The organizational effort even applies to the message that activists spread daily. Before her first few hours of signature gathering, Lee jotted down three talking points: “anger,” “expenses” and “doesn’t represent us.” An altercation with a co-worker in 2007, a 100 percent pay raise for council members in 2008 and numerous costly decisions made over public opposition—these things will sell the recall, Lee says. But there’s a common theme to many of the conversations she has with passersby: Mission Viejo is becoming too crowded, too urban and too . . . different.

It’s rarely mentioned that no housing has been built in Mission Viejo since the late 1990s—years before MacLean was elected in 2002. It is true that he has voted to rezone some parcels of land for residential use, but those decisions were made—in part, at least—in order to bring Mission Viejo into compliance with state housing laws (the city was sued for noncompliance in 2006).

“The rules of this stuff are set against you as a public official,” MacLean said in February. “I can’t sue for slander; I can’t sue for defamation of character. They can say anything to anybody walking into the store: ‘Lance clubs baby seals; we want to recall him.’”

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