After the tragic passing of famed Newport Beach and Greenlight Initiative leader Phil Arst in 2008, I had a chance to sit down with now-Mayor Nancy Gardner over a cup of coffee to lament his passing and the seeming end of an era.
The initiative was a grassroots group of community activists who essentially changed the way the city is developed. Their influence was great; their impact immediate.
Like them or not, the City Council had to consider the Greenlight Law, Arst, Jan Vandersloot and many others whenever a development project was put before them.
And with Arst's death, the first domino dropped in the decline of this political behemoth leading to the eventual disincorporation of the Greenlight Initiative group this year.
Gardner and I discussed community activists like Arst and how they get "created." She indicated that a little issue typically flares up all over the city, and how the council handled that issue, or person, would eventually determine whether another Arst would get created, or if they would go away happy.
I recently asked Gardner again, to which she responded:
"Process is very important, but process isn't outcome. The city must do its best to ensure that everyone has access to the process and that the process is as consistent as possible…"
And, she added, "So we have two people, John and Jack Doe. Both are unhappy with something in the city. They are told the process to try to change it is A, B and C. They do A, B and C. The outcome isn't what they want.
"John Doe says, 'OK, I had my day in court, my opportunity to make my case. For whatever reason I wasn't persuasive, and I lost; so be it.'
"Jack Doe cannot accept that there could be an interpretation other than his, so he decides the process must be flawed … he becomes a crusader, working to expose the darkness in the city."
So I asked two of Newport Beach's most prominent activists, Jim Mosher and Robert Rush, to describe the defining moment that got them involved.
Mosher has been at almost every single council meeting and committee meeting for almost three years and has focused primarily on procedure, reminding the council how to essentially follow its own directions when legislating. And he's been right most of the time.
"In my case, what touched me off was finding a notice taped to my door saying a cell site was about to be constructed at eye level in front of my Back Bay view windows," he said. "A project which had been approved by city staff two years before without public notice, hearing or right to appeal, and which they seemed powerless to modify or revoke even after learning that the approval had been based on fraudulent representations by the applicant as to the status of coverage in the area, and involved a lease of public property which had never received the charter-required authorization by the City Council (at least not in any public forum)."
Since then, Mosher has made his presence known to every council member, commissioner and city employee to make sure issues like this don't get repeated.
Rush, a friend of mine, started off a bit more innocuously.
The driveway in front of his River Avenue house was a bit shorter than his car, so whenever Rush parked in his driveway, he would get a parking ticket for extending onto the sidewalk. After numerous tickets, he decided to contact his local councilman, Steve Rosansky, to remedy the situation. Eventually, sidewalks were moved, driveways were extended and no more parking tickets were required.
So when Rush noticed numerous homes in his neighborhood being used as commercial sober living facilities, he contacted Rosansky again, resulting in a meeting with Rosanksy, then-City Attorney Robin Clausen and Councilman Ed Selich to discuss his concerns. Well, as Rush tells it, after Rosansky berated him for five minutes, Rush walked out.
Thus community activist Bob Rush, now an Assembly candidate, was created. He along with Denys Obermann, Lori Morris and Cindy Koller, among many others, dominated the anti-sober living home movement of the late 2000s.
Two of Newport Beach's leading activists rose up from simple beginnings to influence how the council operates.
Perhaps so much so that the city recently created the Handbook for City of Newport Beach Boards, Commissions, and Committees, essentially to make sure no future activists are created due to lack of procedure.
JACK WU is an accountant who lives in Newport Beach and practices in Costa Mesa. He is a longtime Republican Party loyalist and a volunteer campaign treasurer for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa). His column runs Sundays on the Daily Pilot Forum page. He can be reached at email@example.com.