Differences of political opinion are usually argued in educated, genteel tones in upscale south Orange County.
But events Tuesday in south county were more reminiscent of a boisterous Chicago ward.
First, an angry crowd of homeowners--cheered on by a woman dressed like American folk heroine Betsy Ross--stormed a political campaign office to protest their exclusion from voting Nov. 8 on whether to incorporate south county’s sprawling Saddleback Valley.
The group allegedly shouted down a lone volunteer in the Yes! For Cityhood offices in Laguna Hills and left taunting messages for cityhood leader Dale White, challenging her to come “face the opposition.”
Interpreting the messages as harassment, White called the sheriff’s office. Lt. Robert Rivas of the Sheriff’s Department investigated and decided that no crime had been committed. But Rivas did not rule out the possibility of further trouble.
“You’ve got a political situation going on and obviously anyone could get out of hand,” Rivas said.
The Saddleback cityhood campaign has brought out bitterly divided feelings among the 77,000 residents who would be part of the new city, particularly in Laguna Hills, where many want their own separate city. And there have been occasional flashes of anger in public forums.
But the two sides shrugged off any pretense of civility after Tuesday’s bizarre chain of events and unleashed a barrage of insults and accusations.
“I am just furious,” cityhood leader White said Wednesday. “An attempt to disrupt someone’s campaign and harass them in their homes is uncalled for and un-American.”
Marilyn Funari, a member of the anti-cityhood Citizens to Save Laguna Hills who admitted telephoning White’s home “as a joke,” charged back that Yes! For Cityhood is acting equally un-American by denying about 80 residents of the Laguna Village condominiums the right to vote on cityhood Nov. 8.
This happened, Funari said, after the cityhood proponents submitted to county officials a map of the proposed city boundaries. But the boundary runs through the 914-unit Laguna Village condominiums, slicing off two streets containing 130 units.
Residents on those two streets, Caminito Amor and Caminito Vino (which mean “Love Lane” and “Wine Lane”), would not be included in the city, even though the rest of their condominium project would, Funari said.
Funari contends Yes! For Cityhood cut off the two streets on purpose because residents there have publicly expressed opposition to cityhood.
“That was so sneaky and dishonorable,” Funari said.
No one Wednesday could say why the two streets were left off.
White said that her group didn’t do it on purpose and that she was checking with a civil engineer who helped draw up the boundaries. County Registrar of Voters Donald F. Tanney said “my hands are tied,” adding that it is too late to change the lines.
Frustrated and upset, resident Gus Lucas, 62, said that he rallied some of his neighbors and that they decided to drive down to the Yes! For Cityhood offices Tuesday to try to get some answers. They were accompanied by Funari and Melody Carruth, co-chairman of Citizens to Save Laguna Hills.
What happened after the group of 15 people converged on Yes! For Cityhood’s storefront offices is a matter of dispute.
Lucas said the group asked Yes! volunteer Ray Reovan why the two streets had been left out of the proposed city. Saying he did not know, Reovan invited the group into a back office to look at a large wall map, Lucas said.
White disagreed. “They harassed the volunteer. They did not leave when he asked them to. And they went through our papers,” she said.
Funari, who dressed like Betsy Ross to protest “taxation without representation” on behalf of the Laguna Village residents, said she then sat down at White’s vacant desk and telephoned White’s home answering machine.
“The thrust of it was I called wondering where she was,” Funari said. “The conversation was very light-hearted.”
Carruth said she saw a broken chair with a note on it: “This chair reserved for Melody Carruth.” So Carruth said she decided to leave a note.
“I said, ‘Dear Dale, how nice of you to leave this chair for me, but I won’t be able to work in this office this week,’ ” Carruth said.
Both Funari and Carruth viewed the messages as innocent pranks. White was not amused.
“I did not take it as a joke, and neither did the police,” White said. “They can make excuses and be petty all they want. But they came in in storm-trooper manner. They spent 40 minutes harassing a volunteer. And they left an extremely nasty message for me.”