October 28, 2000 -- Foothill Leader
Real issue gets lost in confusion
By Anita Susan Brenner
Spinmeisters, public relations consultants and sleight-of-hand artists
employ similar methods.
It's called "shake the rattle at the baby."
Like the card sharp who waves a deuce in his right hand to keep us
from seeing the ace hidden in his left, political spin shifts our focus
away from the real issues.
Case in point: the Edison ball field negotiations.
On Sept. 23, I wrote a column noting that La Canada Flintridge City
Manager Jerry Fulwood had confirmed that negotiations were underway for a
long-term lease of the Southern California Edison right-of-way north of
Foothill Boulevard. He told me these negotiations had originated in
closed sessions of the City Council.
Three days later, La Canada Flintridge Mayor Dave Spence sent a letter
to residents along the right-of-way pointing out the press coverage --
"You might have read recently ..." -- and asserting that there were no
"active" negotiations ("We do not know if this property is available.").
You'd think that in a town with a 3-2 council split, three newspapers,
tons of citizen activists and teams of investigative journalists, someone
would have immediately focused on the Aug. 3 letter from Edison to Jerry
Fulwood. That letter began, "As per our conversations regarding our
Southern California Edison right of way between Indiana and El Vago
Street by the city to use as soccer fields ..."
You'd think that with all the newsprint expended that someone would
have asked why the city didn't follow the May 17 advice of County
Supervisor Mike Antonovich, as reflected in the city's minutes: "Easement
and cost of renovation of property under the Edison power lines -- A
meeting is to be scheduled between the city and Supervisor Antonovich's
staff regarding this matter. The city was asked to survey the property
owners living near the power lines regarding the proposed fields."
That's a survey. Not a letter.
The neighbors, who are the people most affected by this, were never
They were never surveyed, corresponded to, advised or invited to tea.
The spin started last week, when the City Council unleashed a "he
said, she said" spitting contest over statements made or not made during
closed session hearings.
Deborah Orlik and Jerry Martin had complained that Spence sent the
Sept. 26 letter without their knowledge or permission.
Spence and Anthony Portantino said that blanket permission had been
Meanwhile, Deputy City Atty. Mark Steres contradicted both sides.
In published comments to the Foothill Leader, Steres disputed Orlik
and Martin's contention that the Sept. 26 letter had been sent out
Steres said the council gave Spence unanimous approval to notify
residents of the city's discussions with Southern California Edison about
acquiring land for sports fields. But Steres also admitted that the
Edison negotiations were discussed in a closed session, thus
contradicting the letter that was sent out.
And so on and so forth.
So now, the focus has shifted. Or should I say, the focus has been
Instead of focusing on the needs (and rights) of the neighbors, who
were left out of the loop, everyone is speculating on what happened in
the closed session hearings.
The closed session is the elephant and the community is in the
position of the five blind men.
The only records that the press (and public) have a right to see are
the notices issued before the closed session hearing and the minutes
It's been difficult to reconstruct the Edison closed session because
the city posted two notices for the Sept. 5 council meeting.
One notice was posted in the normal fashion on Aug. 30. The other was
posted as a special meeting notice on Sept. 1, the Friday before Labor
Day. The meeting was on the Tuesday after.
Both notices list several closed session matters, but the Edison
negotiations are not mentioned in the first notice. They are mentioned in
the second notice. The negotiating parties, according to the notice, were
the city manager and Southern California Edison. The purposes of the
special meeting were "price and terms of payment."
If the city was not in active negotiations, as the Sept. 26 letter
states, what was so urgent about the Edison property so as to require the
short notice required for a "special meeting"?
And if the city was in active negotiations, why not tell the
Two notices. One meeting.
Shake the rattle at the baby?
copyright September 26, 2000 Anita Susan Brenner