complicity. I will say that Mayor Duran and I have very much repaired our relationship. He has changed dramatically as a council member and now mayor of our city. But my side of that was that I wanted our residents to know that I am paying attention and I am not afraid of speaking my truth on their behalf.

Q: Do council members need to be trained to recognize when something is out of whack? If they see something, to bring it up right away and not let it loose in a council meeting two years after the fact?

A: Sure, I guess that would make sense. But council members have bosses. That’s the public. We do not report to each other.

Q: Well, the constituents rely on someone to sound the alarm, though. Would you not agree?

A: Fair enough. Absolutely.


Follow Mayor Pro Tem John D’Amico on Twitter: @ourWEHO

Interview #108: Thornton, CO Mayor Heidi Williams (with podcast)

This podcast interview is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM, and right here:

Even though Thornton gets rid of its council meeting videos (boo), there was still a lot of ground to cover with two-term Mayor Heidi Williams. She discussed difficult public hearings, titular protocol, and her frequent public commenters.

Q: Your Honor, the city of Thornton video streams its council meetings–which is good! And they are even in high definition with remarkable sound quality. So that is even better. The problem is: you only have videos posted for the last year. And I was told that Thornton takes down and destroys videos older than one year! Now look, we all made questionable fashion choices in the mid 2010s. Short shorts. Mom jeans. White people dreadlocks. So if that’s what this is about, I’m empathetic. But Mayor, when it comes to those videos, how do you defend what I am calling the Great Thornton Purge?

A: Well, I have to be honest: this is the first time I’ve heard of that. I did not realize that we took those videos down and destroyed them. So I will be getting to the bottom of that. I really thought that you could go back and watch videos a long time back.

Q: I am glad you are on the case. I take it from your answer that you don’t often watch videos of the council meetings after they happen. Is that accurate?

A: Oftentimes, I don’t want to actually relive it. The times that I’ve gone back and watched a portion of a meeting is because I thought maybe I said something really stupid. And generally I find that I either did or it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I think it’s a little narcissistic–again, I’m already there. But having said that, I understand how a lot of people aren’t there. And constituents are like, “oh, we watch you on channel 8 or we watch you online!” And I’m like, “you do?!” It’s always surprising to me that people do.

Q: Well, it’s all the more frustrating to me that I can only watch 52 weeks’ worth of meetings! I noticed that you don’t often miss meetings, which is admirable. But whenever you are gone and the mayor pro tem is in charge, everyone calls the mayor pro tem “Your Honor.” That title is reserved for you! Have you ever told your mayors pro tem to get back in their place–or do you want me to do that for you right now?

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Thornton, CO Mayor Heidi Williams

A: In Thornton, all the elected officials are considered “The Honorable.” So actually, everybody that serves on council with me is “Your Honor.” I only missed two meetings the first six years. But the city manager called the mayor pro tem at the time “mayor” and somebody texted me right away. Apparently, that’s what they used to do. They don’t do that anymore, but they will say “Your Honor.”

Q: On March 20, there was an extended stay hotel proposed in Thornton. This council meeting was to approve it or reject it. Hearing people in the public hearing talk about “this type” of hotel and how “no college educated” people would stay there, and talking about how transient families would send their kids to school and “use our resources,” I felt uncomfortable with how people were resorting to elitist arguments when they really didn’t have to. Did that cross your mind at the time?

A: Sure, it’s always tough when a developer wants to put something in that people don’t want–the NIMBY effect. I’ve heard probably worse than that. That was a difficult hearing.

Q: You also had crowded meetings about marijuana stores, and I’m sure people were making arguments about destroying the city or letting in the “wrong type” of people or threatening children. Does it concern you when people make it seem that with one vote, your council will do all of those things to the city?

A: Yeah, and the longer I’m the mayor, I’ve just seen so much of that. That would probably be one of my most frustrating things. Everybody’s like, “not in my backyard.” As a society, we have to start being more thoughtful and less hateful. And try to talk to our council members about what we want and don’t want, but in a way that’s not demeaning or hateful. I’ve just seen in the last couple of years a lot more hateful stuff being said. Not tons, but a lot more than I did.


Follow Mayor Heidi Williams on Twitter: @mayorheidi

Interview #107: Tempe, AZ Reporter Jerod MacDonald Evoy (with podcast)

This podcast interview is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM, and right here:

Jerod MacDonald-Evoy is a reporter with The Arizona Republic who had a front-row seat to many hot-button debates of the Tempe council. From the border wall to a car wash, he explains how things got heated in the desert. Plus, we talk city council fashion!

Q: Can you please explain what the “Tempe Tie” is?

A: So when I was covering Tempe, I found that Tempe has an online store where you can buy all sorts of interesting little merchandise like a city of Tempe pen or a mug. I noticed they also had this tie. One of those fatter-style ties. It had a bunch of Tempe themes on it. I jokingly tweeted [that] if it got 100 retweets, I would wear it to the next council meeting.

Q: And…?

A: And as I should’ve known, you don’t challenge the Internet to those sorts of things. It quickly got over 100 retweets. I bought the tie and ended up wearing it to a few council meetings. I made some other people realize that they wanted that tie and they ended up selling out of them on the store!

Q: Let’s get into the council meetings. In January of this year, the Tempe council was considering a resolution to oppose a wall on the border with Mexico. There were some reasoned arguments about it, and those reasoned arguments lasted until one lady began yelling her comments from the back, which flustered your mayor into opening public comment. Were you expecting him to do that–and do you think that was a good idea?

A: I was expecting him to tell them, “you can have public comment at the end.” I’ve never seen the council open an item that was closed to public hearing. I was very nervous when he decided to do that because some of the women that were there had also been outside and were pretty vocally protesting this border wall resolution. I had a feeling it would only go downhill from there.

Q: Your nervous instincts were correct. Do you get the sense that council members were expecting the comments that ensued–the Trump defenders, the race war advocates, and the references to immigrants as rapists and murders?

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Tempe, AZ reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

A: I don’t think they were expecting it to the extent that it came. A lot of the people weren’t actually from Tempe. A lot of them drove up from the border to talk about this. The resolution they were trying to pass actually was a more gutted version of a resolution that was being pushed nationwide by a lot of cities that would say they wouldn’t do business with companies that work on the border wall. Well, one of the main companies that’s doing the prototypes is a Tempe company. When it didn’t pass, I was very surprised. It seemed very odd that they would give in to–I don’t know if they were giving in to these people exactly, but giving in to that idea that they shouldn’t be doing it.

Q: Do you think the public comment ended up making a difference for any of those council members?

A: I think it could’ve. I think there were a few that were already a little wary because of that idea of the city intruding into federal matters. Having those people show up was enough of a push to get them to not vote that way. It was during an election cycle. They decided they didn’t want to push the controversy and have the attack ad against them say they opposed the border wall and the president.


Follow Jerod MacDonald-Evoy on Twitter: @JerodMacEvoy

#171: Bellflower, CA 10/8/18

Like a well-choreographed symposium, Bellflower council members took turns sounding off on the events of the week, with everyone sharing an equal–and equally pleasant–slice of Bellflower life.

“The mayor’s prayer breakfast will be held Tuesday, October 9, at 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.” said Mayor Ray Dunton (naturally).

“Nominations for the 2019 BRAVO Awards open today,” chimed in Council Member Dan Koops. “Jim Abbott, a Major League pitcher, will serve as our special keynote speaker. Jim Abbott was that pitcher born with one hand.”

“The chamber of commerce will host the tenth annual Trick-or-Treat on the Boulevard on Friday, October 26,” finished off Council Member Ron Schnablegger, who even received a slight assist when Koops reached over and subtly switched on the microphone.

At this point, city manager Jeffrey Stewart piled on. “I wanted to ask the council if they would indulge us in a small presentation by the folks from Liberty Utilities.”

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Small but mighty

A man and woman strolled to the microphone with a message which–while not quite as important as the trick-or-treat–did catch the attention of one council member.

“I wanted to announce a free workshop on Saturday, October 27. It’s a drought tolerant plant landscape class,” the woman said. “We did set up for our customer service representatives to be available the second and fourth Friday of each month.”

“So how would a customer who’s not watching us here tonight know your available times?” Council Member Juan Garza pressed.

“We have a mailer that we sent,” was the answer.

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Psst. They just found out about it here!

It didn’t matter that the announcements ran long, since there was a lack of residents interested in commenting on any of the business the council raced through. At one point, Mayor Dunton joked about the light turnout.

“We got some quiet people tonight. That’s not a good state of the city, huh?” he chuckled.

But when the subject changed to RV permit fees, the heat turned up from “room temperature water” to “warm oatmeal.”

“What we’re seeking direction on are two questions,” said a staff member after outlining the brand new online permit store. “Whether the city will be absorbing any of the processing costs or passing them along to the customer. Secondly, whether the city will be absorbing the credit card transaction fee or passing it along to the customer.”

“I don’t think we’re talking a lot of money here,” the mayor muttered, glancing through the sub-$5 charges proposed on the screen.

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Speak for yourself

Council Member Koops scratched his chin. “I’m just concerned once we start things like this, it’s hard for us to revoke it. Do we look at everybody’s ability to pay? Or do we say, ‘we’re all in this together. We need to keep it equal for everyone?’ That’s what I’m struggling with.”

“I was on the fence myself,” agreed the mayor.

“This is about convenience,” the city manager argued. “The person doesn’t want to come into city hall.”

“So then should they pay for that convenience?” countered Koops.

“It’s not a lot of money either way,” reiterated the mayor.

“But once you start it–”

“You can’t turn it around,” finished the mayor.

There was a pause. Council Member Koops suddenly had an idea. “Why don’t we give it a year’s try and see how it goes?”

That was the magic compromise everyone had been looking for. With the stalemate resolved, the council adjourned eager for the next day’s prayer breakfast.

Interview #106: Milpitas, CA Mayor Rich Tran (with podcast)

This podcast interview is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM, and right here:

Rich Tran had no political experience before being elected as Milpitas’s mayor two years ago. His first term has had some rough spots, and we explore how he has adapted to the job.

Q: At the April 4 meeting in 2017, what were you trying to accomplish by saying you wanted your city manager’s performance review to be put on the public meeting agenda?

A: I can’t say too much about it because there’s current litigation. If you look at what happened there on the dais, it is really a policy battle that’s happening when you’re listening to myself and the city attorney. It’s like a rugby match and I’m in a scrum with the city attorney. I got so much love for Chris Diaz, our city attorney. He might be listening to this–

Q: Hello, Chris Diaz, Esquire!

A: Yeah! I’m scoring my freedom of speech and my democratic rights to place an item on the city council agenda. I’m definitely following the rules and doing things appropriately. I was looking to do a performance evaluation of our former city manager.

Q: I get that, but your line of inquiry made the city attorney visibly anxious. He’s saying, “as a council you can do whatever you want. I’m just saying as your attorney, I think it’s a terrible idea legally.” What about that was unconvincing to you?

A: I felt like I wasn’t getting the truth so much as I deserved it. I wasn’t looking to discuss anybody’s performance in public.

Q: What’s the distinction between that and placing the performance review on the agenda though?

A: I want the item on the agenda so we can decide if we’re gonna do the performance evaluation or not. That’s it.

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Milpitas, CA Mayor Rich Tran

Q: On October 3 of last year, your council was considering a censure policy for council members. When Councilmember Bob Nuñez said that he had concerns about people following the rules–and singling you out specifically–how did you feel about that?

A: We never had a censure policy here in my city. Not in its 64 years. Councilman Nuñez wanted to bring one about so that in the event that I screwed up or something, he can censure me. Everybody has concerns about me, Michael. They call me the “outspoken mayor.”

Q: What does that mean?

A: Because I talk about things. I don’t accept things that shouldn’t be accepted. Councilman Nuñez was concerned that I was communicating with the community too much. The funny thing is, no one’s ever been censured. It’s like he’s waiting for me to slip somehow.

Q: It’s interesting because they did have the opportunity to, but they instead chose to send you a letter of disapproval chastising you for your conduct outside of the meetings–and that was all four council members. You said, “that goes to show Milpitas has the dirtiest petty politics in all of Santa Clara County.” What, from your point of view, is the root of the problem?

A: It’s an election year. I’m an independent leader. It’s definitely sad. You read the rebuke that was sent my way–the residents are pissed off that the city council’s playing these silly games.

Q: I get that they may not like you because of who you are. Can you think of some mistake you made as mayor that you would be willing to say is a mistake?

A: Definitely. I don’t have a great background in politics. It was only four years ago that I moved back to my hometown from Manhattan. I was going to NYU for my master’s degree. I had no job, no car, I was living out of the back of my uncle’s house–

Q: Sorry, are these all the mistakes?

A: No, I’m just telling you the lead-up. Getting into politics, I didn’t really know much. You asked me what my mistake was: I think to be misunderstood.


Follow Mayor Rich Tran on Twitter: @mayor_richtran

Interview #105: Fremont, CA Councilmember Raj Salwan (with podcast)

This podcast interview is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM, and right here:

Raj Salwan has attempted to establish some order in Fremont’s sometimes-fluid appointment procedures for council members. He talked about how things could be better, and also about one contentious development that led to a raucous council meeting.

Q: You were appointed to the Fremont council in 2013. There are also three other current council members who went through this appointment process–meaning that four out of the five of you at one point sat for an interview to be on council. Is that a coincidence or is this truly a shortcut to winning elections that people ought to know about?

A: There’s two types of candidates that apply for these appointments. One is the planning commissioners. The other are people who just ran in the last election. One of the things in Fremont is that if you came in third place in an election, you usually don’t get the appointment. The critics will often say that because you weren’t elected, the voters didn’t choose you. So it’s not really fair but that’s just how it has been.

Q: In 2017, there was another vacancy. And the odd thing to me is that you spent the first ten minutes not sure how things would go. Why did you not have the rules solidified?

A: A lot of times the process is whatever the mayor wants to make it. In the past appointments, some of the council members had said, “hey, I was confused about the process.” We were trying to find what the expectation was so we knew exactly what was gonna happen.

Q: Correct me if I’m wrong, but your new mayor at the time, Lily Mei, had never participated in this appointment process as either a candidate or as someone interviewing candidates.

A: That’s true. It was a new job for her and the first thing she had to do was try to replace her own position [as a council member]. So it got very–well, it was a difficult process.

Q: Ah. If I may point out another area of improvement: the questions you asked of these candidates, if I’m being honest, were pretty basic. “Tell us about yourself.” “How did you get involved in politics?” I think you need to kick it up a notch. Ask them questions like, “if this room caught on fire and you could only save two council members, who would they be?”

A: That’s definitely very critical thinking! In the past, some people had accused council members of asking pointed questions or questions that they felt made them look bad. This was the process the city clerk came up with to give softball questions so nobody could say, “I got this question because somebody didn’t like me.” But I hear you. I like tough, pointed questions.

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Fremont, CA Councilmember Raj Salwan

Q: After your appointment in 2013, you did not win your election in 2014. But you did win in 2016. However, after the election but before your swearing in, the council voted on something called the Walnut Residences. In this case, the development was a huge lightning rod. Is that your memory?

A: This is the biggest fight in the Bay Area. Everybody complains about the cost of housing, but they always oppose housing when it’s near them. This became the flash point for this last election.

Q: In this meeting, Councilmember Lily Mei–who just defeated the incumbent mayor–said they should postpone the vote until you joined the council. I think she expected the vote to be different with you there. Do you think they should have waited?

A: No, I have to respect the decision of the council at the time. I wasn’t there and it’s not fair for me to comment or criticize.

Q: Did you see this at all as an attempt to speed things up like we’ve seen on the federal level–to take advantage of the partisan situation? Or do you buy the explanation that it’s been in front of the council for a really long time and it’s just time to get it done?

A: It’s a complicated thing. It’s been upcoming for several years. The applicant just wanted to get a decision. The council just wanted to take it on. It’s a great election issue for candidates who want to stop all growth. They point to [this].


Follow Councilmember Raj Salwan on Twitter: @RajSalwan