January 2020

Letters to the Editor 

Getting warmer

Dear Editor:
Thank you for your article spotlighting climate crisis demonstrations at the Orange City Hall. These strikes are being held worldwide as part of a youth-led movement catalyzed by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg of Sweden, in recognition that we have only about a decade to limit the planet’s continued warming another 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. That is the point at which the earth, as we know it, will be a markedly less hospitable place, with more wildfires, a sea level rise from melting icecaps, extreme heat, flooding and drought.

The U.S. Department of Defense, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and even the insurance industry have identified the climate crisis as a top priority. An international group called the Global Commission on Adaptation estimated that $1.8 trillion in spending over the next decade would provide $7.1 trillion in benefits.

I applaud the activists who are demanding action.

Sue Schildt
Orange County Climate Reality Project Leadership Team

Dear Editor:
Thank you for your December issue’s coverage of the climate crisis and the Friday morning protests in front of the Orange City Hall urging the city council to declare a climate emergency.

It is my opinion that the climate crisis and sustainability are core reasons why more than 13,000 voters signed the petition for a referendum of the city council’s approval of a housing development.

A major contributing source of global warming is methane; a former dump located west of the proposed site would require detectors to monitor dangerous local levels of methane. Air quality is also compromised by pollution aggravated by increased temperatures, as well as wildfires, which are increasing due to the climate crisis.

More than 11,000 climate scientists are warning us to immediately reduce greenhouse gas emissions from methane and carbon dioxide to prevent an irreversible course of destruction. The enormity of the crisis requires us to unite and urge the Orange City Council to declare a climate emergency.

Without local leadership and a viable plan, we will be left on our own to protect our neighborhoods. How will we adapt for ourselves as temperatures rise? Will our stables need to be air-conditioned? Will horse riding during the day no longer be possible because of the devastating effects of the heat? Help preserve the planet for our families, including our beloved pets and horses. 

Mel Vernon
Villa Park

Dear Editor:
In the December issue there is an interesting connection between the new cemetery bike path and residents’ call for climate action in Orange. As a mountain bike rider, I appreciate the new trails for horses and bicycles, but continue to be amazed that Orange, Villa Park, Tustin and Santa Ana have not been able to connect the existing bikeways. 

The first obvious connection must be a result of some conflict between Orange, the county and Santa Ana. The Santiago Creek bike trail goes under the 5 Freeway at the Discovery Center, and then disappears into the creek bed. The tunnel under the 5 Freeway must have cost $20 million, but it is absolutely useless except for easy access for homeless people and gangs. Yes, it would be expensive to extend it to the Santa Ana River Trail, but think of how many people would use it and what a beautiful riparian habitat it would create. 

The second is easy to build, but is probably expensive. If you look at the map, the old railway line stretches from around Warren in Tustin, all the way to Grijalva Park in Orange. Between 17th and Fairhaven, it is heavily used, and would provide a great connection for commuting from the southern part of Tustin to many regions of Orange County. 

Getting people out of their cars and walking and biking in a safe manner is worth working for. 

Stan Miller

Sentry Loves Bonnie

Dear Editor:
Do you know how wonderful you are? This paper has more information of interest to our community than any paper being tossed or mailed. What touched me?  Good news about the Villa Park Marine Thanksgiving, the administrator of the year, the Dino Dash (I am a retired teacher and participated in this), a new Eagle Scout, cemetery trail completed, veterans celebrated, and the good news goes on and on. My husband and I loved reading about Matt Lester, as we remember him well from when our son played football at El Modena. Every article had meaning to us, as we have friends in all your coverage areas. We are 56 years living in North Tustin. Thanks over and over and over again for your news, news and more news.  

Bonnie Sharp
North Tustin

Sign of the times

Dear Editor:
I think in all of the celebratory posts we have seen regarding the referendum, we have forgotten to honor those from the other side who helped make our success possible. I would like to personally thank The Trails at Santiago and their admin, who consistently violated the precepts of good taste and morality by calling out the citizens of Orange, and posting outlandish lies in a failed effort to sway Orange residents. I would also like to thank Milan LLC for the deceptive, disrespectful, and distorted mailers that we were all subjected to. I would like to thank Councilman Mike Alvarez for showing us all that we were “spoiled crybabies” who not only needed his direction, but were also not deserving of the respect he so desperately thinks he is entitled to. To all of these people, I say “thank you.” We could not have done it without your hateful, disrespectful, and deceitful mailers, posts and comments. 

John Reina

Dear Editor:
I’m a resident of Orange, and I oppose the Milan Capital development, even though I do not live in OPA.

I was approached by a volunteer collecting signatures to put a referendum on the ballot that would overturn the city council’s decision to approve the development. This volunteer said they wanted to demonstrate there was support for denying approval throughout the City of Orange - that this was not just an OPA issue.

It is clear the EIR is flawed. Additionally, there are no specifics regarding mitigation or remediation. I am especially concerned about methane mitigation, and evacuation in the event of a fire or flood.

Please keep reporting on this story. It’s critical, in view of the misleading mailers I received from Milan.

Robin Reichelt

Dear Editor:
Congratulations to all those who worked so very hard to gather enough signatures to referend the project at Sully-Miller. It is a daunting task to walk the city seeking voters’ signatures. 

Now that that is done, what is next for OPA and the surrounding neighborhoods? Your work is really just starting. I am pretty sure that those who signed the petitions are not waiting to write a check for the major attorney bills coming down the pike. Those who signed are now waiting to see whatever they were promised to come to fruition.

One thing is for sure: because OPA would not negotiate, the arena site will be up for grabs. Hopefully, those who signed the referendum will be waiting with checkbook in hand to help OPA find a suitable arena site that an equestrian neighborhood needs.

Next, what happens with Ridgeline? I’m sure that the folks living around that piece of scorched earth can’t wait to see what’s coming their way. Since the city will not own it, if the referendum seekers get their way, any number of activities could go on there. 

And then, Sully-Miller. What will happen there? We have all been told the scare tactics that this developer could sell to someone willing to build low-cost, high-density housing. What we may not know is our “dear friends” in Sacramento have passed a bill that allows for just that … and because housing is so scarce in California, these projects are put on the fast track with no EIR needed and no referendum can be sought. I hope this is clearly understood.

We need sensible people to work something out. Nobody will be completely happy, but there must be some common ground. For those who want nothing: your idealism is overwhelming, but your idealism may bring our neighborhoods something not one single person wants. Then what? Traffic like we’ve never seen, gobs of “project” houses, no open space, no OPA arena, no new trails, no extension of Santiago Oaks Park, no Ridgeline. Hopefully this isn’t what you wished for, and most hopefully, this is not what we end up with.

Tom Davidson
Orange Park Acres

Dear Editor:
A big thanks to the Orange voters who signed the Sully-Miller referendum petition, all 13,192 of you! There were 180 volunteers circulating the referendum petition at grocery stores, in public places and door-to-door in November. We delivered the signatures to the city clerk on Dec. 4. 

By the time the 30-day signature-gathering project was over, a really cool relationship had developed between the gatherers and the citizens. Over that time, people were learning and waking up to the realization that our city council had just bailed out Milan, the landowner, and their action would have negative ramifications to our city in the future.

By the third week, people started to notice that Milan was spending tons of money trying to prevent people from signing the petition. Many people expressed appreciation for our dedication and hard work, in spite of the weather.

I would like to thank the couple who answered their door after dark. I had been knocking on doors since 9:30 that morning, and had eaten only a peanut butter sandwich all day. I was starving, and they invited me in for a wonderful dinner. What a treat.

Then there were the nice folks entertaining for the UCLA - USC football game. When they answered their door, they actually muted the television so that everyone in the room could hear what I had to say. Thank you to the five people who got up from the game and signed my petition. 

Out of the blue, there was this wonderful woman who signed, and then insisted she personally take me to all the neighbors on her cul-de-sac and vouched that I was on the good side. A half an hour later she found me and said, “Get in my car, I want to take you to get signatures from my parents and their neighbors, and I’ll bring you right back here.” I hopped in, and came back with even more signatures. What a day.

I was just one of the many volunteers out there getting signatures. There are so many stories of people going out of their way to help us and cheering us on. I was honored to meet so many kind people. This referendum was record-breaking in every way, thanks to the generosity of so many. 

David Hillman

Dear Editor:
What happens when elected officials don’t listen?

If I learned nothing else from the recent Santiago Creek referendum drive, it’s how Orange City Council members keep making the same mistakes.

Several city council members erroneously stated that only a small number of Orange Park Acres residents oppose the large housing development proposed for the already congested Santiago Canyon and Cannon intersection. The referendum drive proved them wrong. 

In 2014, then-Councilman Fred Whitaker announced that Mabury Ranch favored an even larger development at that intersection. A petition opposing it proved him wrong; the majority in Mabury Ranch signed it. The recent referendum drive proved the same - more than 200 Mabury Ranch signatures were collected.

We need elected officials who don’t believe what they’re told to believe. We need representatives who are willing to get out in the community - just like the petition circulators - and learn for themselves why the citizens of Orange do not want a large development at this already clogged intersection.

Stephanie Lesinski
Mabury Ranch

Over board

Dear Editor:
I was at the Dec. 19 OUSD Board meeting. Much has been said about the inappropriate behavior of the teachers, but the behavior of the OCCA (Orange County Classical Academy) supporters hasn’t been shared with the public. 

When my friends and I arrived at the meeting, every seat was saved with an OCCA sign. This was approximately an hour before the meeting was to begin. I moved three signs and we sat down. The OCCA supporters were very rude to us, but we stayed in our seats.

The district uses blue cards for the public to fill out if they want to speak. One of OCCA’s representatives took all of the cards and put them in his back pocket. 

Approximately four hours into the meeting, some chairs behind us opened up, and we instructed a staff member to sit down. An elderly gentleman was quite rude and wouldn’t let her sit down. He called her the b-word.  

I’ve been to many school board meetings in my 25 years of teaching, and for the first time I felt unwelcome inside my own district’s boardroom. The only support I felt came from the many teachers there to oppose the OCCA charter. Unfortunately, due to the language and actions of four of the school board members, I have no confidence that they support the teachers of OUSD. 

Michelle Kauten 

Dear Editor:
I am the proud parent of a VPHS class of 2018 graduate and a current seventh grader at Cerro Villa Middle School. 

I have long been undecided on the general question of charter schools. I have read of charter schools that are phenomenal successes, and also have read of high failure rates.  I believe that every charter school application has to be assessed on its own merits and the value that it provides. 

My objections to this charter are: (1) Public monies should not be used to fund parochial/religious schools.  (2) The OCCA sponsors’ extensive history of damaging school districts.

There is absolutely a place in our community for good parochial K-12 education. If a family wishes their children to learn math, English, science or history in an environment that reinforces the values taught at home, that’s great – they should go for it.  But this type of environment should be at private schools only and not paid for on the public dime. 

I suggest that OCCA is, at its core, a religious school masquerading as a public charter only to obtain public funding. Simply stripping its application, marketing and presentations of any overtly religious language does not change that fact. 

OCCA has stated its intention of using materials originated with Hillsdale College and its Barney Charter Initiative.  

Hillsdale College is a Christian liberal arts college. It is not a public institution, a state school or a historic land grant college. Hillsdale’s values cannot reasonably be expected to be separated from the curricula it provides to school start-ups. There are other “classical” academies in Southern California that all use the same “classical” curriculum, but all are private religious schools. 

My second point is that the school board be wary of the two gentlemen who are the sponsors of this charter school. Between the two, they have brought controversy, lawsuits, and embarrassing national attention to Westminster Unified, Capistrano Unified, Los Alamitos Unified and, most notably, Orange Unified. One of them believes science is a mere policy debate, and suggested that science teachers should “teach the controversy” rather than actual straight science. The other was at the center of the expensive and embarrassing 2001 OUSD board recall. 

Allowing these men a foothold into OUSD is like inviting an arsonist in the backdoor of your home and handing him a five-gallon can of gas on the way in. By California law, districts are required to accept charter schools unless they are materially lacking in their petitions and supporting materials. This one has been lacking from the start, but, unfortunately, certain members of our school board have been eager to support it without any critical assessment. It is one more instance of some members of our school board doing more to diminish the district rather than build it up.

JJ Meis

Dear Editor:
I attended the OUSD board meeting on Dec. 19 when the OCCA received permission to move ahead. I want to let you know that the four board members who voted for the charter are the same four members who consistently choose to go against what is good for the students and staff of OUSD. They have special interests and receive financial gains for voting against their own staff/students.

The members of the charter school behaved horribly and actually lied during the meeting. Members of the charter were there to ask for favor from the OUSD Board, yet made rude comments, interrupted the proceedings and made fun of board members.

Although I am Christian, I follow the rules when it comes to not indoctrinating students with my religious beliefs. And, I trust that other doctrines are not being taught to our children. That is what a private, separate school is for. Not one that is intermingled with a public school. 

During the meeting, the members of the charter also spoke negatively against our union. I grew up in Detroit in the 1960s and 70s, and was frightened of union activities. When I came to OUSD, I slowly learned about the union and its activities and benefits to employees. I learned how to make our voices, opinions and concerns heard -- and we have seen positive changes within our district. That is the union at work.

I am disappointed that our board members voted against OUSD staff and students. 

Thank you to Kathy Moffat, Kris Erickson and Andrea Yamasaki for standing up for OUSD. I appreciate it.

Lauri Flaugher
Former OUSD employee

Dear Editor:
As a parent of four children in Orange Unified School District, I have seen our district gain some amazing momentum over the last two years with new construction, innovative school programs, and increased community involvement. 

While we have two highly successful charter schools (El Rancho and Santiago) that add to this success, all charter schools are not created equal. Data shows charter schools are inherently risky and can be a costly and potentially disruptive experiment for our students and district finances. 

A highly qualified, expert staff at OUSD spent countless hours analyzing the Orange County Classical Academy charter school petition, producing an extensive report detailing significant deficiencies in the school’s proposed curriculum, budget, and implementation plans. Based on its careful analysis and findings, district staff recommended the OUSD Board of Education deny it.  Nonetheless, Trustee Rick Ledesma dismissed the district’s report, proclaiming staff’s findings were “just their opinion.” With little more to add to the discussion, other than a condescending tone and a few ignorant questions, Ledesma moved to approve the charter without requiring the school to fix any of the problems identified by the staff. Trustees Brenda Lebsack, John Ortega and Alexia Deligianni-Brydges followed suit, voting to push through the OCCA charter and turning a blind eye to its egregious shortfalls. 

The outright dismissal and disdain these board members showed toward experts with decades of experience is not only shocking, but irresponsible. OUSD deserves board members who won’t ignore data and facts at the expense of our district staff and students. 

Carrie Lundell

Dear Editor:
In 2001, OUSD faced a great fiasco, brought on primarily by the nefarious works of a man named Mark Bucher. In four years, 727 teachers resigned, almost half of the total district staff of 1,500. After a board recall and great upheaval, OUSD had to battle to create a better reputation. Now, there is great positive buzz in the community about OUSD, which was hard-earned after years of corruption. 

After a long and contentious meeting on Dec. 19, four trustees voted to approve a charter petition brought by none other than Mark Bucher, the same guy who represented the recalled majority that brought so much pain to OUSD in 2001. Why would they allow the man who tried to destroy our district from the inside out last time get a foothold here again? The answer lies in where he invests his money. Rick Ledesma, Brenda Lebsack, John Ortega and Alexia Deligianni-Brydges were bought off, and the rest of us must suffer.   

Sean Griffin
Santa Ana

Dear Editor:
I attended the Dec. 19 school board meeting. I specifically went to express my concerns regarding the petition for the OCCA charter school.

Watching the OUSD Board majority move so quickly to approve a petition dripping with fatal flaws was reminiscent of the 2015 appointment of Greg Salas, who, despite being the least qualified of eight candidates to fill a vacated board seat, was a friend of the majority -- so he was quickly voted in by Rick Ledesma, John Ortega and others. This appointment set into motion a public outcry, a recall of Salas, and an expensive special election, which Salas overwhelmingly lost. That cost the district close to $200,000.

This same majority again voted on an item that will cost the district money. This time it is projected to be $13 million over the next five years.

 We need trustees that are looking out for the good of our students and who are fiscally responsible, not board members worried about financing their next campaign. Ledesma, Brenda Lebsack, Alexia Deligianni-Brydges, and Ortega need to go!

Lynn Frediani 

Dear Editor:
The OUSD school board voted 4-3 to approve the Orange County Classical Academy. OUSD is home to four excellent charter schools already, but this was most definitely not an excellent petition. From the beginning, it was a train wreck, with the original petition claiming formal affiliations with two universities, including Chapman, that turned out to be false. Things only got worse.

As is the law, OUSD financial, curriculum, human resources and legal experts conducted their review of the petition. Staff strongly recommended rejecting it, based on a long list of deficiencies set out in a 14-page, detailed report. These included things like: the school has no physical location, no workable budget, no plan for special education and no formal affiliation with the college it will be relying on for training and curriculum. These deficiencies threaten OUSD's  fiscal health. 

Despite these deficiencies, the petitioners had a relationship with the board majority. Rick Ledesma could hardly wait to approve the petition. John Ortega, Alexia Deligianni-Brydges and Brenda Lebsack gleefully followed, completely dismissing Trustee Kris Erickson’s reasonable motion to amend to conditional approval to address the liabilities. 

How can this be? Follow the money. Both Lebsack and Ortega’s campaigns were nearly 100 percent funded - tens of thousands of dollars - by a charter school PAC that Mark Bucher, the petitioner for OCCA, runs. That PAC is largely funded by the same group from which Ledesma gets a large chunk of his campaign funds. Coincidence? 

Deligianni-Brydges didn’t face opposition in the last election, but she sure will this time. I wonder from where she will get her campaign donations? 

Michelle Weisenberg