Column: Newport City Council’s flip-flop on gas tax doesn’t make up for initial poor judgment

I’d like to say it’s admirable when political leaders change their minds, but I can’t when the reversal in thinking only comes after public outcry over decisions that were poorly thought out in the first place.

We saw it with the recent Museum House project.

Newport’s City Council approved it — then rescinded their vote — but only after 14,000 signatures were gathered for a referendum to stop the high-density development project.

Had the council had the pulse of the community, it would’ve anticipated the fierce outcry.


And last week the council majority did another about-face.

The majority originally voted not to accept the state gas tax revenue in protest of the pending rate hike.

Yet after public pressure, they voted to accept the money to augment road projects within the city.

As I’ve said before, Newport’s refusal of money here was misguided, had no impact on Sacramento policymaking and only showed how shortsighted our leaders really are.


Refusing the gas tax money was simply impulsive and lacked plain old common sense. This flip-flopping makes Newport look like a joke, and from where I sit, mixed messages are what voters continue to get.

On Aug. 28, I got a robocall from Mayor Pro Tem Duffy Duffield, urging voters not to sign the recall petition to remove Councilman Scott Peotter.

Duffield’s recorded voice claimed “special interest groups” were forcing the city to hold a special election simply because “they don’t like the councilman,” whose term is up in 2018. He warned an election of this nature would cost the city “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” resulting in “cuts to important city services.”

Duffield never said what services would be cut or how much the election would cost. Looking at the date of the call, it was after he’d voted to turn down the gas tax money in protest.

So let me get this straight, the city can’t waste money to remove Peotter, but it can, in protest, turn away millions in revenue?

If you follow the timeline here, only a few days after the robocall Duffield voted to then accept the gas tax money, as did Peotter who ranted about the benefits of this protest in his recent email blast and editorial.

These guys need to stop pontificating and chill.

As I reported Aug. 24, Peotter’s email blast called out recall supporter and Harbor Commissioner Paul Blank, saying Blank criticized Peotter’s support of “traditional marriage.”


“For the record, I have never, in any format or forum criticized your support for traditional marriage,” Blank wrote to Peotter.

Blank then asked for evidence he’d said such a thing, and for a public correction of this error from Peotter.

“Do not spread such misinformation going forward,” wrote Blank.

Blank says Peotter responded “with an acknowledgment and no evidence to back up his statement.”

“I certainly opposed his position on traditional marriage, and if this is his way of outing me, then well done, but I have never criticized him for his stance on this matter,” Blank tells me.

Confusion seems to be the operative word as I watch the recall effort signature gathering on both sides of the issue.

Lynn Swain, spokeswoman for the recall, tells me volunteers and paid campaigners are helping with the recall effort by setting up table at local strip malls and knocking on doors.

Everyone works from a “factual script,” she says, but I’m hearing there have been instances where volunteers or paid workers have gone off script and given inaccurate information.


Swain acknowledged an incident with Blank’s 87-year-old mother, a volunteer.

When confronted by a Peotter political operative, she said the wrong thing about how long Peotter lived in Newport and where.

That operative took her photo, which now appears on Peotter’s Facebook page with comments from his fan base vilifying her.

Swain also addressed an email going around town alleging two boys paid $2 to signature gather, knocked on a door, made untrue claims about Peotter and then, when pressed by the homeowner, recanted.

Swain was troubled by this and looked into it.

“I can’t find any evidence they worked for us,” she says.

Swain says the allegations are false and feels these are games being played by the opposition to sully the recall effort.

In the latest twist, Peotter supporters are setting up tables with their own hired guns, aggressively asking folks to rescind their signatures from the recall petitions. In some instances they’re close to recallers’ tables!

This scenario alone has the makings to turn into a hot mess.

But hey, isn’t that what Newport politics has become?

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at