Is Garden Grove About to Become Orange County’s Laboratory for Reform?

Bao and Jabbar

Incoming Garden Grove Mayor Bao Nguyen poses with fellow political reformer Anaheim Union High School Board Member Al Jabbar

The political news has been coming fast and furious in Garden Grove.

  1. Bao Nguyen is certified as the winner of the Mayoral election by 15 votes
  2. Bruce Broadwater seeks a recount
  3. Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley rejects 64 out of 64 challenges to vote-by-mail ballots; Broadwater ends the recount after one day
  4. City Manager Matt Fertal resigns

We received a comment this morning from “Bob” on a long-ago item that deserves more prominence than it would otherwise receive:

You see, Matt Fertal was never a powerful City Manager. He was a puppet for the Council majority and as soon as he lost the majority (i.e., Broadwater getting defeated and kicked off the City Council by the public) he resigned, I mean retired. He submitted his resignation before the new Council gave him the heave ho. Fertal’s influence was only that he was able to push redevelopment projects which he negotiated to the advantage of the developer as opposed to the City. Those projects were approved by the Council majority who had accepted huge campaign contributions from those very developers.WIth Fertal’s resignation and the changes on the City Council, I would expect a huge turnover in the management (or many might say mismanagement) in City Hall

(My emphasis.)  Those boldface sentences will strike home to residents of many OC cities.  I’ve spent most of my time over the past year and a half watching this sort of scuzziness take place in Anaheim; now I’ve found that it may be taking place in my own backyard in Brea, which means that I will have to focus on a local beat.  Huntington Beach just backslid in this recent election; Irvine is complicated (as both side have had ties to rival developers); Costa Mesa’s situation for the next two years in unclear (pending a recall effort against an “M”-guy or two); and apparently a whole lot along these lines in happening in South County.  But I can’t think of a place where a more entrenched “Developerocracy” has been replaced by a Mayor and bipartisan Council majority more inclined to clean house than Garden Grove.  (Anaheim activists, I can attest, are very interested at what will happens now south their western half.)

This foretold turnover among City Staff, beginning with Fertal, is one attention-getter.  As always, when contemplating this sort of abrupt change, some people will fear that the discontinuity in city staff will throw the city into chaos.  On the other hand, staffers who have had to act badly only because that has been what was demanded of them by higher-ups are now free to support reform — and they know best “where the bodies are buried.”

The removal of Broadwater and Dina Nguyen (who represented him during the recount) will lead to a substantial change on the City Council.  Bao Nguyen and Councilmember Chris Phan — the latter soon facing conservative Democrat Lou Correa and former Janet Nguyen Chief of Staff Andrew Do for Janet Nguyen’s supervisorial seat — are both known to be reformers.  I know less about Steve Jones, but he seems to be one as well.  Kris Beard was (Vern tells me, emphatically) long associated with Broadwater, but in this election ran as a proponent of reform (and in any event likely realizes where he needs to be to be part of a majority.)

I know much less about Phat Bui, who bested Beard by 563 votes (1.1%) to be the top vote-getter in the City Council race — but his position as Chair of the Planning Commission and the fact that his top two endorsements were from Tony Rackauckas and Former California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson mean that I’d need some serious convincing to believe that he’s a likely agent of reform.  (He seems more likely to be the focal point of developers to retake the Council, if he’s amenable to that.  We’ll see.  Anyone from GG have any insights on how he finished first?  He had neither party’s endorsement.)

Phat Bui dance video still

Yes, that really IS Phat Bui reclining there in a dance video set to “Fat Boy,” featuring his “Caucasian Volunteer Dance Troupe” flashing … are those gang signs?

It’s going to be very interesting to see what changes will take place even before Bao takes office.  (I have thought that that happens on Dec. 9, but some stories have suggested that it’s January 1.)  And it will be even more interesting to see what happens when, in the context of Orange County municipal politics, reformers finally get the chance to govern.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)