By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
He won’t be the only recurring face. You’ll see Larry Gilbert, the bald guy in a tracksuit jacket or Hawaiian shirt, with sunken eyes and the vocal cadence of a New Jersey transplant. There’s Connie Lee, the small blonde who always sounds like she’s passing along some fabulous, hush-hush secret. And, up until November 2008, in the audience would have been Cathy Schlicht, cordial but often scolding, dressed in formless sweaters and T-shirts.
Schlicht won election to the city council in last year’s race, moving her from behind the speaker’s podium to behind the council dais. Now, she’s the official representation for a class of Mission Viejo citizens that has no generally accepted name (they’ll often call themselves “activists” or “watchdogs,” though MacLean calls them “these people”) but has had, for years, one common passion: being pissed off at the city council.
Schlicht and her friends have a lot of reasons, big and small, why they don’t like the way the city is run. Schlicht says the current council majority of MacLean, Ury and Trish Kelley (or, as critics have termed them, “MUK”) all campaigned as fiscally conservative Republicans but spend money needlessly on “feel-good projects” from rec-center locker rooms to a $360,000 Rose Parade float. She says they have no regard for the community or for honest government and that they’re all beholden to special interests and aspire to higher office.
The targeted council members, though, say that their opponents find fault with everything simply out of personal vendettas and power lust.
“There’s a few people in the community who just want to be able to control what’s going on with the council, and they’re mad they can’t,” Ury says. “To characterize it as anything else is to miss the point.”
All five members behind the dais also say that the council’s most vocal critics are the same people who helped each of them get elected in the first place. This includes MacLean, the man they now want to remove.
Once the city clerk formally signs off on the statement against MacLean, proponents will have 60 days to qualify the recall for a citywide vote by collecting about 9,300 signatures, one-tenth of the registered voters in Mission Viejo. There has been talk of recalling MacLean since 2003, but only recently did the talk become action, with the official charges against him drafted in a series of e-mails and Lee collecting the signatures of 51 supporters.
“I don’t know how many solid supporters out there that Lance has anymore,” says Brad Morton, editor of the Mission Viejo Dispatch blog. “Lance’s whole core constituency were the people who signed that petition.”
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MacLean’s story in Mission Viejo politics begins with defeat. The father of two had been coaching his kids’ soccer and basketball teams for years, but he knew he’d have to get a new hobby as they entered high school. He says he wanted to give back to his community, and his big idea was to build a gym with basketball courts because there weren’t enough hoops for public use in Mission Viejo. MacLean tried to get involved with city government and lobbied for an appointment to the planning commission or the community-services commission. He put in applications but never got anywhere. “Maybe I should just run for office,” he told his wife.
The story of MacLean’s enemies begins with defeat, too. In 1996, a proposed high-density housing development drew Dale Tyler and a few other citizens to collect 7,000 signatures to oppose the project. A judge rejected the petition and the apartments were built anyway—but in the process, Tyler founded an advocacy group called Citizens for Integrity in Government (CIG). The group quickly moved on to other issues and, in the process, built a core membership of dozens and a mailing list of thousands. At get-togethers, on websites, in political campaigns, at demonstrations and during council meetings, members of CIG loudly objected to anything that could conceivably be construed as government waste, from the construction of a new “Taj Majal” city hall to the subsidization of a minor-league baseball team. It wasn’t just the spending they were fed up with, but also the attitude of the city’s elected officials, who had developed a habit of naming Mission Viejo amenities after themselves. Ex-CIG member Don Wilder remembers going to his first meeting and being shocked at the conduct of council members. “It was like royalty of old Europe saying, ‘Let them eat cake,’” he says.
MacLean started showing up to CIG meetings, and members say he became a vocal participant in discussions of the latest city news. “He was lockstep with us on the things we held important: fiscal conservatism, open government, listen to the citizens, redevelopment, no taxes—all this kind of stuff,” Wilder says. “It seemed like he was right there with us.”
MacLean ran for city council in 2000. He lost. He ran again in 2002, alongside CIG member and popular PTA mom Patricia “Trish” Kelley as well as John Paul Ledesma, a friend of CIG who was first elected in 1998. Orange County Register editorial writer Steven Greenhut dubbed the results the “Revolution in Mission Viejo”: incumbents mayor Susan Withrow and vice mayor Sheri Butterfield lost badly, garnering less than 14 percent of the vote between the two of them. Activists who supported MacLean and Kelley were ecstatic. Alongside Ledesma and Gail Reavis, a CIG-supported candidate from 2000, their representatives would have a 4-1 majority.