“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.
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.
“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.
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.
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?
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!
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
This past Tuesday was Election Day in the United States, which means there were plenty of city council races to keep track of. We provide you with some updates on a handful of city councils profiled on previous podcast episodes.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.