Sounding Off: Dishonesty, self-interest and Newport Beach officials

It's been more than two years since that memorable morning in July 2008, when I awoke from a late night, rubbing the sleep from my eyes to walk outside and retrieve my Daily Pilot from the driveway. With coffee in hand, my first glance caused blood to rise in my face and my eyes to pop wide open in their sockets. There I was staring at "myself" in black and white – a caricature of me as a child standing on a soap box, pathetically crying while two men, lurking behind, shake hands over a document titled "Fair Rehab Deal."

The caricature was a demeaning mockery of my views on Newport Beach's Drug Rehab Settlement Agreement, the first of its kind, which I had so vocally opposed. I felt like I had just been assaulted.

As a relatively unknown West Newport resident, I was targeted because I had publicly objected to a law that was detrimental to my community, despite being promoted by city officials as a "Public Benefit Agreement." The Daily Pilot did not consider the content of my objection – the newspaper simply took aim and fired, and I had absolutely no venue from which to defend myself.

This caricature was significant, though, as it marked the point I crossed over from anonymity to "public figure" and lost any right to object.

This was my wake-up call and I thought to myself, "They did that to me, how could this happen?"

Looking back, this event was traceable to the purchase of my first home, a fixer-upper in West Newport, where upon renovation, I received a series of parking tickets arising from a nonconforming driveway.

Eventually, the problem led me to join a homeowner association to find others facing the same situation. Before long, the association asked me to undertake a small project: Render an opinion on a matter coming before City Council related to a drug rehab's building improvement permit for their Peninsula headquarters. The assignment seemed interesting as it might be connected to rumblings I had heard regarding Newport's "drug rehab over-concentration" problem.

It was the beginning of a long firestorm.

I visited the rehab facility and was met at the front door by their attorney, who was a former Newport Beach mayor and Newport Beach citizen of the year. The former mayor took us on a tour of the drug rehab facilities, honeycombed throughout Lido Village, as he lobbied for their perspective on the permit and the larger issue of Newport's rehab proliferation.

It seemed strange that my tour guide now played such a role in his own city as a rehab advocate. In my mind his role that day and his position as citizen of the year and former mayor seemed contradictory and caused me to wonder just how deep this rehab reached into Newport's political and civic elite.

In the months that followed, my investigation of Newport's drug rehabs took me down a long twisted path of special relationships, hidden documents, confidential accounts and the self-serving actions of numerous Newport Beach public officials who were personally and/or financially involved with Newport's drug rehabs. Their questionable judgments and actions seemed then — and now — to repeat themselves in other city endeavors as well.

Many of these same public officials are still active in Newport Beach politics today.

Not surprisingly, from the start, these very same people accused me of smear and conspiracy, but their attacks have long ago stripped me of any embarrassment of cause. Rather, it has lit the fuse of my resolve to expose them and their unseemly actions regardless of any personal or financial cost to me.

In the coming weeks, as we move through this next City Council election cycle, I hope to expose numerous stories of self-interest and dishonesty regarding Newport's trusted public figures and city officials.

ROBERT RUSH lives in Newport Beach.

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