Best Of :: People & Places
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?
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.
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.
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.