By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
By Nick Schou
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Steve Lowery
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Out of all of Lance Robert MacLean’s many public-relations problems, the most important may be the widely held perception that the Mission Viejo city councilman, if provoked, will choke you. It’s a matter of public record. Right there in the UC Irvine Police Department crime report dated Oct. 26, 2007, is an account of what happened between MacLean and a co-worker:
“After a short verbal altercation (about 30 seconds) between the two men, Maclean [sic] took a step forward and bumped [Jack] McManus against the chest. Maclean then extended both his arms out and placed his hands around McManus’s neck. Maclean then shoved McManus against the wall and started to lift McManus up while his hands were still around McManus’ neck.”
The police report then says it took four cops to break MacLean’s grip, wrestle him to the floor and handcuff him over snarls of “Get the fuck off of me; get the fuck off of me.”
MacLean says the police report is largely a work of fiction. He says that as associate executive director of the Associated Students of UC Irvine at the time, he was worried about student safety: During the student government’s “Shocktoberfest” celebration, UCI hospitality-and-dining-services director Jack McManus had locked the doors to the student center and its bathrooms, leaving kids to crush against the outside doors, pound on the windows and pee in the bushes. So MacLean says he sought out McManus and told him to open the facilities. When McManus ignored him and started to walk away, MacLean grabbed him. He says he didn’t choke him, per se, but rather leaned his forearm across McManus’ collar to keep him in place while MacLean talked. And, according to MacLean, what happened next lingers vividly in his mind like a nightmare that won’t fade: McManus turned his head toward the cops down the hall and calmly, matter-of-factly said, “Assault. Arrest him.”
The assault-and-battery charges against MacLean were eventually dropped on the condition that he attend anger-management classes. When UCI launched an investigation into what happened, MacLean decided to retire from the university after 27 years.
But he was faced with a new consequence of the incident when, on Feb. 2, at the start of a Mission Viejo City Council meeting, a man walked up to the dais and handed him an envelope. MacLean, currently mayor pro tempore of the city, opened it, read it and smiled. “A notice of intention to circulate a petition to recall,” was the title. Fifty-one residents had signed the document, expressing a desire to see MacLean thrown from office.
The first on the list of eight complaints against MacLean was “VIOLENCE.” The rest: “ANGER AND INCIVILITY . . . HATRED AND DISRESPECT . . . SELF-DEALING . . . GREED AND CORRUPT PRIORITIES . . . FINANCIAL MISMANAGEMENT . . . TAX INCREASE . . . FALSE PROMISES.” A camera flash went off; some of the recall proponents were in the audience, snapping pictures to record his reaction. MacLean nudged his friend Mayor Frank Ury, showed him the recall papers and laughed. They exchanged words; the sound didn’t travel, but the sentiment could have been “These people really go for the throat, don’t they?”
* * *
Roughly 100,000 people live east of Interstate 5 in South County, within the narrow, arrowhead-shaped boundaries of Mission Viejo. Start at Capistrano Valley High School near the south edge of the city and drive north, past the car dealerships and the Shops at Mission Viejo mall, past the orange-and-aqua fortress of the Kaleidoscope shopping center, past the blinking electronic display for Saddleback College, and you get to the part of Mission Viejo that its residents and politicians seem to consider the “real” part of the city. Or, at least, that must be what they’re referring to when they talk at council meetings and coffee shops about how Mission Viejo is one of the few places in the county that is still close to nature.
Tall, white-barked sycamore trees shade stretches of Marguerite Parkway, where the grassy medians and leafy hedges are manicured just enough to make one wonder about the city’s landscaping bills. Take a left or right into one of the housing tracts: Yes, all the homes are variations on a Spanish-mission theme, but they’re just blocks from verdant patches of golf courses and untrimmed, development-free valleys. Keep heading north. You’ll hit Lake Mission Viejo, a man-made reservoir that glitters in the daylight, hemmed in by gated-community homes.
It is, in many places, a clean, pretty, idyllic city. Its politics are none of these things.
“Lance MacLean has broken his promises to the citizens of Mission Viejo and the people who got him elected in many ways,” says Dale Tyler, a local activist and blogger. “He’s arrogant. He’s out of control. And he is a blot on the city of Mission Viejo. A stain on the character of Mission Viejo is actually how I would put it.”