Farce or Menace? HB’s Chris Epting hooks up with HB’s Dave Garofalo!


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facebook jailAs I type these words I languish in Facebook jail, for a sentence of three days, and not for the first time either.  I can log on and look at everything, but I can’t post anywhere, message anyone, or even “like” anything.  This has been happening to a lot of folks on BOTH sides of roiling Huntington Beach controversies lately, as “cyber-tattling” becomes all the rage (though I would NEVER do it.  The only time *I* tried to get someone disciplined by Facebook was when psychotic Daniel Lamb was repeatedly posting bizarre RAPE allegations against Anaheim Mayor Tait … and Facebook laughed THAT off as not a big deal.)

So what did *I* write that was so much worse than that?  It was the following comment in regards to a recent Gustavo piece about columnist Chris Epting getting a big new space in disgraced former mayor Dave Garofalo‘s little newsrag.  The paragraph I wrote is harsh, but I can’t for the life of me see how it violates any Facebook “Community Standards” :

I asked Gustavo if he was sure Chris is being paid by Dave:  the arrangement seems equally beneficial to both men.  Folks who never picked up Dave’s rag will now, when they see Chris’ mug and name, because a lot of HB people miss Chris’ non-political stuff and are unaware of what a monster he’s become.  And Chris will be able to be as vicious as he likes, with a readership again but nobody stopping him.  This is going to be very bad for Huntington Beach… or maybe it will just be a hilarious debacle.

epting-garofalo

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Oh well, at least I’ve still got this here blog, where I can expound on those thoughts…

A Garofalo Primer

garofalo 2Huntington Beach’s former Mayor Dave Garofalo is many things.  Where to start?

He is a force of nature, the bouncy, irrepressible personification of shamelessness and unrepentance.  Sincerely believing he never did anything wrong, and endlessly starving for attention and affection, he is a little Boss Tweed plopped down accidentally into a century with laws.  It is actually fascinating and almost charming.

He is a also humiliating punch line to our town, for the rest of the world.  Haven’t you heard them say, “Ah, Huntington Beach, you and your criminal mayors!”  (The reason they can use the plural is the much-less-flamboyant Pam Houchen, whom I won’t bore you with.)

Still, Gustavo may be right – new generations do come along and may not know what Dave did, to become a felon and permanently forfeit his right to elected office.  Basically, having for decades now published a weekly “Local News” consisting mostly of advertisements, he shamelessly solicited advertising revenue and then voted in favor of his clients, many many times during his seven years on Council.  He even had a two-sided business card he’d hand out, city councilman on one side and Local News publisher on the other. 

garofalo 3Ah, the stories!  When Dave ascended into the traditionally rotating Mayorship in 2000, he hired cheerleaders, a brass band and a choir to sing a rousing version of “Hello Davey!” to the tune of Hello Dolly.  When the shit started to hit the fan soon after, and believing himself to be uniquely persecuted for things all politicians do, he lamented, “I know of no one in modern times more closely investigated than I have been.” And Jesus wept.

At his final, Dec. 2001 meeting before being forced to leave the council, he resolved to go out on an irreverently light-hearted note:  He waited for the City Clerk to finish her five-minute recitation of all the city’s new ordinances, and then joked, “I’m sorry, Connie, your microphone was off. Could you repeat that?”  According to the Weekly‘s Wielenga, “Only Garofalo laughed.

Gustavo’s wrong about one thing though – Dave never left the limelight; he’s constitutionally incapable of that.  He kept on publishing the Local News, and according to a few downtown businesspeople I know, developed the unfortunate habit of advertising businesses who never asked for it, and then trying to “shake them down” for payment, and if they were reluctant trotting out the old threatening chestnut, “Do you KNOW WHO I AM?”  (Usually they did.)

Dave on left, Carchio on right, at 2013's "Taste of HB."

Dave on left, Carchio on right, at 2013’s “Taste of HB.”

When I worked at St. Bonaventure Catholic Church, Dave would never miss the opportunity, each Sunday 10:30 Mass, to tote the collection basket up to the front – all those little fives and tens – while smiling and nodding to everyone he knew on the way up and back.  His long-suffering second ex-wife, working there as church secretary, would roll her eyes in mortification when his name came up.

During a vast chunk of this brief millennium I also played piano at an Italian restaurant, and right around closing time “The Mayor” would often show up with a slim younger woman, as the owner scurried about starstruck.  A drunk or a simpleton will frequently look and see a MAN playing the PIANO and demand that he plays Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” a song which, I’m sorry, I really can’t stand.   But “The Mayor” always wanted to hear Piano Man.  I only did it for him twice though, as I couldn’t help but notice that, as much money as he spent at the bar, he never deigned to tip the actual piano man.

Carchio. Probably Dave's best friend, and "World's Greatest Mayor" around 2011.

Carchio. Probably Dave’s best friend, and “World’s Greatest Mayor” around 2011.

Really, it’s been hard these fifteen years to find any kind of public ceremony in Surf City that didn’t feature Dave putting himself up front, front and center if he can.   He’s a centerpiece of the Interfaith Council and, more importantly, the Chamber of Commerce, always showing up to speak in favor of Poseidon and any other Chamber-backed scams.  Forbidden from holding office himself, he nakedly “mentors” council candidates, having gotten his doddering disciple Joe Carchio through two full terms of kleptocratic mediocrity, failing with the bibulous Tim Ryan, and currently fraternizing regularly with development-crazed Councilman Michael Posey.

So, he never left public life in HB, and, given that he can’t run for office, it’s hard to imagine any sort of “comeback” any farther than he already is.  But there’s one thing – nobody ever really read his little weekly paper, the Local News, and now that he’s picked up the popular columnist Epting, that could change.

An Epting Primer

epting hot coalsChris Epting, likewise, is many things.  Where to start?  I will try to be kind.

Landing in Surf City from New York in 1999, Epting took his new hometown in a love embrace.  A tireless scrivener, author of 25 popular books about pop culture, local history, sports and trivia, he soon had a column in the LA Times‘ local Huntington Beach Independent (which I delivered as a kid in the 70’s) – a column entitled “In the Pipeline.”

This column, running weekly for nine long years till just recently, won him a wide fan base and deep reservoir of goodwill, with its eulogies for children and dead surfers, celebrations of new businesses, and glowing portraits of local musicians and politicians.  People are still looking at the paper, leafing through it for the Epting column, and grunting, “Huh, w’happen?”

Three years ago Chris won the attention and admiration of both Gustavo and myself when he jumped on a big local issue that had almost flown under the radar:  The sometimes heavy-handed South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) – at the urging of some well-connected and wealthy Newport Beach property owners – was attempting to quickly and quietly ban fire pits from beaches all up and down the Southern California coast.  epting smartassChris fought this travesty furiously and tenaciously, and – as soon as this blog heard about it – we joined him.  And we won!  (Although of course you can never take your eyes off these folks.)

The lesson I would have drawn from this experience is that the rich and powerful will frequently try to take away from the rest of us whatever they can, and use their friends in government to help them do that.

It seems like Chris drew a different lesson out of it, judging from his writings the last couple of years:   Whenever a politician or government entity purports to “protect the environment,” it’s really just a cover for oppressing the people and businesses, it uses phony and exaggerated science as an excuse, and there is always some kind of corruption or profiteering going on behind the scenes.  That seems to be the creed undergirding his mad crusades since 2014, as he rails against the all-powerful “enviro-thugs.”

Epting’s Age of Jihad

ahabA lot’s been written about the “bare-knuckles” HB Community Forum.  Founder Michael Daly intended it as a place for ALL HB citizens to have a voice;  member and current planning commissioner Michael Hoskinson admitted that he always saw it as a clever stealth tea-party campaign to subvert a “liberal” city government, and when he later wrote a triumphant article about that, it REALLY pissed off the non-partisan populist Daly. 

But it was always clear that the domineering voice on that forum, until he wore out his welcome last summer, was Epting.  Granted deference as a local celebrity and rarely questioned, he regaled the town each day with his battle-cries and “gut checks.”  Few dared to challenge him, and those of us who did frequently found ourselves banned from the forum (at his behind-the-scenes insistence it turns out.)

joe shawAnd did he have an axe to grind in 2014 – mainly against councilman Joe Shaw (right) and anyone allied with Joe.  This irascible environmentalist had led the charge to ban plastic bags in Surf City, was trying to ban styrofoam as well, often comported himself on the dais in a sardonic way, and worst of all, had once called Chris a “tea partier” – somehow an unforgivable slight that allowed Chris no rest until Joe was defeated!

It is here that we may enumerate the Elements of an Epting Jihad:

  • Daily ginned-up OUTRAGE.  I’m tempted to say faux-outrage, but it’s impossible to tell whether Chris’ abiding outrage is sincere or not.  It’s certainly unrelenting and can last every day for months if not years.  If the object of his wrath does something outrageous, his reaction is outrage.  If they do something slightly irritating or silly, his reaction is outrage.  If they do something completely innocent, his reaction is outrage.  epting coffeeIf they do something GOOD, his reaction is outrage.  It can work on the reader for a while too, who says to himself, “Well, I personally don’t see the problem but I guess that MUST be outrageous!”  Once Joe tweeted state lawmakers “Huntington Beach thanks you for supporting the plastic bag ban!”   Chris deemed it OUTRAGEOUS that Joe would presume to speak for the whole town (even though we had elected an anti-plastic bag council majority in 2012),  Mayor Matt Harper said so as well, and Joe apparently agreed and deleted his tweet.  To Epting that was EVEN MORE OUTRAGEOUS – a politician deleting a tweet!  It kept Chris raving for days, “the staggering arrogance!” and so on.  Just one of a HUNDRED “outrages” that summer and fall.  And if he couldn’t find a new one that day he’d recycle an old “outrage.”
  • Rocking the un-self-aware double standards.  Joe’s and his friends’ (and now Gina’s and her friends’) blocking and shunning of Epting are an undemocratic affront to free speech and the American way, says the writer who’s blocked half of Facebook by now.  Chris’ removal from forums, and eventual loss of his Independent column, is a gross violation of a journalist’s First Amendment rights, says the guy who finally left HBCF in a huff because they wouldn’t keep banning everybody he wanted banned.  It was a gross abuse of the system when Poseidon foe Debbie Cook filed an FPPC complaint against “honest businessman” and OCWD director Steve Sheldon for voting on Poseidon matters so soon after years of being a paid Poseidon consultant;  yet somehow it was a bold strike for justice when a minor council candidate filed an FPPC complaint against Councilmembers Shaw and Boardman for living together for a few months.  I could go on with these joyously unselfaware Epting double standards.  See also, projection.
  • Old-School McCarthyism.  When Debbie filed the above complaint, even Chris’ fans were a little startled when he wrote, “I despise these people!”  What “people” was he talking about – Environmentalists?  Liberals?  Democrats?  Poseidon opponents?  Good government advocates?  It could be any and all of those, and I think it is.  Fully aware that HB is a majority Republican town with a bias against unions, Chris never fails to point out if someone who says something he disagrees with is a union member, as if that somehow automatically discredits anything they say.  Sounds hella McCarthy to me!
  • Having a cow over Totally Nothing.  Rival propagandists must look on awestruck at how Chris can weave gold out of thin air.  One of my favorite moments, although bixbyMark Bixby [former council candidate and Shaw ally, left] is tired of me retelling it:  Chris and his friends were busily making fun of the idea of sea level rise, and manmade climate change in general, when Bixby politely pointed out to Chris, “You should really take sea level rise more seriously, especially given where you live.”  (Which, as many locals know, is somewhere in Huntington Harbour.)  Immediately Chris took this (or pretended to take it) as some kind of gangster threat:  “Did you all hear that?  I’ve got the screenshot of it.  Mark Bixby just told me he KNOWS WHERE I LIVE.  This is incredible!  These environmentalists are gangsters!”  (I paraphrase by memory 15 months later.  Yes, it sounds like a joke, but it was serious.)  Soon Chris’ followers went and found Bixby’s (easily available) address and posted THAT as “revenge!”
  • Throwing at Wall / Seeing What Sticks.  It was almost like he was getting paid by someone, how dedicated Chris was at getting a few things out there every day against Joe and “Team Huntington Beach.”  Sometimes things were so farfetched they misfired, like when Councilwoman Jill Hardy endorsed Joe and Connie for re-election, and Chris said “Now how will she be able to serve on council with them?  It’ll be a conflict of interest!”  After spending the morning laughing and shaking my head at the stupidity of that notion, I came back to the computer to respond, but it was gone.
  • tatum rileyRepetition,  Repetition, Repetition.  And after a while, after hearing a politician’s name paired with “corrupt” or “arrogant” or “an embarrassment to the city” hundreds of times, it just seems to be a simple undisputed fact.  A man named Goebbels understood that well.  Or, as Rose McGowan put it in Scream, “You can only hear that Richard Gere gerbil story so many times… before you have to start believing it.”

But now, with fire pits saved and Joe Shaw and Connie Boardman defeated, where would Chris Epting direct all his immense, seething energy?

This Year’s Moby Dick Appears.

Most of the county knows by now:  HB’s mostly-Latino Oak View neighborhood and elementary school, due to a series of bad decisions and indifference since the 1980’s, have come to be smack-dab across the street from an ever-expanding and very malodorous dump (Rainbow.)  Over the decades many quiet complaints and broken promises were made, the former from a characteristically timid immigrant community and the latter from businessmen and publicists watching their bottom line.

gctAll that changed, when a firecracker named Gina Clayton-Tarvin (left) took over the leadership of Ocean View School District (OVSD), and resolved, with Epting-like energy and determination, to force Rainbow to clean up once and for all, for the neighborhood and the schoolkids.  This involved several lawsuits, legal complaints, and community organizing, and has so far met a lot of success and apparently garnered popular support.  Gina’s been named one of the most influential OC people of the year by the Register, and her Board colleagues re-elected her to an unusual second term as chairman.

But for some reason – nobody can quite figure out why – all of this really pissed off Chris Epting, who jumped into the fray last April defending Rainbow.  Rainbow is a beloved local business that does many good things for the city, donates to charities, etc., and so we should let their stinky transfer station across the street from an elementary school slide, argued Epting on HBCF.  Gina joined the conversation, answering his questions and everyone else’s; soon Chris was calling her incompetent and a “cult leader,” and ridiculing the very idea that what she was doing was “for the children,” and eventually Gina disengaged from the (now deleted) conversation at the advice of her district’s lawyers.

when epting met ginaObsessed now, Chris spent the next couple of weeks desperately trying to figure out where he could confront Gina in person;  he finally hunted her down at a Cinco de Mayo “Put a Lid on It” teachers’ protest at Oak View, where she reluctantly agreed to talk to him for a few minutes, an interview which he taped against her wishes.  [See right.] She says he was brusque and rude;  he says he was professional and polite;  he has posted his recording of the interview;  she points out that the first several minutes are missing.  They ended by agreeing to MAYBE meet again in the future, but her lawyers advised against it, advice which she was only too happy to follow. 

Since then he has seen himself as some big victim of Gina’s;  he claims she has launched a “vicious smear campaign against him and his family” [family, really?] which nobody else seems aware of.  He whispers darkly of the district’s corruption.  Trying to convince me to join in his crusade, he tells me mystifyingly, “Just follow the money, Vern – this has NOTHING to do with ‘the kids.’  You can figure this out, I know you can.”  Gina is up for re-election this November, and he has vowed to see her defeated, “even if he has to run against her himself,” a truly bizarre and deluded idea.  But he has found his new Joe Shaw and he will not let her go.

In October the Independent, weary of  his erratic and disturbing behavior, terminated his column;  of course he saw this as the handiwork of all-powerful Gina, who denies having anything to do with it.  “Give me a break, Vern, that’s the LA Times.  Last week he accused Gustavo of being ‘in my pocket’ too.  I control the Times and the Weekly now?  I’m that powerful, really?”  No longer commanding respect on the Facebook forums, Chris launched his own blog, Surf City Chronicles, which only allows worshipful comments, and then went about looking for a new publication that would have him as a columnist, a search that led him to the bottom of the stack, Garofalo’s Local News.

What’ll the Epting-Garofalo Partnership Look Like?

It’s taken me a while to write this piece because, like many in this town, I had to peel myself off the wall when I saw Chris’ inaugural Local News column accusing OVSD of “corrupt behavior,” with absolutely no backup, on the front page of the paper owned and run by DAVE GAROFALO.  (Insert your own “That’s like…” quip here.)

I think the word “corrupt” itself has been corrupted like so many other words these days, and has come to mean “an entity or public person that does something I don’t like.”  But I’m pretty sure it doesn’t apply to a nearly-unpaid, hardworking public official who snubs you because you treat her like shit, even if you do think you’re the most important journalist in town.

(Click for larger image.)

(Click for larger image.)

What’s it gonna be like, when every week, downtown, there are copies of new Local News with Epting’s name and face on it, from now till Election Day at least?  Chris promises lots of his “human interest” stories that folks are used to, but if we’re to judge by the content of his Surf City Chronicles blog, and the fact that he’ll have no editor reining him in, I expect his output to be at least 50% attacks on Gina and OVSD.

What else might he write about?  He promises some coverage of the upcoming council races.  I wrote in my last HB piece about how precariously balanced our current council is, with 3 of 7 members reliable puppets of the Chamber of Commerce and high-density developers.  Chris has shown himself to be a partisan of that crowd, with his close friendship to Joe Carchio and Dave Garofalo, his sticking up for Councilman Posey’s high-density votes, and his passionate defense of Rainbow Disposal’s misbehavior.  I don’t look forward to having a popular columnist in a paper available all over downtown, singing the praises of Candidate Carchio and sundry Chamber causes every week.

So far Chris has avoided the difficult and divisive topic of Poseidon, but how long until he joins his friends Garofalo, Carchio, Posey and the Chamber in shilling for THAT destructive boondoggle?  In fact, what sort of priorities does he have spending all of his time attacking a school board that’s just trying to clean up its neighborhood while saying not a word about a billion dollar piece of pork that’s going to trash our beloved coast and jack up our water rates, just to enable more south county development?  In fact, what am *I* thinking, wasting my time writing about this Epting dude when there’s an important OCWD meeting on Poseidon coming up this Wednesday?  Meet me on camera 3…

poseidon greed


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.