They call Villa Park “The Hidden Jewel.” Bound on all sides by the city of Orange, this 2.1-square-mile city is something of a well-kept Orange County secret, residents say: affluent, welcoming, conservative, and quiet.
In recent weeks, it’s also been the center of heated controversy after video of a protest at an Islamic charity event captured a city councilwoman’s angry words.
Speaking outside a community center in nearby Yorba Linda during the February event, Councilwoman Deborah Pauly pointed at the center and said, “What’s going on over there right now … that is pure, unadulterated evil.”
“I know quite a few Marines who will be very happy to help these terrorists to an early meeting in paradise,” she said. In the video, families with small children can be seen walking into the community center while protesters carrying American flags chant, “Go back home!”
Although it’s not the first time Pauly’s words have generated controversy in Villa Park, her statements protesting an event organized by a relief wing of the Islamic Circle of North America drew national attention and inspired a division in the city that was on clear display Tuesday night as hundreds gathered to denounce and support her.
Two other elected officials, Reps. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) and Gary Miller (R-Diamond Bar), also spoke at the event featured in the video, but Pauly’s comments have drawn particular anger. A man was arrested earlier this week after authorities said he used Facebook to threaten the councilwoman.
Pauly has said she was directing her comments at two controversial speakers at the meeting. When hundreds of protesters showed up at the council chambers Tuesday to call for her resignation, she was defiant. “This is an act of terrorism in our city,” she said.
Inside the chambers, the council listened patiently to comments from both sides, even extending the allotted time for public comments in the hope that the council and city would then be able to move on, said Councilman Brad Reese.
“This is the biggest thing I’ve ever seen Villa Park go through,” he said, “and I hope we don’t have to go through it again.”
The community, he said, has “good morals, good values. It’s a multicultural community.”
Mayor Richard Ulmer, who emphasized that he was speaking as a resident and not an elected official, said he felt Pauly’s words brought unwanted attention to the city.
“We see this event as being very unfortunate,” he said. “As a community, we don’t want to be connected to those words.”
For Pauly, the blame for the anger lies with the Muslim-rights organization, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, that released the video. Pauly said in an interview Wednesday that the Los Angeles CAIR chapter is guilty of selective editing.
“When I speak of unadulterated evil, I mean CAIR,” she said, “because they distorted the truth.”
A CAIR representative said the video was edited for time but added that the group also released a transcript of Pauly’s entire speech.
This isn’t the first time Pauly’s comments have drawn the city of just over 6,000 residents into controversy. Last year, the councilwoman drew ire when she wrote on her Facebook page that applauding President Obama’s healthcare bill was “like applauding a mugging or a rape. Do you feel sodomized?”
Ulmer’s proposal to reprimand Pauly for those comments failed after more than a dozen residents showed up to voice their support for her.
A few months later, she asked fellow council members to vote on a resolution supporting Arizona’s immigration enforcement law, SB 1070. After they did not do so, she was again threatened with a reprimand for saying she was “ashamed” of her fellow council members.
Durrana Subat, who grew up in Villa Park and attended Tuesday’s council meeting, said it is painful to see controversy embroiling her small hometown.
She and her friend, Bahar Nawabi, who are of Afghan background, said they felt Pauly’s words unfairly attacked Muslims.
“We should all accept each other as equals,” Nawabi said.
Khaled Fouad, an Anaheim Hills resident, said his mother felt threatened after Pauly’s remarks.
Fouad said someone placed a page from the Koran on the windshield of the car and wrote the letter “F” on it.
Pauly “has influence on people, and she needs to be careful of what she encourages people to do,” he said.