Best Of :: People & Places
In the past, we've asked Bao Nguyen for quotes on topics, and he has politely refused. Unlike so many in local politics, Nguyen—one of Orange County's leading progressive activists—prefers accomplishments to accolades and publicity. In June, the 31-year-old UC Irvine graduate, who's a Buddhist and a public-school teacher, was appointed to a position on the Garden Grove Unified School District's board when Dr. KimOanh NguyenLam, another one of our favorites, accepted a job in Washington, D.C. While others with political aspirations might have been socializing at watering holes, Bao quietly volunteered to aid needy elderly citizens in North OC. Hopefully, his new role will be a continuation of what we've seen in the past: a man who is incredibly sensitive to community rights and wrongs and isn't afraid to speak up.
Whether he's working to protect the jobs of employees throughout Orange County, or jousting with his fellow board members at meetings at the Orange County Fairgrounds, Nick Berardino is a tough character. He's an idealist who doesn't take kindly to people in power exerting any type of unjust control over those who don't want or know how to be heard. He's good at constructive arguing or, as some call it, negotiating. He has been involved in labor negotiations for more than 30 years with the Orange County Employees Association, so there's not much that rattles him. He'll ask the uncomfortable questions, he'll call people out on their BS or stare down the most imposing of political figures—and then he'll turn to his constituents and smile and wink. He has their backs.
Before there was the city of Bell scandal (starring Huntington Beach's Robert Rizzo), there was Barbara Kogerman of Laguna Hills trying to get anyone to listen to what she was uncovering about excessive compensation of city staffers and elected officials in Orange County. The wife of former Marine Corps officer, El Toro International Airport fighter and Orange County Great Park board member Bill, Kogerman first targeted her own city, an obsession she was later able to spin into a successful run for the Laguna Hills City Council. Fortunately, she did not confine her digging to that 'burb. Assisted by two college students and public-records requests, Kogerman uncovered lavish pay, benefits and pensions throughout local governments in the county. Her investigative work was later validated by the grand jury, The Orange County Register and government watchdog groups that have lavished her with awards. Most cities, with a sense of shame, posted some elements of compensation on their websites (with varying degrees of success). The Los Angeles Times followed up by spotlighting excessive pay in LA County, which eventually brought the journos to Bell and Hogg Boss Rizzo. Subsequently, the state's controller and attorney general (now Governor Jerry Brown) called for disclosure by all cities of their city managers' compensation, and legislation was introduced to address excessive compensation and lack of transparency. Initially ignored, Kogerman is now a national spokesperson for local compensation reform, transparency and accountability.
In May, the county's Board of Supervisors voted without a word of public discussion to pay $249,975 in taxpayer funds to the Truth Agency, a Santa Ana government consulting firm, for the task of convincing residents they should visit county parks.
In June, the county's Board of Supervisors voted without a word of public discussion to give businesses at the Dana Point Harbor $145,800 in taxpayer funds to publicize their private companies.
In February, the county's Board of Supervisors voted without a word of public discussion to pay a movie producer $146,830 in taxpayer funds to replace the county's 9-year-old film about the wonders of bird migration that screens at the Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve.
Over the years, mostly suburban Orange County hasn't exactly been a hotbed of political unrest. Sure, we have rabid right-wingers who are always foaming at the mouth because it's no longer 1952, blacks can vote, and the Cold War is over. But something remarkable happened this year: Local residents, who've made it their practice to steadfastly look away from police violence and corruption, finally had enough and hit the pavement to say so. If you had bet us $50 a year ago that we'd see a woman holding a "Fuck the Police" sign in public, we'd have driven you directly to Patton State mental hospital. Yet, the brutal slaying in July of Kelly Thomas, a 135-pound homeless man, by six Fullerton cops sparked the biggest, most passionate community protests we've seen since the fight over the building of an international airport at the defunct El Toro Marine Corps Air Station more than a decade ago. Week after week and city meeting after city meeting brought out hundreds of angry protesters, who eventually dubbed themselves "Kelly's Army." Police agencies love to bury dirty laundry in the hopes the public will forget, but that hasn't happened in this case. The protesters demanded an honest, thorough explanation and, if appropriate, for prosecutors to charge the cops with unnecessarily killing the unarmed Thomas. When DA Tony Rackauckas charged one cop with second-degree murder and another with involuntary manslaughter on Sept. 21, the protesters exulted—but also declared they would keep the pressure on the city until all of the officers, even the department itself, is held fully accountable for Thomas' death.
In April, Orange County Republican Central Committee member Marilyn Davenport of Fullerton sent an email photograph to fellow conservatives that depicted President Barack Obama and his parents as chimpanzees, with the caption "Now you know why no birth certificate." When first contacted by the Weekly, Davenport, who is elderly, didn't understand the problem of equating the first African American U.S. president with a monkey. She said she didn't deserve any scrutiny because the image wasn't racist, but rather "amusing" and "an Internet joke." In response, Davenport's leader at the OC GOP, Scott Baugh, labeled the email "despicable" and said, "It is dripping with racism, and it does not promote the type of message Orange County Republicans want to deliver to the public."
Costa Mesa was once known for ritzy South Coast Plaza, great dive bars and its toothless, deranged, white-supremacist gangsters. But thanks to Repair Costa Mesa—a conglomeration of angry citizens, local public employees and labor-union bosses—the city is the main California proving ground for conservative policies to curtail city-worker wages and wasteful programs during dismal economic years. All but one of the city's all-Republican council has supported multimillion-dollar cuts and the chopping of more than 200 city jobs. Normally, Republicans can do whatever they want in Orange County, except in Santa Ana. But Costa Mesa's action, led by freshman Councilman Jim Righeimer, prompted Repair Costa Mesa to produce an avalanche of potent daily cable-TV commercials that accuses four of the politicians—Righeimer, Eric Bever, Gary Monahan and Steve Mensinger—of lying about the city's true financial condition to execute a nationwide Republican conspiracy against unions. That message has been drilled into our minds—sometimes a dozen times per day—month after month. Who knew that in such a traditionally anti-union locale as OC, unions would fight back so vigorously and put the likes of a Righeimer, a cagey veteran politician, scurrying for defenders on his own turf?
It takes something really extraordinary to steer OC Weekly to say anything nice about la migra, but some people just really deserve getting their asses kicked out of the country. People such as Pedro Pimentel Rios, a former Guatemalan special-forces officer and U.S. Army School of the Americas instructor who allegedly raped numerous girls and women at Dos Erres, a tiny village near Guatemala's border with Mexico, during the December 1982 massacre of more than 250 people. (And yes, this was before he was promoted to his military teaching job.) The Dos Erres atrocity ranks as perhaps the most gruesome in Guatemala's entire civil war and is too disturbing to detail here, except to say it was a long, protracted, insanely vicious bloodbath. Rare kudos therefore to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for finding this guy last year and handing him over to the Guatemalan police in July. Vaya con Diós, pendejo.
Despite what we might have implied in the past, Orange County Superior Court Judge William R. Froeberg was not the inspiration for Montgomery Burns, the villainous Springfield Nuclear Power Plant owner on The Simpsons. But, come on, they do look remarkably alike! Froeberg, however, isn't in the profit business. His task is to efficiently and fairly run some of OC's most complicated criminal trials, and while he isn't as cold as some of his colleagues, he's not particularly endearing either. Perhaps he is unfairly hampered by that seemingly permanent scowl. But in one of this year's most sensational murder trials, the one involving ex-NFL linebacker Eric Naposki, Froeberg provided seasoned management from his perch. He didn't hamper prosecutors while he gave in to some of Naposki's ultimately unsuccessful defense demands, probably to avoid any appellate errors. He treated all the parties with respect. He ran the trial on time. He even made jurors' lives easier with occasional, much-needed funny quips when the lawyers got too heated—a touch of thoughtful humanity sorely needed in our local judicial officers.
Calling someone the best politician can be the same as equating that person with a slimy reptile. Indeed, look around OC, and you'll find plenty of snakes in elected office. But this year, we're happy to give the nod to Fred Karger. Okay, sure, he was once lower than a snake when he worked as a cutthroat, secretly gay Republican political operative for the likes of Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford. But nowadays, Karger, who has never held elective office, has found not just the courage to come out of the closet, but the personable Laguna Beach resident is also an unapologetic fiscal conservative who is vocally pressing his political party to stop employing shameless anti-gay tactics. He's also pro-choice and, unlike George W. Bush, anti-stupid wars. Oh, and Karger's running to win the Republican nomination to take on President Barack Obama in November 2012. Does he have a chance? No, but sometimes there have to be folks willing to sacrifice themselves to make a good point, and Fred's that kind of noble man.