If He Only Had a Brain

Stupid is as Jim Silva does

Silva's blatant aversion to the truth is revealed in every area of debate, including the airport. For example, he has made much of the fact that Sullivan has raised more than $300,000. It frustrates Silva that most of Sullivan's money has come not from inside the 2nd District but from South County residents who aren't fond of the idea of jumbo jets taking off over their homes 24 hours a day. Silva, however, is vulnerable to the same charge-not that he'd admit it.

On Oct. 8, Silva appeared (alone-he refuses to debate) on OCN's Prime Story with host Brooke Robbins. The supervisor immediately slammed Sullivan for accepting contributions from sources outside the 2nd District. "He found he could take, uh, uh, uh, a bribe or whatever you want to call it" by having "fund-raisers every night in South County-and all he talks about at those fund-raisers is the airport," he said.

"But at the same time he's getting a lot of South County money," Robbins said, "you're also getting a lot of Newport Beach [which is also outside the district] money."

"Actually, I think if you look at my campaign reports," said a smiling Silva, "you didn't see any Newport Beach money in there."

Robbins followed up: "There's reportedly $126,000 that's from outside your district. I would assume most of that came from Newport Beach."

Silva stared at Robbins. Color appeared in his face. "Uh," he finally muttered. "The $126,000 is [from] all over the county. It is not from Newport Beach."

One of the more striking aspects of covering Orange County politics is not that our elected officials lie, but that they feel so comfortable doing it so often on easily verifiable issues. And on television.

We drove to the registrar of voters' office in Santa Ana, where official campaign-disclosure reports are filed and kept for public inspection. In the days before Silva appeared on OCN, his campaign reports show he took at least the following contributions (we won't use the term "bribes") from Newport Beach real-estate developers, corporate lobbyists and pro-airport activists: $2,000, $1,750, $1,000, $250, $1,250, $1,500, $1,000, $250, $250, $1,000, $250, $250, $100, $1,100, $250, $250, $500, $1,000, $250, $500, $750, $250, $1,000, $450, $250, $100, $250, $100, $1,499, $300, $1,750, $500, $1,000, $100, $250, $1,000, $250, $1,750, $1,000, $1,250, $1,500, $1,500, $500, $100, $1,000, $300, $100, $250, $1,000, $1,750, $150, $250, $1,000, $250, $628 and $1,250. Without breaking a sweat, we found an additional 266 Newport Beach contributions totaling just under $100,000. The reports also revealed that 85 percent of Silva's contributions originated from sources outside the 2nd District.

Silva did not return telephone calls for comment.

Perhaps nothing better exemplifies the emptiness of Silva's carefully crafted reputation as a conservative "tax fighter" than the contributions he receives. Rather than the hard-working middle-class 2nd District he claims to represent, Silva's true "constituents" are developers, attorneys and firms that contract with the county. They're the attorneys and law firms the county put on retainer. They're the public-relations firms the county hires for spin campaigns. They're the companies and firms that reap the benefits of county privatization. They're the geology and construction firms that build county facilities. And they're the developers and landowners who live in Newport Beach's bay-side mansions-men like George Argyros and Donald Koll. They need county permits to cover what open space remains with high-density homes and gated communities. If Silva really wanted to be honest, he'd recuse himself from every board meeting. It's a colossal conflict of interest.

Firms contributing to Silva's campaign committee appear throughout the Board of Supervisors meetings' minutes: Brian A. Stirratt & Associates (BAS); Coleman/Caskey Construction; LSA & Associates; Parking Concepts; Deloitte & Touche; GeoSyntec; Laer Pearce; Simons Li; Gatzke, Dillon & Ballance. The big developers-Irvine Co., Mission Viejo Co., William Lyon Homes, Taylor Woodrow and Shea Homes-appear under "Planning."

Their checks roll in individually and through massive campaign events, such as the big Dec. 16, 1997, blowout organized by the El Toro International Airport pope himself, Argyros. That event netted Silva tens of thousands of dollars in $250-per-head ticket sales alone. On Sept. 22, Argyros threw another fund-raiser for Silva, this time at his Arnel Development offices next door to South Coast Plaza. Once again, the minimum donation was $250.

Other firms and developers followed Argyros' lead. The engineering firm Coleman/Caskey has given Silva $1,500 since he started running for county office in 1993; since June 1997, the county has given the firm more than $2 million in contracts. BAS, a civil-engineering firm, has given Silva $2,150; on Aug. 19, 1997, the board gave BAS a contract worth $2.6 million. The various William Lyon development companies have given Silva $3,250 since 1993; since June 1997, the board has approved 10 new tracts for Lyon.

Sometimes, firms give a little and get a lot. Shea Homes has given Silva almost nothing, yet it had 49 tracts approved in the past year and a half. The reverse works as well: Hunsaker & Associates, a consulting firm representing scores of developers, has given Silva $1,500 to date but only received county work as an alternate contractor this year.

You could describe the relationship between the board and the contractors as synergistic. What's certain is that such synergy theatens residents' ability to influence county policy. And there's no better example of that than Koll Co. and its efforts to develop the Bolsa Chica wetlands. In his Oct. 8 campaign appearance on OCN, Silva preposterously posed as an environmentalist who had done his darndest to block Koll Co. Silva may have confused his record with Sullivan's. It was no accident that Sullivan began his campaign at the Bolsa Chica wetlands. In 1992, Sullivan got himself elected to the Huntington Beach City Council on a slow-growth platform centered on halting, stopping, ending, finishing, demolishing and/or obliterating Koll Co.'s plans to cover the Bolsa Chica mesa with thousands of tract homes. But there wasn't a lot he could do; Bolsa Chica is a county-not a city-matter.

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