Incumbents Über Alles – LAGUNA HILLS goes all in against districting, STALKS female attorney!

[When Little Rock tried to defy Civil Rights Law]

You hear what happened last week in deepest darkest Laguna Hills, probably not. Dana Point attorney Michelle Jackson, minding her own business, visiting a friend, noticed that someone was following her, taking photographs of her, and videotaping her. Wasn’t even subtle.

Creepy, but it makes sense. There are a lot of powerful people right now who are DYING to know who Jackson’s clients are, who the anonymous plaintiffs are that hired her to push four south OC cities – Laguna Hills & Niguel, Rancho Santa Margarita & San Clemente – to switch to a districting system for electing their City Councils. And it’s a good illustration of why these plaintiffs, appropriately and legally, WANT to stay anonymous – harassment and smears are the weapon of choice for these politicians and special interests who are so intent on keeping the status quo.

Oh – the OTHER thing that happened in deepest darkest Laguna Hills last week – the Council there made the wild and irresponsible decision to fight against the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) in court!

Yes, Friday August 4 was LH’s deadline to respond to Jackson’s letter informing them they’re in violation of the CVRA (something RSM and Laguna Niguel did last week with resolutions stating that they would comply with the law, albeit not without unseemly bitching.) But at their Thursday special meeting called for the purpose, the Laguna Hills council first went into closed session for a full three hours (indicating at least that there wasn’t complete agreement), then came out and announced boldly that they had “no action to report.”

THAT means Laguna Hills is planning to fight, to fight the CVRA. Protecting their incumbency is that important to the folks who run that little town. Haven’t they been told, no California city has ever won this fight. And some have spent millions trying. Examples:

  • MODESTO, $4.7 million.
  • PALMDALE, $4.5 million.
  • SANTA CLARA, $3.3 million.
  • ANAHEIM, $3 million (to thwart the will of Anaheim’s own voters!)
  • WHITTIER $1 million.
  • Even neighboring MISSION VIEJO, $200k for a brief fight.

And for what? Just to protect a well-funded, white, generally Republican insider crowd that all lives close to each other, gets each other re-elected and scratches each others’ backs. We already examined and ridiculed their arguments in THIS piece last week. And of all the good arguments IN FAVOR of district elections, the one Laguna Hills is particularly unprepared to defend against is their racial disparity in representation. I mean (it’s an old story you’ve heard many places) not a single Latino, or non-white, councilperson in the city’s history and meanwhile here is their demographics:

Yes, 20.7% Latino. And it’s not just abstract shit, there’s a huge Latino community near Laguna Hills High School, who wanted and briefly got more security patrols near a park due to two recent shootings, but the all-white Council recently cut those patrols due to “cost concerns,” saving a few thousand dollars. And yet here they are, ready to spend possibly a million to keep themselves in power.

The Power behind the throne: Merlone-Geier

In Anaheim, where I hail from, they say “ALL ROADS LEAD TO DISNEY,” and even though the Mouse publicly kept his nose clean during the fight for districts, the anti-districting Council majority was ALL funded by millions from the entertainment giant – big business doesn’t like risking the loss of their reliable puppets and having to trust and train new ones. Yes, the Disney-funded Anaheim Council majority spent over $3 million of our tax dollars vainly combatting district elections, and then when Anaheim voters were allowed to make their voices heard, 70% of us said YES. Over $3 million – ain’t that a pisser? Remember that, Laguna Hills voters.

The biggest players in the South County are DEVELOPERS – and, in little Laguna Hills, one developer in particular – how do I pronounce this – one MERLONE-GEIER. [Mr Merlone at left, showing off his dream project!] They bought the ill-fated Laguna Hills Mall ten years ago and watched it turn from moribund to a memory; they razed it to the ground recently and now have huge plans of building a high-rise mixed-use “Village” there. They still need a few more votes. They paid to elect this Council and Mayor; they gave them all helicopter rides, to get real familiar with the site and with seeing it all their way. And it’s rumored that they are willing to chip in a lot to help the Council stave off district elections and stay in power a little longer, so THEY can keep helping Merlone-Geier!

It’s quaint – Laguna Hills doesn’t even have a Planning Commission – the Council IS the Planning Commission. Other fun fact – they SHARE A CITY ATTORNEY with Rancho Santa Margarita – a guy named Greg Simonian [right.] Does this portend that RSM might change its tune and join LH in their reactionary crusade? Nah. Local observers say that Simonian likes to keep RSM safe and unadventurous, while he tries out wild new untested legal hijinks with the less-important Hills. In any case, Greg sure won’t be working alone, LH is gonna hire a “HIGH-POWERED LAW FIRM” for THIS crusade – they’re just not sure which one yet.

Laguna Hills Voters, are you paying attention?

You elected Mayor Janine Heft, with her performative religiosity and GOP hero-worship, you elected the rest of this Council, and now they are proposing to blow wads of your taxpayer money on a losing battle keeping you from enjoying district elections. They’ll lose this fight, and you should hope they lose it quickly, because most of you will LIKE district elections – it’ll make it five times easier for ANY of you or your friends to run, you’ll have councilmembers you KNOW and who know the issues where you live, and who knows, maybe someday there’ll even be a Latino Laguna Hills councilmember.

You-all should ask Mayor Heft and the rest of the Council, what makes them think they could win this suit that no other California city has, and how is it not just a shameful waste of your money? Nobody has heard any new arguments out of them, on why some judge should agree that Laguna Hills alone should be immune from the CVRA? Does Mayor Heft think she can do like her hero Donald Trump, and just “fight this in the court of public opinion?”

Or do your city leaders hope that they can intimidate Michelle Jackson into dropping this suit, by stalking, harassing, and slandering her? Are they just playing chicken? Even weeks or months of playing chicken will still cost the city a pretty penny. Do they really think they are going to make Michelle and her clients give up and go away?

Well, Good Luck with that!

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.