We met San Juan Capistrano councilmember Lon Uso a couple of months ago at the Friday morning coffee klatches organized by Capistrano Dispatch editor Jonathan Volzke and thought him a swell guy for daring to speak good about Mexicans in a room full of elderly, crotchety gabachos who didn't believe Mexicans assimilate. But as my mentors at the Weekly always teach me, never like a politician too much, 'cause they'll always do something to prove themselves a fool.
That's exactly what Uso did today in the Dispatch, a community weekly that does a fine job of covering San Juan Capistrano. Volzke wrote a story about the continuing controversy involving Ignacio Lujano, the 85-year-old orange farmer that San Juan officials are trying to boot out of a city-owned grove that he's tended to for nearly 40 years. Uso--a former columnist for the Dispatch--has an op-ed piece (not yet available online) and, like the rest of his Capistrano government colleagues, is desperately trying to spin his way out of a PR fiasco.
Uso starts with a weepy-moany description of San Juan Capistrano as a bucolic wonderland when it comes to affordable housing and open space. "I only mention these things to add some contrast to those stories that I have recently read about and seen on TV about our wonderful city," Uso writes. "We have been portrayed as heartless, uncaring, and bent on the destruction of the last viable orange orchard in Orange County in order to build a parking lot for a city storage yard. What is even more disturbing to me is how many people reading these half truths, even our own residents, have bought into this."
The only half-truths out there are Uso's. In the four media reports that I know that told Lujano's tale--the Weekly, Los Angeles Times, KCAL-TV Channel 9, and KTLA-TV Channel 5--none have said San Juan officials want to turn Lujano's groves into a parking lot. They've all reported what the city PR flack said--that a 1992 master plan for the Swanner Ranch (where Lujano tends to the orchards) called for the groves to become a maintenance yard for the city's open space, and that was still the plan. Only in the last week has the story changed--that Capistrano officials want to keep the orange trees Lujano keeps as is--well, except without Lujano. Not only that, none of the stories depict the city as "heartless," "uncaring," and "bent on the destruction of the last viable orange orchard in Orange County." All the reporters involved have done is tell the story--no more, no less.
But Uso doesn't let these facts get in the way of his propaganda. Ridiculously, he claims the media has depicted city officials as "Simon Legree." Uso, you being an immigrant from Mexico City and all, you might not be too familiar with American letters, so a refresher course: Legree was the villainous overseer in Uncle Tom's Cabin, a weepy-moany book of redemption in the antebellum South. No one has said you folks are slaveowners--not even close. All stories so far have mentioned that Lujano has leased from the city and noted the sadness in idiot bureaucrats kicking out a viejito after all these years of him staying on the property with no problem. No one has said San Juan officials have brutalized Lujano--can you tell us where, Lon?
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And then, Uso gets nasty. He blames Lujano for allowing the orange trees on the Swanner property to die. "The man is 84 years old and walks with a cane," he says as an excuse. Ignacio might, but the man is as spry as some 50-year-old gabachos. More crucially, Lujano can't do anything about the dying trees 'cause the city won't let him. Blaming an old man--what a heartless, uncaring dope.
The column concludes with Uso turning his pen toward the true villains in this story: the media.
"As to the press, why don't you guys make believe that you are reporters and give both sides of the story, there are enough deserved black eyes out there, you don't have to embellish and omit facts to sell your tale."
Dem's fighting words, Uso, and you're trying to smear two of the best reporters in Orange County--Times scribe William Lobdell and longtime KCBS-TV Channel 2 Orange County correspondent Dave Lopez--and me. Each of us got the two sides of the story--it's not our fault that San Juan officials like yourself come off as pendejos. Truth hurts, don't it?