La Habra Hanky-Panky – and not the OctoMom, either!




Daren Nigsarian, retired long-time moderate Republican Mayor Steve Simonian, and Rose Espinoza.

Lest we forget, as we sometimes tend to do down here in the warm womb of central Orange County, our very northwesternmost burgh, let’s check in with our La Habra friends Daren Nigsarian and Rose Espinoza, because something seems to be smelling bad up there.  And sure enough, it looks like hanky-panky, of the power-consolidating, anti-democratic, totalitarian sort.

What we have is a slowly-growing council majority led by tireless control freak Jim Gomez and baby-faced weightlifter Tim Shaw – who’s a protégé of and District Director for far-right state senator Bob Huff – gradually sidelining and eliminating all voices that are not approved, unquestioning members of their close-knit clique – much like When Righeimer First Came to Costa Mesa.

Before I get into more detail, I should point out that none of what the La Habra Majority is doing is illegal, or even “corrupt” at this point.  It is just a lamentable departure from long-observed civil traditions that have worked so well for decades in fostering healthy, vibrant and balanced local governments.  And it’s part of a pattern we’re seeing more and more in cities and states across the nation in these cutthroat times – the ruthless suppression of all dissenting voices – and very sad to see in a little town like La Habra that had been relatively insulated from the ugliness plaguing the rest of LA and Orange Counties.

AND as Daren alludes to in the video below, it is exactly how places like Bell, Maywood and Cudahay began their slippery slides into lavish, unaccountable corruption.

Thwacking Deputy Nigsarian

Daren Nigsarian, a 27-year deputy sheriff and community activist, was named one of seven planning commissioners back in 2006, and elected chairman by his colleagues in 2009 (after a year of being chairman through natural rotation.) Unlike in some other cities, commissioners in La Habra go through an application and interview process and then are chosen by the full council.  In 2008 and 10, Daren had the “temerity” to run for council himself, against majority-endorsed candidates.

Tim Shaw, La Habra’s next mayor, lifting weights at home!

During his last run, the council majority made its first radical break with tradition in order to defeat Daren – placing his opponent Mike Blazey onto the Community Services Commission without even announcing the vacancy publicly and without requiring an application or interview – unprecedented!  (And shades of Mansoor’s shoehorning of Riggy in CM.)  This gave Blazey – by all accounts a nice fellow but dependably loyal to the Gomez-Beamish-Shaw majority – a real leg up in the race, although ALL of the six other commissioners – Blazey’s new colleagues – endorsed Daren.

The very close 2010 council race was also probably the most expensive in La Habra history, with incumbent Gomez raising over $85,000 (and dragging Blazey along for the ride) and Daren raising $53,000, and falling only 900 votes short.

Last month, the Majority’s punishment for Daren’s audacity began, as they stripped him of his Planning Commission seat – the first time in La Habra history anyone had been denied a second term.  And the punishment continued with the yanking of the stipends of the community services commissioners who had endorsed Daren (a mere $50 per meeting – not important to the city’s budget but a clear message against defying the Majority.)  It’s fully expected now that all commissioners who backed Daren will probably be replaced as each of their terms expire.

Take a break and listen to Daren’s fiery, unscripted, farewell speech, but I should point out that before the point this cell-phone recording began, Daren had spent several gracious minutes thanking and complimenting his colleagues as well as several opponents:

Rosie sent to the Garage

Rose Espinoza and her constituency.

With Daren out of the way, the Majority can focus on sidelining and eventually eliminating the one other prominent La Habra pol who is not part of their fiefdom – the beloved community organizer Rose Espinoza – up for re-election in 2012.

If you’ve somehow missed out on Rose’s inspirational story, here’s a short version: twenty years ago, as a concerned mother living in a high crime area, wanting to make the neighborhood safer for her son and his friends, she decided to devote all her energy to making sure all the youth of the area got the educational opportunities they needed.  So in 1990 she opened up Rosie’s Garage, an after-school tutoring program which over these decades has steered hundreds of La Habra kids away from gangs and into college, drastically reducing crime and earning Ms. Espinoza national acclaim and buku awards.

Rose has been on the La Habra council now since 2000, and been Mayor twice – in 2004, and 2008 – according to tradition, whenever her re-election comes up.  But, as you may suspect, she is not an accepted part of the new La Habra Majority that is inexorably consolidating their power, and to make matters worse, she endorsed Daren both times he ran.  So now Rose has been denied the Mayor Pro-Tem position which should be hers this year by tradition, and it’s expected young Tim Shaw will be named Mayor next year instead of her.

And the Majority is already grooming her replacement for 2012 – the supremely ambitious and wealthy Korean-American real estate magnate Charles Kim.  Another acolyte of Bob Huff, whose wife works for Congressman Ed Royce, Mr. Kim has promised to bankroll not only his own run but also the re-election of Tim Shaw.  Just the guy they need to complete their five-man Kremlin, the Majority has now given him their old tried-and-true leg up by naming him – over several more qualified candidates – to Daren’s old spot on the Planning Commission.

This sidelining of Rose Espinoza, this abandonment of long traditions to deny traditional rotating mayorship to a woman who doesn’t take orders from OC GOP puppetmasters, has to remind us of what also happened this year to Sharon Quirk-Silva in Fullerton (denied her turn as mayor simply because she’s a registered Democrat, even though she’s actually more fiscally conservative than at least two of the Republicans on Council) as well as Wendy Leece in Costa Mesa (actually a staunch conservative Republican, but one who makes decisions based on the best interests of her city rather than jumping to Scott Baugh’s every command.)

Slippery slope to Bell-ville?

Daren, who has studied the pathologies of the notoriously corrupt South LA cities named above, contends that they all began this way, with the ruthless and systematic consolidation of power by a small group of men, and then, inevitably, corrupted absolutely with their absolute power.  I think it’s important to look clearly at what’s going on – a very unfortunate pattern of anti-democratic behavior – so that you can recognize it and stop it when it comes to YOUR town.  Because this totalitarian urge IS all the rage in the OC, in the 2010’s.

And this has been a La Habra Hanky Panky story 

NOT having anything to do with the OctoMom!


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official political troubadour of Anaheim and most other OC towns. Regularly makes solo performances, sometimes with his savage-jazz band The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.