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By Debra Lewis
Rancho Santa Margarita incorporated in 2000. As its first mayor, I served with four very conservative Republican councilmembers. Despite political differences, we were cooperative and respectful of one another’s opinions. Our decisions reflected consensus.
Elected with 65% of the vote in 2016, I envisioned a Dana Point council that understood residents’ desire for a beautiful coastal town, responsible development and friendly neighborhood appeal. Instead, I found a council steeped in partisan politics. Rather than seeking consensus, the majority repeatedly proved inflexible and unmovable, generally voting as a block, literally. The city now resembles Irvine, with more huge apartment projects coming. Residents anticipate another contentious battle to keep unsupervised, mini-hotels out of neighborhoods.
Last Tuesday’s Short-Term Rental council vote says it all. Despite professional survey results showing 60% of DP residents opposed to investor-owned STRs, Muller, Viczorek and Federico voted to expand STRs beyond the home-shares the Coastal Commission had proposed. Federico reneged on his campaign promise, joining Muller and Viczorek, voting against giving residents a vote on this major zoning change affecting their most valuable asset.
Unlike RSM’s unanimous agreement on a city manager, the DP council majority twice imposed their choice by 3-2 votes. Similarly, they refused to rebid the city attorney contract in effect since 2002, despite $1.7M in legal fees. And again this year, by 3-2, the majority approved the OCSD contract without meaningful review or comment. Our single largest expense that eats up every dollar of hotel bed tax deserves better.
No one is more cooperative and conciliatory than Paul Wyatt. Yet, the majority rewarded him by twice denying him the mayor honor. This year, the three gave Viczorek a second term as mayor rather than choose Wyatt. When Muller wanted an OC Parks Committee position, I withdrew my name in a cooperative gesture. After I reached out, Federico never answered my November 2019 text about working together on Neighborhood Watch.
I can now speak freely without being harassed with frivolous Public Record Act requests. Although I have sold my house, I will remain vocal on key issues, including the misogyny I experienced. I do not regret filing my complaint. I expected the “independent investigation” to find no basis—especially when, months later, the city informed me the Orange County Fire Authority had hired this “investigator” and might do so again in the future. Muller serves on OCFA and was president at the time. I refused to waive the conflict. The new “independent” investigator” used interviews and notes of the conflicted investigator, rather than starting fresh.
I sincerely thank many supporters. We tried unsuccessfully to pass 1) a private view ordinance preserving overgrown landscape from obscuring or eliminating residents’ views; 2) voter approval of an STR ordinance; 3) a Costa Mesa-type sober living home ordinance effectively regulating group homes; and 4) to oppose districting as Mission Viejo did in 2018. In 2020, Mission Viejo’s residents can still elect their council at large but did not spend “millions” fighting districting. I am pleased my “No Smoking” ordinance passed and user fees finally increased after 20 years, over Muller’s and Viczorek’s “No” votes. Residents will no longer subsidize developers, whose projects account for the bulk of city’s user fees.
My wish for Dana Point is that you find a three-person majority of honest, hard-working representatives who will represent your values and support your right to vote and hold them accountable. I hope citizens elect candidates supported by residents—not by nameless, faceless PACs, out-of-town investors and real estate interests.