Updated: Jul 19, 2021
There's a simple way to improve things at City Hall.
Is it the truth?
Is it fair to all concerned?
Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
These are the four pillars of Rotary International’s four-way test. The four pillars were originally used to save a failing business from bankruptcy as the owner and future Rotarian President believed that only through a strong, ethical foundation could his company recover and prosper. It turns out he was right.
Today, we need to put this four-way test to our municipal leadership in Orange and assess if City Hall passes the four-way test. Under its current leadership Orange has been fumbling through a fog of translucence - tumbling from one avoidable situation to another. Orange residents have been kept at arms-length as City Hall leadership favors insider interests over what is best for the residents.
Orange residents have been kept at arms-length as City Hall leadership favors insider interests over what is best for the residents.
In most cities, the City Council serves as representatives of their community. In Orange – as was made evident by their most recent council appointment in District 3 – our Council majority represents special interests and partisan insiders instead of true community representatives. Something needs to change in that equation, or we are in serious jeopardy of what we hold most dear about our beloved city.
None of this should be surprising to those of us who have followed the council’s efforts to stifle public participation. While nearly every City Council in Orange County meets at least twice a month, the Orange City Council meets only 12 times annually and schedules second meetings grudgingly. Innovation and technology has made it a simple matter to bring the public inside the process. But that too has been ignored. Orange has been on autopilot for too long and it is not serving its residents well.
From Sully Miller to Code Enforcement, to Councilmember term limits and Short-Term Rentals, Orange residents are constantly having to battle their own city to protect the quality of life we expect, enforce our own ordinances, and ensure city leadership will follow the laws that its own residents voted in. As a former member of the City Council, I find it deeply sad that we have come to this stark reality.
Most city councils listen to their residents, but not in Orange.
When the City Council ignored its own general plan, as well as hundreds of residents, by approving a housing development on land set aside for open space, the residents were forced to get signatures to allow the voters of Orange to decide whether such a rezoning was a good idea or not – and not just once, but TWICE (remember the Fieldstone proposal in 2003?)!. Not only is the property not zoned for housing, but the site is also located in a flood inundation zone, a high-risk fire area and adjacent to a heavily congested intersection. Why do the same tired ideas and tactics keep being recycled?
Most city councils listen to their residents, but not in Orange. The fervid dedication of our Mayor and City Council majority to deep pocket developers and party insiders is both disappointing and reckless.
Homelessness continues to be a big problem in Orange. WHY? Our council should demand that our city staff fiercely defend neighborhoods, parks and businesses for the enjoyment of our residents. We need a greater investment in our Homeless Assistance Resource Team (HART) to provide help for those who want it but make it clear for those who don’t that Orange is not a city open for those who want to live a “home-free lifestyle.”
New opportunities, and challenges, are on the horizon for Orange: the North Tustin Street Specific Plan, the proposed expansion of Chapman University, the proposed extension of the Plaza Paseo. These are all critical issues that will affect Orange residents for generations and must be approached with transparency and inclusion. We simply cannot approach them in the same old tired fashion of the last 20 years.
If past is prologue, all these issues will likely be rushed through with minimal public input or even council discussion followed by a quick vote and then the city will brace itself for the residents to rise up once again and propose a referendum.
There is no evidence to show that our elected and appointed leaders will listen to the community. How often can this city council vote against the best interest of its residents before the residents finally say, “ENOUGH!”?
Perhaps by following the Rotary’s four-way test, our city can rebuild the ethical foundation that harkens back to Orange’s storied history. We are a city built on truth, goodwill and friendships, and if Orange residents demand it, we can once again be a city that is fair and beneficial to ALL concerned.
Hon. Dan Slater, Former Mayor Pro Tem
Guest Commentary - Published in the Foothills Sentry, June 2021