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Council Candidates Throw Out First Pitch

Rancho Santa Margarita candidates for City Council talk local economy, Chiquita Ridge and some contentious local history on Monday. Public personalities begin to emerge. Hrabik's a no-show.

Hoping to score with voters and more clearly define themselves beyond lawn signs and campaign literature, contenders for three City Council seats in Rancho Santa Margarita met Monday at the election season's first candidate forum.

Absentee ballots go out to residents within a week for the general election that will be held on Nov. 6.

Five of the six City Council candidates gathered at the Bell Tower Regional Community Center for the forum, a joint venture between the RSM Chamber of Commerce and Rancho Santa Margarita Patch.

Candidates addressed the crowd in two groups, with Trabuco Canyon Water District Director Glenn Acosta, retired CEO Larry McCook, and planning commissioner Brad McGirr in the group vying for the single two-year seat on the council, and Mayor Tony Beall and councilwoman Carol Gamble angling for the two available four-year seats.

On Monday morning, businessman Kenney Hrabik bowed out of the forum, citing a family medical issue; Hrabik is seeking a four-year seat.

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None of the candidates were supplied questions prior to the event, which was moderated by Rancho Santa Margarita Patch editor Martin Henderson.

He told the audience that the questions should help attendees and city residents “get to know the candidates a little bit and see how they stand on some of the issues.”

And the candidates answered.

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McCook, at 71 the oldest candidate, throughout the forum described himself as a non-politician. In 2010, he ran a six-week campaign on a shoestring budget, and although he finished last among five candidates, he received more than 4,000 votes.

“It’s obvious that I’m cut out of a different piece of a material,” McCook said, referring to those seated next to him. “They’re all politicians. I’m extremely direct. I’m not a flowery orator, but you will get a straight answer from me.”

His answers tended to be shorter than the other candidates, and he announced an unorthodox strategy regarding endorsements after Henderson asked each candidate to endorse two other candidates they could work with: “I’m going to endorse all of the ones that have endorsed me, and that’s none of them."

McCook said that he wanted to bring an environmentally friendly, high-tech company to the city and was already working toward that end.

“This is not minimum wage fast-food jobs,” McCook said. “This is a company that could be medical, bio-med, micro-electronics.”

Acosta, a civil engineer with Los Angeles County, said that his experience with the water district helps distinguish him from his opponents.

“I have the most experience in local government, in public policy,” Acosta said. “I have made the same kind of decisions as a city councilman.”

He also talked about the possibility of trying to woo new business to the city, such as an upscale bowling alley like Lucky Strikes, or a megamart like Costco that could add significantly to the tax base.

Acosta said businesses like those would help Rancho Santa Margarita reach “financial prosperity,” and the city could move closer to that goal by “bringing in the right mix of businesses, of industries and reaching out directly with the key companies that bring the revenues (and) … that fit our family-friendly environment.“

All the candidates were asked their vision for the Chiquita Ridge property, 92-acres of land just east of Canada Vista Park.

McGirr envisioned "a joint venture agreement with Santa Margarita High School to build Eagle Stadium" that would allow the state champion program to play locally rather than Saddleback College.

“I want to see a 23-acre sports park adjoined with Eagle Stadium (there).” McGirr said. “And (I want to) have Eagle Stadium surrounded by restaurants and shops."

He likened his proposal to "a very small version of the Irvine Spectrum,” and said he wanted to add hiking trails in Chiquita Ridge that could double as fire breaks, link Chiquita with O'Neill Regional Park and circumnavigate the entire city for hikers and bicyclists.

McGirr made clear that he was opposed to a vision such as McCook's: “I guarantee I will never ever put a manufacturing plant in the hills,” which he said would supply jobs for Los Angeles residents, not RSM residents.

Beall played off of his record. He said he had served the city for eight years, and RSM had thrived while he was part of the city's decision-making process. He said he would be "proud to continue doing what we have been doing.”

Under his tenure, Beall said the city had $19 million in reserve, had been ranked by the FBI as the safest in California two years in a row and had been “the very first city to adopt meaningful pension reform.”

He added, “I’m proud that In-N-Out Burger is coming here as well,” drawing chuckles from the audience.

Gamble was a primary player in the formation of the city and elected to its first city council in November 1999. She said her main reason for running was to keep local politics honest, especially in regard to Hrabik's “Voter’s Bill of Rights” which she alleged misrepresented data to paint the city in a bad light to further his agenda.

“Lying and deceiving the community, the city that I worked to form is not OK with me,” Gamble said. “We don’t want lies and deceptions in our City Council. We won’t have it.”

Gamble also added that as a business owner, a former mayor and a member of the committee to make Rancho Santa Margarita a city, she had the experience and the qualities necessary to continue to lead the city.

Hrabik has lobbied hard for the dissolvment of benefits to council members, and Gamble said she was "delighted to" discuss the reasoning behind the stipend and benefits that councilmembers receive.

"Rancho Santa Margarita was not set up like a typical city," Gamble said, noting the city council is "viewed like a board of directors. We’re expected to perform. We're paid to perform."

Gamble cited Mayor Pro Tem Steve Baric and Jesse Petrilla—neither of whom now accept the offered stipend and benefits—as examples of why city councilmembers should be paid.

Gamble said that Baric and Petrilla, instead of attending a budget meeting, "opted to go a cocktail party” for a Republican politician.

If councilmembers aren't paid, she said, then they are volunteers: “You can’t make volunteers work. You can't hold them to a standard. You can’t require them to show up.”

Though Hrabik wasn’t in attendance, he and his business was present as a topic.

McGirr and Beall talked about a $50,000 cash settlement the city reached with Hrabik after the candidate—who owns the Dove Canyon Courtyard—threatened to sue the city for more than $250,000 after finally receiving a Conditional Use Permit in a contentious battle that pitted neighbors against neighbors.

Beall said the settlement decision was “the one I regret the most because it did not achieve the results” he wanted, which was for the city to begin healing.

McGirr, a planning commissioner who came into the appointed position on the back end of the Dove Canyon Courtyard battle with neighbors, said he didn’t know the specifics of the threatened lawsuit but would not have offered the cash settlement had he been on the council. 

“I’m a litigator. I’m an attorney," McGirr said. "I’ve been an attorney since 1985 and my natural response to any such thing is to defend and to fight what I consider to be an unjustifiable suit.”

The debate was well-attended with about 50 people.

One attendee, 19-year resident Cary Nielson, said that strong leadership and honesty were the traits he was looking for in a candidate.

“I just love the exchange of ideas like this,” said Nielson, a facilities administrator.  “I think it makes people accountable for what they say.

“It’s on record, it’s on a camera and they’ve got to be straight.”

Cindy Cossairt, who has lived in RSM since 1986, said the discussion of Chiquita Ridge was important to her and other empty nesters looking for activities, and that the proposed complex should benefit all generations, not just kids.

Cossairt attended the forum to meet the candidates.

“I always like to be an informed voter and hear directly from my own ears what people are saying,” Cossairt said. 

She, like everyone else, got an earful.

CAR Candidate Forum

A second candidate forum will be held tonight. Hosted by the Community Associations of Rancho, it will be held at the Bell Tower Regional Community Center from 7-9 p.m.

For more information about the CAR forum, see the CAR Facebook page or email CARcandidateforum@gmail.com.

Lawrence (Larry) McCook October 02, 2012 at 08:21 PM
RSM Dad (An Alias), Since I don't know your real name I am not sure how stupid you might really be? LOL I have said nothing about having a company "in the bag" as you have so elegantly phrased this. I have said that I am working with a tremendously large company in LA County to assist me in attracting a company to RSM Too bad that you or your associates do not have the experience, free time and contacts to do this!
April Josephson October 02, 2012 at 08:22 PM
Larry, can you please tell me which edition of the dictionary gave you the definition of politician that you stand behind? I just went to Merriam-Webster Dictionary online, and did not find your definition. I found multiple definitions—none of which includes what you have been supposedly quoting for the past year or so. Here's the one from their Student Dictionary: "a person who takes an active part in party politics or in government business." IMO, this describes you, from your self-described participation in the Reagan campaign forward.
Lawrence (Larry) McCook October 02, 2012 at 08:32 PM
April, Y You conveniently didn't list all of the definitions of a politician. The Reagan Gubernatorial Campaign was 46 years ago. There seems to be a rather large vacuum in between then and now. LOL Nice try! There are some times a person needs to step up and give free service to his community and government. I am offering this service to Rancho Santa Margarita. Got to sign off now. This commenting takes a lot of time!
RSMWoman October 02, 2012 at 08:43 PM
I am new to the community. I attended last night and learned quite a lot! I am sympathetic to any family that deals with health matters, however, I suspect there was "no doctor's appointment", as I am quite sure Mr. Hrabik doesn't want to be confronted regarding his attacks of what seems to be EXTREMELY competent & honest opponents. He also probably does not want to discuss his $50,000 extortion of the City and our tax dollars. I was throroughly disgusted with Mr. Hrabik's "Bill of Rights" that I learn about last night. If a doctor's appointment is enough to prevent Mr. Hrabik from attending such an important event, how can he be counted on to run the City? Ms. Gamble was right - we need candidates that offer their skills and qualifications and who are EXPECTED to perform; not lie or go to cocktail parties! She is right, we don't need people that make up lies and try to win votes by deceiving us! I think Ms. Gamble is very knowledgeable and courageous to inspire us to stand up against these lies. I think Mr. McGirr was very good. I think Mr. McCook is not qualified and I agree that he is not right for a leadership role. I think Mr. Acosta did well but not better than Mr. McGirr (and we can only choose one of them, is that correct?) I am very pleased that Mr. Beall is Mayor and it is obvious he has done a very good job.
April Josephson October 02, 2012 at 08:44 PM
Larry, you're right, I didn't include all definitions, only the most basic one. However NONE of them include the statement you have been making for the last year to distinguish yourself from the others—claiming you are the only non-politician. I don't see that any of the definitions I read in the Webster's online dictionary make you a non-politician and the others all politicians. This is where I am asking you to clarify your previous remarks. Thanks.
RSMWoman October 02, 2012 at 08:48 PM
One more thing, I don't understand the pay issue: I would gladly INCREASE THE PAY for my President and State Representatives if they could get the Nation and State in the position that Mr. Beall & Ms. Gamble have accomplished in this horrible economy!! Who wouldn't want that? Frankly, based on the facts, I don't think Mr. Beall and Ms. Gamble and the council people (of course, those that don't go to cocktail parties and come late to meetings) get paid enough!!! Thank you to Patch for creating this event last night! It really helped me a lot!
Something Special Cateirng Inc. October 02, 2012 at 10:32 PM
Rsm woman are you for real? How on earth could you know If there was or was not a doctors appt? Unless you are using an alias and can spy on the hrabick family and their daughter presidents and state reps are a FULL time job not a average 10 hour a month job
BTPeri October 02, 2012 at 10:34 PM
I believe the suggestions for Chiquita Ridge are interesting, but I believe a commercial center is not the best use. As a very long term resident here, I've never see this many vacant retail spaces available. Why would we want to build more ? It would be nice if we could focus on attracting a large, family oriented, restaurant, ie a Mimi's, Applebees, or similar location. I would imagine some time would be well spent in discussions between our city staff and the owners of the various retail centers who seem rather uninterested in filling out their properties. Perhaps its because, if what I've heard is true, they are absentee landlords from other states.
April Josephson October 02, 2012 at 11:19 PM
Nancy, I have to disagree with your statement that the RSM city council job is an average of 10 hours a month. IMO, if it is done properly, it takes far more time than that. I have seen some council members working full-time hours on their city council jobs. I thought Councilwoman Gamble's explanation as to why they chose the compensation that they did when the city incorporated was right on point. Those who believe it is only 10 hours a month and do not take compensation create a self-fulfilling prophecy because they don't feel the level of commitment to the job that the others do. Without the minimal compensation, there is no leverage to create any expectation that they have a substantial duty to the city, and subsequently, they do not work to the best of their abilities for the residents. Then, everything else takes precedence over city council for their time. I find that Kenney's whole campaign being based on the premise that the job should be done for free, and only involves 10 hours a week shows me that he is unwilling to commit to anything more than that. Why would any resident want to vote for someone unwilling to do anything and everything it takes, regardless of the time commitment, for our city and its residents?
April Josephson October 02, 2012 at 11:26 PM
BTPeri, I'm seeing retail centers starting to fill up again. There are signs about businesses about to open in several centers right now. I like your family restaurant idea. It is unfortunate that we have a few absentee landlords who don't care whether their centers are full or not, and have no interest in working with those within the city who have reached out to them.
RSMWoman October 02, 2012 at 11:53 PM
Ms. "Special": regarding the doctor's appointment, Mr. Hrabik mentions it himself in his posting at 7:42 this morning. I don't understand your desire to cast stones in my direction for quoting Mr. Hrabik himself? Frankly since these city leaders are that good compared to the President & State Leaders, I suggest then their pay be increased to at least match that of the absymal failures....fair enough? If they can get it done and be this successful, I don't care if it takes 4 minutes or 40 hours a week! I submit, perhaps Mr. Hrabik, who has never done that job, really has no idea what it takes to do it successfully. I'd let the results speak for themselves, rather than all the blustering, truck parking and insulting inuendo. You just can't argue with the results.
Marilyn P. October 03, 2012 at 12:24 AM
Larry, your comments make no sense. I never saw anywhere where Brad McGirr said he wants to create "millions of dollars of debt, bonds, or Mello-Roos." That's absurd. Above it says that he envisions a "joint venture agreement with Santa Margarita High School." Personally, I like the idea because a football stadium could be used and leased out for a variety of purposes such as graduations, 5Ks, small concerts, or even something like Taste of Rancho. And if we have shops and restaurants there, all the better. Also, Brad McGirr (as well as Glen Acosta) also said he would want the sports park to be supported by the tax revenue from whatever retail and restaurants that would be there. He would businesses that would compliment a sports park. You, however, want to bring in a mystery manufacturing plant that really has nothing to do with a sports park or active lifestyle that we enjoy here in RSM. You also said you didn't want to bring in any tax revenue. This proves to me what everyone has already known all along: You don't have any idea what you're talking about, and you're not paying the least bit of attention to what other people are talking about. Please stop saying things that aren't true, if that's possible.
Marilyn P. October 03, 2012 at 12:25 AM
April, who would the clientele for this hotel be?
Stamper October 03, 2012 at 12:38 AM
I like the idea of a family restaurant like a Mimi's, too. I wish we still had Ruby's here. I'd also love to see places where sports teams can go to celebrate team parties - like what we have at Ballpark. I'd also love to see some shops and even a Starbuck's so that I can drop my son off for practice and do some shopping or chatting with the other moms on the team. it would be nice to have a shopping area that's pedestrian friendly so that you can just walk from store to store and not walk through the parking lot to go to each store.. Oh, and speaking of landlords, who would the landlord of Chiquita be?
Lawrence (Larry) McCook October 03, 2012 at 05:26 AM
Marilyn P, It will take millions of dollars to develop Chiquita Ridge. It is you that is missing the point. I simply am asking where will the money come from? Taxes, bonds, Mello Roos or donations? Brad is publicly against any commercial clean manufacturing being located at Chiquita Ridge! A clean commercial business such as Applied Medical would bring in 10s of millions in sales tax revenue. Brad says we should build a world class high school stadium for Santa Margarita High School. I spoke with Mr. Carey's Office who is President of SMCHS this afternoon and they said that he has never heard of this stadium proposal They would not be opposed to this stadium if someone could come up with $25-$30 million dollars. It seems prudent to speak to the school first before announcing any plans for their football stadium Brad is a good man as well as Glen Acosta but, they are not businessmen. I, and only I, bring the needed worldwide business development experience to the RSM table. Check my website: www.larry4rsm.com
Lawrence (Larry) McCook October 03, 2012 at 05:31 AM
I hope that you attended the forum tonight also. It was a lot of fun!
April Josephson October 03, 2012 at 02:37 PM
Marilyn, I believe there are several potential types of clients for the hotel: 1. Family and friends who visit Rancho and Coto now, but stay in Foothill Ranch or at the Ayres in MV. 2. Those coming to attend events in RSM, such as weddings. I can think of at least two wedding venues in RSM—the Bell Tower Center and Dove Canyon Courtyard. 3. Those coming to RSM on business. When I was a part of the Economic Development Committee, we had a meeting with Applied Medical, where they specifically mentioned that as one of the things they would like to see in the city. They bring people to their headquarters all of the time, and rent the Bell Tower Center periodically for meetings. Applied's presence in the city has grown since the time of our meeting. This would be a no-brainer for them. 4. Those coming to events at the Chiquita Ridge regional sports park. We have the opportunity to make Rancho more of a destination with our development at Chiquita Ridge. A hotel could be an integral part of that plan.
16 Falcon October 03, 2012 at 05:59 PM
RSMWoman, well stated comments! For being new to the community you have a great grasp of the real issues! The debate as to the "integrity" of a certain candidate could be definitively put to rest. Kenney, just publish the "settlement agreement" and let the voters decide for themselves. Stop using reference to news stories that you yourself claim are false and misleading. Get on with job and put the hard feelings behind you. No one is seeking a resentful councilman looking for revenge through the power of office!
16 Falcon October 03, 2012 at 06:16 PM
April, very valid points and RSM voters should be concerned about the level of commitment of councilmembers to get the job done for the Citizens of RSM. Councilwoman Gamble is on point. It's not about the amount of time, it is about the quality and dedication to put forth the time required no matter how much to solve problems. Look at Kenney's Web Site and the long list of volunteer work that he magnanimously provides to RSM and other communities. With all these activities his normal day is either 45 hours long or he has a week that includes double Tuesdays in it. Where will he find the time for RSM?
Something Special Cateirng Inc. October 03, 2012 at 08:28 PM
Did you not hear most of the other council members list all their volunteer activities also 16 falcon?
Gina October 03, 2012 at 08:46 PM
Comments from Mr. & Ms. 'no name' In signing up for comments in your Patch, Martin,shouldn't you require people to sign up with their name (first name) You have people writing these scathing comments in favor of the incumbents who have been RSM politicians since we became a city and these people don't attach their name. 'rsm2918374989, rsm mom, Falcon, superbiker3' Are birds typing now a days? I mean we have some good slogans there, but this is a form for 'real people' not generic nouns. It doesn't seem right that comments are written against actual people by 'generic nouns' ‘or ' catchy slogans' they could be the candidates families, a business who is contributing to one of the candidates, someone from another city, the list could go on. Even the candidates themselves. I think our community is better than that and we should require a people to put their name on their comments.. ps - yes, i know all you 'no names' will reply "but I am a real person" but we just will never know what or who you are or who you represent or what special interest you are with. Of course the ‘no names’’ may say “I can always make up a name,” but most people in our town r honest, and don’t need to hide behind a false name. So, ‘no names; your comments should be given the same weight a comment i read recently from 'man on the moon 123' Not much.
Something Special Cateirng Inc. October 04, 2012 at 04:55 AM
April I believe most landlords are what you call " absentee landlords, especially with the larger centers. I don't feel it is fair to say they don't care if their centers are full or not, have you personally spoken to any? I have and do on a regular basis. There is little advantage , after so much time has passed, for them to remain vacant We still have a lot of vacant spots with several planning on leaving by the end of the year. Yes we have new business filling up spots but not anything new , just more of the same nail places, hair salons, etc it would be great if we had a commission that focused on approaching businesses and inviting them to check out our city, I have heard say the city isn't responsible for this, the landlords are not responsible for this hence we have no interesting new businesses checking out our city I can think of 2-3 right off the bat that would be great. Never got a chance to check out the EDC, was this one of their purposes? It would also be great if the city or whom ever was responsible, to finish putting up the signs telling residents the names of all the shopping centers. Being in the dove center, it would really help bring more people in
Brad McGirr October 04, 2012 at 05:37 AM
Hi Nancy, good to see you Monday night! You've asked a great question. In a nutshell, the Economic Development Committee (EDC) was divided in two parts, the Business Attraction Unit and the Business Retention Unit. Pete Moersch and I worked on the EDC with the Business Attraction Unit, and I can tell you that our role was to do all we could to attract specific businesses to RSM. This included sending representatives to the International Conference of Shopping Centers (ICSC) meetings and reaching out to specific types of businesses. A DVD regarding the benefits of doing business in RSM was created and distributed to interested people at the front desk at City Hall. It's true that the landlords are by far the most influential when it comes to who comes to open business in our city, primarily when it comes to rent and lease restrictions. Nonetheless, as a group of citizens who were working for free on behalf of our city, we worked very, very hard to bring quality businesses to town. In this regard, without these efforts by many, In-N-Out would not be opening in RSM this year. By the way, at the Planning Commission meeting tonight, we approved and welcomed the addition of an Art Instruction studio and a Fitness facility to RSM. Again, thanks for the insightful question.
Lawrence (Larry) McCook October 04, 2012 at 06:00 AM
Brad, As you know or may not know, I have a great sense of humor? Which person or alias is Nancy? I do not see any comments from a Nancy? Larry
Brad McGirr October 04, 2012 at 06:46 AM
Larry, I'm rather surprised that you don't know Nancy. She's one of most successful businesswomen in this city, is active with the Chamber of Commerce, and truly cares about the future of our community.
Lawrence (Larry) McCook October 04, 2012 at 09:17 AM
Hi Brad, LOL I have met a number of ladies named Nancy while traversing RSM. She is not going by her first name here on Patch. There are quite a number of us who really care about the future of our community. Have a great Thursday!
Something Special Cateirng Inc. October 05, 2012 at 12:42 AM
Brad, thanks for the compliment :) Larry sorry I originally logged in under my business name, we have met several times but don't worry, I meet many people and myself can't remember everyone:) Brad , is there any hope of a commission like the EDC being developed again? And do you know anything about the street signs that might have been made that are for each shopping center? I heard they were not put up because of the cost. April, your assumption that Kenney wouldn't put his all into his position is a wrong assumption. If you knew this man, he is anything but " unwilling" to committ as much time as needed. An example of someone who commits their time WITHOUT pay unquestionably is yourself! I have worked for years with volunteers, those folks who work without any pay, and have found there are many people who give more than 100% of their time.
Lawrence (Larry) McCook October 05, 2012 at 03:37 PM
Hi Nancy, Of course I now know who you are! Thanks for identifying yourself (the business name threw me). You are a very nice lady.
April Josephson October 06, 2012 at 09:51 PM
I second what Brad said about the EDC and Nancy. To add to the EDC discussion, I was on the business growth and retention committee. We met with employers to see what was working and what wasn't for them. I also did personally speak with landlords. When I mentioned there were some absentee landlords who didn't care, it was based on personal conversations with their representatives. There are properties owned by large investment groups which own a portfolio of properties and give property managers guidelines which allow for a certain percentage of the units to be vacant, and provide parameters for individual leases. With proerties in different areas, what seems realistic in another area, may not be good for RSM. Additionally, sometimes the owners don't care that there is a higher vacancy percentage at a particular property because it will help offset profits from other properties, which will reduce their tax liability. This helps explain why some landlords won't budge on price. This is an issue that the city has no ability to impact. There are many other things we can do, and I agree that the city needs to continue its economic development efforts.
April Josephson October 06, 2012 at 10:06 PM
Nancy, regarding volunteering for other community efforts v. being a volunteer city council member, I see a big difference. For the many things that I participate in as a volunteer, I am able to choose my own schedule as far as what I will and will not do. I also choose the number of hours to commit, and prioritize it behind my other commitments, such as family and work. I feel that a city council person is responsible for prioritizing the city higher than that, especially when it comes to emergencies. If there is a major emergency, most people would want to be with family, But, certain city personnel and at least the mayor needs to prioritize the city first, since the well-being of 50,000 people is at stake. When someone is a volunteer, IMO, there is no way to insure that they will feel the same level of obligation to put the city over other personal interests. Maybe Kenney is different, but that is how I feel.

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