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Giving Back On Veterans Day

Thanks you to every veteran, active or discharged, for your serviceVeterans Day and Memorial Day usually cross over for me. I can’t help thinking of our living Vets without also thinking of those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom and security. Like many of you, I have friends who have paid a price for that freedom. All to often, is has been their life or a substantial injury – physical or psychological.

On Memorial Day, I can usually be found with my veterans group, at Westminster Memorial Park, paying homage to our fallen comrades. This ceremony is particularly special to me  – the remaining members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association lay a wreath along with the rest of us. This year, there were only two who could attend. I am told there are only three left in the county.

Veterans Day is different. As a former member of the United States Air Force during Vietnam, I felt it was rather self-serving to celebrate a time that I was not particularly proud of. I’ve written about my experiences coming home in uniform. And, although the military gave me a start in life, it was not something I thought much of after my discharge. That is, until Veterans Day of 2005.

On that particular day, my wife talked me into  going down to Peppertree Park where The American Legion was hosting a celebration. During the ceremonies, the emcee asked all the veterans of each respective war to stand up. They were greeted with applause.

When it came time for the Vietnam Era vets to stand, I didn’t. My wife kept hitting me in the ribs until finally, exasperated, I stood. Instead of the usual applause, the emcee said, “Welcome Home” in recognition of the general feeling of Americans towards servicemen of the era.

It was the first time someone said that to me. I was flabbergasted, dumfounded and -mostly- embarrassed. Later, it gave me the courage to thank others and welcome them home.  It’s something that, I am proud to say, has become a national trend. In the years since, I have been welcomed home, bear hugged and thanked for my service more times than I will ever be able to count. I am grateful and humbled. Today, I still thank men and women in uniform for their service as well as veterans I’ve come to know. I surround myself with other veterans from organizations like The American Legion and the American Legion Riders. Both organizations give back tremendously to our veterans who have given so much for us.

homelessThere is a gap, however. Many veterans, too many in fact, are homeless. Many others who suffer PTS are written off as mentally ill. County veterans organizations and the OC Veterans Service Office work hard both politically and at the grassroots level to change national policy and get veterans the help they need. And, you can help.

On Veterans Day, public and private sector labor unions are taking the lead to obtain needed services for our veterans, on the heels of the recent Orange County Veterans Stand Down, the Orange County Employees Association, in conjunction with other county unions will be hosting a “mini-stand down” of sorts at the Orange County Fairgrounds.

We are hosting a FREE Veterans Day community celebration Nov. 11 to say thank you to our veterans, to connect them with the services they need, and to give them our gratitude. There are so many ways for you and your family to give back at this eventfrom saying a simple “thank you” to sending a care package, to writing a holiday card for a veteran.

This is our opportunity to show the entire community our commitment to the values of our country and the importance of public service. And it’s FREE (so are the famous OCEA hot dogs!)

So please bring your children. And let’s stand together to say “thank you” and to fight for them the way they fought for us.

The day begins with a motorcycle rally & run from the OC Labor Federation in Orange to the fairgrounds. The rally begins at 10:30 AM with Kickstands up at 11:30 AM. At the fairgrounds, the general public will be treated to static military displays and be able to make cards for overseas military and send care packages in a program partnership with the Orange County Register. There will be a resource fair available for veterans as well. Form more information, click on the links and also go to the Website.

OCEA General Manager, Nick Berardino, a Vietnam Veteran himself, hopes that everyone will come out, enjoy the day and say thanks to the veterans of our community. I think we should also thank Nick. Not just for his work with the public unions in doing a remarkable job for their members but, especially for his service to the greatest country in the world.

Welcome home, Nick.


Setting the Record Straight – What do You Want For 10 Bucks an Hour?

boring meetingNo Planning Commission meeting this week so…

It’s amazing to me how many time Republicans will jump to take credit where credit isn’t due. A hat tip to The Liberal OC for setting the record straight on just who is responsible for getting the County of Orange out of their latest tub of hot water.

It seems Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point, tweeted an announcement that a deal had been struck with the state regarding the $146 million dollars in Vehicle License Fees the County owes the state. The Orange County Register seemed to have taken that to mean Harkey was responsible for the deal. Nothing could be further from the truth.

From The Lib:

The funding loss occurred when Governor Brown figured out in 2011 that the state no longer was required to give Orange County that funding because the county had refinanced its bankruptcy debt. When the county initially structured the financing for it’s more than $1 billion in debt, they had to get the state to dedicate their share of VLF to pay the loans. When the County refinanced the debt in 2005, county leaders ignored warnings and failed to negotiate the continuance of those funds through a property tax swap. The governor figured out the county’s mistake and kept the VLF funding. In response the county, through former Auditor Controller David Sundstrom, decided to keep $73 million in property tax revenues. The state to sued and the county lost.

So, now the County owes the state a ton of money and, it seemed, with no way to pay it back. When ignoring the problem no longer worked, they went to the legislature with their hat in hand. The mostly Democratic legislature seemingly took delight in saying, “No.” The courts had already been asked to weigh in on the matter with pretty much the same result.

So, where to go?

Senator Lou Correa, of course. Correa has helped the county out of more than one tight spot and, in turn,  has taken a lot of flack from his fellow Democrats. But, it is his moderate stand coupled with his willingness to cross the aisle to get the job done that makes him a valuable resource, even for the conservatives in the county.

Lou supported legislation that will allow a property tax – VLF swap, helped along by fellow Democrat Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva (now, it seems all of the OC legislators jumped on board), that will set things a little more “right” in the Real OC.

As The Lib points out, though, the Register seemingly missed that point, either on accident or purpose and attempted to lamely give the credit where it was nowhere due. They said they were “baffled, though not surprised” the Register would leave out an important detail like that.

We’re not. Especially since the OC Weekly broke an interesting story on the way the Register is gathering its news. It all comes down to money.

In a recent article on Navel Gazing Blog, Gustavo Arellano broke the story the Register’s owner and publisher has cut back the stipends and housing for cub reporters. Aside from the valuable learning experience working for the only libertarian-bent newspaper in Southern Califoria, fledgling reporters were being paid the princely sum of $10 an hour and “stacked four to a two-bedroom apartment”.

But the wheels are slowly falling off owner Aaron Kushner’s gravy train. Last month, the Los Angeles Times revealed he’s no longer matching contributions to an employee’s 401k retirement fund; now, media website Romenesko reports the Reg will stop housing its cub reporters and send them off to the OC wilderness with a $750 monthly housing stipend.

Of course, as the Weekly points out, there is not much to rent in Orange County for that kind of money. But, if four of them continue to live together, well, that’s $3k a month and I know a few places they can rent, even in Irvine.

The real rub, though, is what kind of reporting are you going to get for ten bucks an hour? Even the burger flippers at McDonalds are asking for more than that. And, they don’t even get a byline.

The Register explains they are not cutting corner, just fine tuning implementation. Uh-huh. Well, we’ve seen Kuschner spending a ton of money on revamping every facet of the newspaper, implementing a poorly thought out paywall that discourages participation and emphasis on the dying art of print news. So, we are not surprised at this recent turn or the slip to near tabloid style reporting of the news.

The Register still has a few reporters that make the paper worth reading. But, when Frank Mickadeit is found writing a serious article (he’s actually good at it) rather than that tripey column he usually writes, you know there is a problem. And, it’s doubtful buying a cash crop of junior reporters will help. We will still take quality over quantity any day.

Dear John

An Open Letter to Mayor John Nielsen and the Tustin City Council

Dear Mayor Nielsen,

At the Tuesday night meeting of the Tustin City Council, you expressed outrage that the newspapers and blogs would attack you over the Heritage Elementary School lawsuit. You thought it unfair that the press had labeled you and the city council as racist because of a pleading entered by the city in Orange County Superior Court outlining their complaint against the Tustin Unified School District. I can’t help but notice, you timed your remarks so as to preclude any immediate response from the audience by including them in “Mayors Comments” at the end of the session. I felt a response was necessary, to keep the record straight. As such, I choose to respond here.

You began your comment (which begins at timemark 1:09:12) on the issue by saying that you were the one who originally set up a meeting between the city and school district to hammer out an agreement. You also said:

I’ve been a great supporter of Tustin Schools for many years. My children have grown up in Tustin public schools from kindergarten and have graduated through high school. They’ve attended Nelson Elementary, Utt Middle School and Tustin High School, both of my children graduated from Tustin High, and this dispute is very disconcerting and has been for the last two years.

But, in the most recent legal battles that we’ve had, the city has tried to protect its residents and Tustin Legacy by trying to preserve a newly built neighborhood school as an elementary school. That school was paid for by those residents, by millions of dollars in fees, mello-roos. And, we engaged in that in order to have that elementary school so they could use it for their kids, which they anticipated they could have until it was changed and the carpet pulled out from under them, so to speak. But, you know, there are differences between agencies and institutions and people don’t always agree on things, but, you know, I’ve been fairly patient throughout this and haven’t said a whole lot.

But, when I see in the newspaper that the TUSD is declaring us as racist and, by reference, the neighborhood in Tustin Legacy as well, I get very perturbed. And, frankly, it’s despicable and it doesn’t do anything to solve anything. I know we disagree but, name calling and playing the race card is certainly not the way to solve those differences. I’m even more concerned that, frankly, the Orange County Register would print this, with scurrilous accusations without any foundation. Instead of trying to inflame people in this community, we should be trying to bring them together. We should try to heal and we should try and work together as much as we can. And, if we have differences, let’s please be civil about it. Let’s not get it down to calling names at each other. Let’s just do what we need to do to get through this. I’ve been quiet on this. I’m usually a patient man. But, when I see that I am being called a racist, I get a little upset.

Let’s clear up a few things here. You claimed the Register made scurrilous accusations that had no foundation. It was my original article on the city’s loss of the Heritage School lawsuit, which the city initiated, that first stated the issue of race. The Orange County Register could not ignore the fact as it had been published and was circulating widely in the community. I, along with other community bloggers, urged reporter, Elysse James and her editor, to publish the article both on-line and in the OCR print edition. It was, in fact, the city that provided the foundation by alleging harm to children who were forced to attend overcrowded minority-ridden schools, not the school district. In a pleading submitted by the city, the city council alleged:

Elementary school age children who live in the vicinity of the school, including children living in the transitional housing provided at The Village of Hope and the Tustin Family Campus, to date, have been forced to attend overcrowded elementary school in other neighborhoods further away from their homes. But for the Project, those students would be able to attend class at the neighborhood elementary school planned, paid for, and built for their use. These overcrowded elementary schools include W.R. Nelson Elementary, Jeane Thorman Elementary, and Benjamin Beswick Elemenatary. These schools serve predominately minority populations.

Do I think you are a racist, Mayor Nielsen? In your diatribe, you wrongly lashed out at school officials who you say called you a racist. Yet, that is clearly not what Tustin School President Jonathon Ablelove was implying when he called the wording inflammatory. He, along with thousands of others who read this wonder what this paragraph, written by city attorneys and approved by the city council, added to the city’s argument for the lawsuit. If it did  not have racial overtones, if it added nothing to the argument, why was it included?

Quite frankly, Mayor Nielsen, I am disappointed in your response. You could have come to the table and said, “They misinterpreted what we wrote”, or, “What we meant was this…”. You could have apologized for allowing a racially insensitive remark to get past the council in closed session. You could have even asked the city attorney for an explanation. The community would have accepted that and moved on.

Instead, you chose the typical conservative route. You stated your credentials as a fine, upstanding citizen of the community; how you have been involved for 10 years with city politic; how your children have all gone to and graduated from Tustin schools. You even mentioned Nelson Elementary school (mentioned in the pleading as one of those overcrowded schools) and then said, “I don’t care what the papers say, I am not a racist!” Well, the words, “These schools serve predominantly minority populations”, without any further explanation from you as to why they were allowed into an official court document submitted by the city, stand as evidence of the racially insensitive nature of the city council’s attitude.

I would also like to point out another error in  your complaint toward us. You stated that the newspapers, by reference, called the Tustin  Legacy population  racist as well. Untrue. Nowhere in my article on Our Town Tustin or the excellent article written by Elysse James of the Orange County Register, did we allege the citizens of Tustin Legacy to be racist. Again, this must be your conservative logic putting 2 and 2 together to make 5. While I cannot speak for Ms. James, I can certainly tell you that I feel the citizens of Tustin Legacy, who only want to see the school they paid for used for the original purpose, do not feel that way and nowhere in any discussion of the issues has that ever been brought up by or against them.  You speak of inflammatory remarks but, isn’t that what you attempted to do with the citizens of Tustin Legacy in having them believe they were called racist?

No, you and the city council stand alone in this matter.

The overriding tone of your message (besides, ‘I am not a racist’) is one of working together to resolve the issues that have gone on far too long. On this we can agree. Recently, the judge overseeing the original lawsuits in Orange County, continued the case again, this time until January of 2013. One has to wonder about the timing of that. Perhaps the judge is also hoping that, over the next year and possibly with new blood on the city council, cooler heads will prevail and the two entities can resolve this dispute without going to trial. It is not too late, Mayor. You have, by all accounts, an unwinnable situation. You can take that patience, which you espouse, and put it to good use by putting aside partisan politics and resolving this issue.

John, I have met you. We have spoken at length on various city matters. You are an intelligent, thoughtful man who, I think, has the best interest of the city at heart. Your allegiance to Councilmember Amante aside, you make fair decisions most of the time. This is one of those times you need to be your own man and act as mayor of this city. Quit trying to divert attention from this. Own up to it and apologize to the families of Tustin for, what amounted to, a racially insensitive remark that served no purpose whatsoever.


Jeff Gallagher