True & Amazing Tales of ALISO VIEJO, the OC’s Youngest City!


When I was a young punk rocker in the early ’80’s and drove a van for Smith Printers of Tustin, there was no Aliso Viejo, no Lake Forest, no Rancho Santa Margarita. And then when I returned in the late 90’s from living all over the country, I was like all, what’s up with all these new south OC towns?

Aliso Viejo (which means “old sycamore”) is the one that’s ensconced NOT inland from the 5, but between the 5 and Laguna Beach – literally surrounded by the various Lagunas. It was incorporated, as the most recent of our county’s 34 cities, in 2001. Our youngest city, with a population of 52,000! Making it bigger than Brea, Cypress, Seal Beach, San Juan Capistrano, and several other august OC towns.

AV’s SOKA University has great concerts, my friends with season tickets tell me.

Still though, it’s a small town, incorporated during the County’s bankruptcy and run by a Master HOA, which oversees the city’s parks and recreation. Aliso Viejo, like most South County towns, use the County Sheriffs as a police department, and that is their largest expense, along with the OC Fire Authority. They occasionally see homeless people by the side of a creek nearby, and the Sheriffs just ship ’em up to Santa Ana, the County’s dumping ground.

But little Aliso Viejo is going through a lot of changes. This year both DISTRICT ELECTIONS and TERM LIMITS kick in. And since 2020 the City Council has a 3-2 Democratic majority. Really? Nestled between all those deep-red towns, a Democrat majority? Well, not only did the three Dems currently on Council work real hard to get elected, back before Democrats enjoyed an electoral advantage, but now Democrat voters outnumber Republicans in Aliso Viejo, 37.2% to 33%, a trend we’re seeing throughout this County!

It’s come a long way from what we’ll call…

The Harrington-Munzing Years!*

Mayor Harrington on FOX “News,” bitching about illegals.

*A little asterisk to that subtitle: You’d think Dave Harrington and Mike Munzing, as two showboating rightwing extremists, would have gotten along famously, but I’m told Harrington couldn’t stand Munzing. And there’s a good reason for that, which you’ll learn toward the end of this story. But eight short years ago, these two MAGA tea-partiers were the face of the town.

Especially Dave Harrington, a retired 28-year Sheriff who was first elected to AV Council in 2014. Named Mayor (in the town’s rotating system) two years in a row, he was unhealthily pre-occupied with the plague of illegal immigration, which by all accounts is not actually an issue in the town of Aliso Viejo. Maybe just a concern of whatever residents watch too much FOX “News.”

So in 2018 this Sheriff-Mayor, energized and inspired by President Trump’s draconian immigration policies and enraged by California’s defiant declaration that we are a “Sanctuary State,” went onto the program of perpetually faux-befuddled white supremacist Tucker Carlson to decry this state of affairs and announce that he was going to lead his town in a fight against the state! (This is still all most of the nation knows of Aliso Viejo.)

And Sheriff-Mayor Dave’s motion for Aliso Viejo to join HB & Los Alamitos in their quixotic lawsuit against the Sanctuary State passed 4-1, the only no vote being from affable Hawaiian-American Democrat Ross Chun (who was elected in 2012 and is STILL on Council.) The Grand Lawsuit never went anywhere because these cities could show no “standing,” so instead they issued a Grand PROCLAMATION! (Again, 4-1.)

That same year, thinking he felt the wind in his sails, Dave ran for OC Sheriff against Republican Don Barnes and Democrat Duke Nguyen. I remember when Dave showed up at Anaheim’s Los Amigos to ask for our support, just a few days after leading that anti-immigrant vote. Los Amigos, one of the most pro-immigrant gatherings in the County! Chutzpah or tone-deafness or both, you tell me. Never mind immigration, he regaled Los Amigos, Don Barnes is corrupt, corrupt, corrupt! Barnes is the corrupt choice of the corrupt Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, who was appointed by an equally corrupt establishment to take the place of the doubly, TRIPLY corrupt Mike Carona, now rotting in prison! (All of these corrupt folks his former bosses.)

Well, Dave came in third in the primary behind Barnes and Nguyen, and on Election Day, they seated him across from me at an OC Business Council luncheon (LONG STORY.) “So, are you supporting Duke now, since Don is so corrupt?” “No,” he confessed sheepishly. “I endorsed Don. The Republican. Duke is too soft on immigration.” At least Dave got re-elected to AV Council that night, BUT he came in second behind a whole new AV personality, feisty liberal Democrat Tiffany Ackley, who came in 3% (1000 votes) over the immigration crusader.

Dave Harrington left Aliso Viejo Council in 2022, cashing out with $200k of deferred compensation. Maybe he was too frustrated working with the new Democratic majority; he did seem to be pretty upset that Ross wanted to be on the OC Fire Authority Board, so he literally said “Fuck this.” (A quote.) What’s Harrington doing now? So glad you asked. The sheriff-mayor and his successful realtor wife started a winery named, of course, “THIN BLUE WINE,” which features wines with names like “Necessary Force,” and, in honor of our heroic firefighters, “Hose Draggers!


But in 2021, while Dave was still on Council, THIS regrettable desmadre transpired:

The Young Republicans Tour the Ranch!

[Artist’s conception; no contemporaneous footage extant.]

Actually let’s start the year before, in 2020’s summer of George Floyd, when Tiffany made the mistake of releasing a letter denouncing police brutality using Aliso Viejo letterhead. Unsurprisingly the Harrington faction raised holy hell and tried to have Tiffany censured. (Actually it seems that these people are ALWAYS censuring or trying to censure each other for one good or bad reason or another.)

So in ’21 when Tiffany (who was Mayor that year) saw a flyer with the city logo, and Republican City Manager David Doyle‘s name on it, announcing a meeting of the OC Young Republicans at the city-owned Aliso Viejo Ranch (which has a policy against renting the facility for any political or election related events), she must have thought “What’s good for the goose…” and flew into action.

The flyer actually got changed at the last moment; the Young Republicans (who are truth be told a nasty little gang of political pranksters who emulate Roger Stone and Karl Rove) “toured” the Ranch which sounds like a political meeting to me, and then met up at Harrington’s house for a course on how to win elections. Doyle as it turned out joined them at the Ranch (which he was actually free to do on his own spare time) but did NOT go to Harrington’s (which he also could have if he wanted to.) But Tiffany took a picture of a car she thought wrongly was Doyle’s, and questioned some of Harrington’s guests.

The two Republicans had a fit, and tried to strip Tiffany of her mayorship (which only had a month left anyway); she survived with a 3-2 vote but had to abjectly apologize. Everyone remembers this as a regrettable episode, though I can kind of sympathize with what she did, in the aftermath of that George Floyd thing. And every now and then City Manager Doyle, who Tiffany felt was already hostile to any proposal of hers, would bring up the incident bitterly.

UNTIL…

’24: City Manager Doyle Gets Canned

This was news a couple months ago, in fact it was going to be my “breaking” story, but then the story grew, flowered, metastasized, as stories sometimes do. In short, on March 20, on a 4-1 vote (Munzing dissenting) the AV Council fired their City Manager David Doyle, who’d been there ten years. But WHY? Why would you fire this guy on the right? Come on now!

Some councilmembers had felt for years that Doyle was helpful to the projects of Republican Councilmembers and resistant to Democrats, and that he used deceptive numbers to conceal a worse fiscal situation than he cared to admit. Others say that, while he may have “looked, talked and acted like Fred Flintstone, he got the job done.” Still, all but Doyle’s old crony Munzing agreed it was time for him to go. Why?

Well, I can’t know what happens in closed session, but his gargantuan COMPENSATION couldn’t have helped – thanks to the Republican old guard, Doyle was getting nearly $400K a year. While Aliso Viejo has a $1 million deficit. $400K? That may have made David Doyle the highest-paid City Manager in the OC. That’s more than Vanderpool gets in Anaheim (7 times bigger than AV) or what Ridge got in Santa Ana (6 times bigger) – and THOSE City Managers have to oversee police, fire, and parks & rec departments which Doyle did not. In fact Doyle’s most solemn duty, at which he did seem to excel, was to keep Mike Munzing away from the city’s women. More on that later, but you too would bellow “Yabba-dabba-doo” at such a gig.

The City has its feelers out for David’s replacement, someone competent, honest and empathetic, who will not be expecting $400K. And meanwhile, Doyle’s former assistant Mitzi Ortiz is doing a fine job holding down the fort as Acting CM.

But still we have yet to ask:

Who is this Mayor-Marrying

***DUANE CAVE***

and why does he hate the Boys & Girls Club?

This Duane Cave cat seems like perhaps AV’s most influential citizen – President of the Moulton Niguel Water District, 45-year executive with both gas and electrical utilities, OC TAX bigwig, close friend and confidante for some reason with Madcap Mayor Mike Munzing, ref and umpire for youth football and baseball teams, and UNTIL RECENTLY on the Board of Directors of the Boys and Girls Club of Capistrano Valley.

And there is something irresistible about Duane to female Mayors. Who can forget the comely Carmen Vali-Cave, Aliso Viejo’s very first and five-time Mayor, wedded to the Cave man. More recently Duane set his Mayor sights a little further inland, and hitched up with Rancho Santa Margarita Mayor Carol Gamble (though it’s unclear if she lives with him in AV in which case she shouldn’t be RSM mayor or if he lives with her in which case he shouldn’t be on that water board.) But none of that is our concern here.

What inquiring minds DO want to know is, how did it come to pass that immediately upon Duane’s resigning from the Boys & Girls’ Club (BGC) Board, jihads were launched on its AV and RSM branches, by his wife and his friend Munzing?

In RSM, Mayor Carol suddenly insisted that the town could no longer afford the vastly popular club and had to replace it with a Rancho Santa Margarita Museum (because, you know, the grand history of RSM nearly rivals that of Aliso Viejo.) In that case, Carol had the whole damn lame-ass RSM Council on her side, but when the angry crowds showed up to demand the Club stay, they all backed off, all except RSM’s crusading alpha-dog Tony Beall who harangued the mob at painful length over their impertinence. Still, RSM discovered the Boys & Girls Club to be a “Third Rail” with the public, and renewed their contract!

But in Aliso Viejo, the only soldier to carry Duane’s anti-BGC flag into battle was Mad Mike Munzing, who went around telling anyone who’d listen that he and Duane wanted to cut off funding to the BGC because they have a DEI (Diversity, Equity & Inclusion) clause in their charter – DEI which is a dread bogeyman to today’s rightwingers. “With this clause they’re teaching Aliso Viejo children to be racist!” raved Munzing, as though the kids peruse the group’s charter in between papier-mache projects and jump-rope.

This was not enough – Mike took it on himself to endlessly harass the Club’s executive director Nicole Watson, threatening to yank their funding if they didn’t remove the offensive DEI language. Not only was this something Mike had no authority to do, as one member of Council, but it was also a violation of the Club’s first amendment rights – the ACLU was threatening to get involved and the City feared a lawsuit over Mike’s threats and sent an apology letter. Nicole lawyered up and was advised not to speak to Mike any more; Mike protested, “But Nicole and I get along so well, we’re great friends!” No, Mike, she is NOT INTO YOU. Now the Council is considering or was considering censuring Mike over this. Censures are certainly in the air in Aliso Viejo!

Eventually Cave apparently got cold feet and his wife Carol started telling people “Duane has no problem with DEI.” Mike was all, “Well maybe it was just something I overheard wrong!” The Club seems to have weathered the storm, but why the sudden onslaught? Did Beall and Munzing huddle in Duane’s Man-Cave to plan an assault on South County’s minority kids, over DEI? We may never know…

But all of these troubling tales lead to one destination:

A Barrel-full of Munzing


Ah, How do you solve a problem like Mike Munzing? Where does one even begin? He has become a one-man embarrassment to the town and Council, like Steve Knoblock in San Clemente but on steroids. Knoblock on Steroids.

I guess you could start with THE GUNS. A celebrity to the Second Amendment extremist crowd, Mike likes to brag that he “keeps an ARSENAL” in the trunk of his car. I’ve been asked to leave out the details of Mike’s failed requests to be filmed out in front of various places “protecting” them with his AK.

It’s hard not to laugh at some of this (believe me) but some of it’s not funny. Traditionally the members of Council hand out diplomas on stage, at Aliso Niguel High’s graduation ceremony, but this year they weren’t allowed on stage, had to each be interviewed by law enforcement and sit in the audience instead. All because LAST YEAR Mike Munzing showed up armed, telling school staff that he was “STRAPPED, in case anything goes BAD.”

On the topic of graduation but on a lighter note, Ross likes to wear his graduation robes (from Pepperdine) to these ceremonies, and Mike likes to point and laugh and say, “Look everybody! Ross Chun is wearing a dress! Ross is cross-dressing!” This is your Mayor, Aliso Viejo.

GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS. Mike Munzing just can’t resist ’em, and he’s convinced that they feel the same way. I promised to tell you why Harrington couldn’t stand Munzing. It’s simple. Mike droolingly raved, in front of Dave, over a young woman’s figure, not realizing it was Dave’s daughter!

Aliso Viejo has a long-standing policy, due to complaints from female staff cornered and sweet-talked by Mike, making inappropriate comments about their bodies, that Mike can’t go into City Hall unless supervised by the City Manager. That’s your Mayor.

But now David Doyle the chaperone is gone, and Mayor Mike is unleashed and on the prowl again! Just recently he cornered another female employee in her office and chatted her up for over half an hour, making her very uncomfortable, and she complained about it. So now Council is considering ANOTHER censure of Mayor Mike Munzing – IT’S RAINING CENSURES THERE!

In many ways just an overgrown teenager, despite being terminally ill and probably about 70, Mike spends many of his days hanging out at the Ranch with the teenaged employees there, complaining about how the rest of the Council doesn’t like him and wants to get rid of him. It’s hard to imagine he hasn’t tried showing off his car-trunk arsenal to these boys, but let’s wait till we hear a report of that happening before we jump to conclusions.

You can’t stop, once you get started telling Munzing stories, it’s like a dam that broke. White grievance and conspiracy theories keep him up at night. He hates SOKA University, AV’s most prestigious institution, because they talk about “building global citizens,” and, you know, GLOBALISM!!! He hates the science department of the high school because the six laboratories are each named after six famous scientists, CHOSEN BY THE STUDENTS, and NONE OF THEM ARE WHITE MEN – REVERSE RACISM! On principle he always votes against affordable housing, the only NO vote to Aliso Viejo’s admirable efforts to comply with state housing mandates, which they do much better than many OC cities including my own.

Not letting his severe health problems slow him down for a nanosecond, Mike plans to run for a fourth term this November, against his neighbor Ross Chun. This’ll be the fourth time Mike runs against Ross, but in 2012, 2016 & 2020 they were both able to win. (In 2012 Mike tried to scare businesses out of voting for Ross by labelling him a “Global Warming Alarmist” who would raise taxes, but was unable to find a single statement from Ross about Climate Change.)

But THIS time will be a CAGE MATCH, because district elections and because they’re both running in District 5, at the base of the West Ridge Hills. ONLY ONE MAN COMES OUT ALIVE. Term limits also don’t start till this year, so it’s conceivable that either Ross or Mike could serve a total of FIVE TERMS or 20 years (if Mike lives that long.)

This year, Mike will certainly, once again, present himself as “THE CONSERVATIVE CHOICE” – a phrase that’s always worked for him. But is all the above madness properly labelled “conservative?” The Nimrod Choice, perhaps. Or, The Trainwreck Choice, for sure. But I would reserve the word “conservative” for somebody more respectable.

The Orange Juice Blog hopes that, this November, District 3 voters pick the fine public servant Richard Hurt, and District 5 voters choose sanity with Ross Chun.


Tiffany Ackley, who brought term limits and
(along with Richard Hurt)
campaign contribution limits to Aliso Viejo!

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 vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.