Best Of :: People & Places
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.
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.