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Candidates Tackle the Issues, Occasionally Each Other

For the second night in a row, Rancho Santa Margarita City Council candidates meet. Hrabik brings a new dynamic to the discussion and the intensity level rises.

The forums are done, and now it's all about campaigning.

For the second night in a row, candidates for City Council in Rancho Santa Margarita commanded center stage in the ballroom of the Bell Tower Regional Community Center.

They addressed the issues and occasionally they addressed each other, but for the most part they stuck to a structured program in which they defended or expanded on written answers they had provided to a questionaire from the collective of home owners associations, the Community Associations of Rancho.

  • Click on the PDF to download the advance questions of the candidates and their responses
  • Click here to read about the first forum
  • Check back on Patch for more analysis and video

There were plenty of HOA questions, such as how the City and CAR can work together, as well as finding out the candidates' thoughts on the city's infrastructure and what it means to be a councilmember.

Moderator Don Chadd explained to the Tuesday night crowd of about 80 that he committed to the participants that there wouldn't be "any 'gotcha' questions" asked of the candidates.

"The questions are intended to inform and further identify their positions on issues," Chadd said.

The forum lacked some of the spontaneity from the previous night's forum presented by Rancho Santa Margarita Patch and the RSM Chamber of Commerce, but the two-hour program—98 minutes of it in the hands of the candidates—was long on information and not without a couple of dicey moments.

For the first time in either forum, Kenney Hrabik was present and had a chance to address the public; he missed the forum Monday to tend to a family medical issue.

Also present were Hrabik's opponents for two four-year seats that are up for election, Mayor Tony Beall and councilwoman Carol Gamble, and the three men vying for a single two-year seat, Glenn Acosta, Larry McCook and Brad McGirr.

Hrabik brought an audible gasp from the crowd when he said council members should recuse themselves from voting on city contracts when they've taken money from the vendors.

Without clarification, the implication appeared to be that council members were on the take. After the forum, Hrabik clarified that he meant campaign contributions from vendors.

"In my worst day, I wouldn't accuse that," Hrabik said."Most politicians, when they vote on contracts, they’ve been given a donation to their campaign. I don’t know about the trash contract, I threw that out, but the trash contract wasn’t up until 2015 and we expanded it to 2020. I don’t know if any of these people have taken money from the trash collectors."

Gamble addressed the item with some extra time she had from a subsequent question and explained the city evaluates each contract approximately 90 days prior to the option of contract renewal.

"There are surveys done with surrounding cities to determine if the value of the contract services we secure in Rancho Santa Margarita is equal to or less than comparable cities. …," Gamble said. "It was evidenced last with our trash hauling contract when we secured better rates than we have today."

The closest the forum got to a debate format was an exchange after Beall decided to "correct for the record" Hrabik's description of a $50,000 settlement the City paid to Hrabik at the end of the Dove Canyon Courtyard permitting process. The DCC is a wedding/banquet venue owned by Hrabik, who called the settlement a "refund" of most of the $60,000 in fees he paid the City.

Beall had two minutes to answer a question about the types of business he would most like to attract. He answered quickly that he was for any businesses that "want to come here. ... Big business, small business, I'm for all of them. Our job is to provide the business friendly environment."

Beall then launched into an explanation of why Hrabik's fees were so great and the clash between DCC and some of its residential neighbors who complained the noise was "destroying their quality of life."

"In the end, after 3 1/2 years where our staff worked very, very hard, (he) received  the conditional use permit he sought. ...." Beall said. "He didn't say thank you, he threatened to sue his own city for close to half a million dollars. ... Entering into that settlement agreement is the biggest regret that I have because I had hoped it would help our community to heal and the bitterness obviously continues."

Hrabik: "Don can I respond to that?"

Chadd: "What I would like to do at this point, I want to encourage each of the candidates to respond to the questions."

Hrabik: "Don, I think it would be fair if I had a response to this."

Chadd: "You will have two minutes at the end for your closing remarks. I would encourage the candidates—we've been doing good so far, let's stay on the path that we're on."

Hrabik: "But when there's false information put out, I think I need to correct it."

Chadd: "We'll give you two minutes at the end. Thanks, Kenney."

Hrabik later reiterated that the $50,000, though called a settlement, was really a refund for most of the $60,000 he paid the City in the 28 months it took him to get his CUP.

Both the incumbents came across as knowledgeable, and each pointed to their roles in making the city a success—Beall over the last eight years, and Gamble in its formative years.

Among those competing for the two-year seat, McGirr continued to draw a distinction between himself and McCook, most notably about their respective visions for Chiquita Ridge. McCook wants to bring a Fortune 500 type of company—and its jobs—to the city and put it in the complex, which must include a sports park.

"I am adamantly against providing any industry of any type in those pristine hills behind Canada Vista Park ...," McGirr said. "If you moved here to Rancho Santa Margarita because you want to drive down Antonio to look at a manufacturing plant ... you're in the wrong town. You're not in my town."

Marilyn P. October 09, 2012 at 09:05 PM
Martin, Above it says to check back at Patch for videos and more analysis of this forum (and the first forum, too?). Do you have that up, and did I miss it? Is there a link to find it easily?
Lawrence (Larry) McCook October 09, 2012 at 09:54 PM
Hi Marilyn, Thanks for your "kind words". It is obvious that you support "The Politicians"! You obviously did not see that the comment about bringing "Voter Registration" along was made in jest. Beside being the only candidate capable of bringing a major company ro RSM, I have a great sense of humor! Keep Smiling it makes people look better! Tricks of the trade obviously went right over your head. Perhaps I should have said the expertise to succeed? It might be a surprise to the City Hall employees that you do not consider City Hall as part of the RSM infrastructure. Infrastructure is more that paving streets, laying pipe and burying cables. It is obvious that you are upset that I am running. The voters will decide on November 6th. Kind wishes for all of the candidates for happiness and civility! Larry www.larry4rsm.com
BTPeri October 10, 2012 at 08:25 PM
Larry, Yes, I'm a resident of the city of RSM, and I've been in this house for 20+ years. I've been in the Saddleback Valley for nearly 40 ! My question was inquisitive, respectful, and sincere. I really don't understand your reaction because there was nothing in it to which anyone needed to be defensive. We can all observe the vacancies in our community centers, and I simply asked if people had ideas how we might fill them with new business. Sadly, the question goes unanswered. I don't want a private forum, just a civil dialog on the topic that benefits our city. We're living here because we like this community. I appreciate anyone who believes they can improve it. BTW, I'm not running for City Council, nor do I know any of the candidates personally. I'm also not involved in anyone's campaign, nor am I endorsing anyone. I'm just a resident who will be casting a ballot in the near future.
Lawrence (Larry) McCook October 10, 2012 at 08:51 PM
Mr/Mrs BTPeri, I in no way intended to be flippant with my response (though I do have a great sense of humor). I do not want to publicly lay out my progress and plans (if you understand business then you surely understand the reasons). That would be fool hardy and destructive to my efforts. I will assure you that I am using a proven formula that has brought great success to other cities. I remain willing to meet with you on a private basis but, there again I am not able to disclose a lot of info in private or to the public. Some political adversaries question this as a political ruse but, I am not a politician. People that have known me for 40 years know that I am a catalytic producer and not a pretender. Call me if you wish. www.larry4rsm.com
Martin Henderson October 10, 2012 at 09:30 PM
Hi Marilyn, there is no video or analysis up yet. The forums were kind of all over the place and I have begun cutting the video. There will be some analysis as well, but have not yet put all of that together. Absentee ballots should have been mailed out yesterday and I'm hoping to have some of the video/analysis up by midweek of next week.

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