DANA POINT — An already contentious political climate in this seaside community may have taken a vicious turn over the weekend, as two residents say a dead cat was placed in their mailbox in retaliation for their support of a city councilman facing a recall vote.
The incident bore unsettling similarities to others that took place about a year ago, when two City Council members found cats that had been killed and left in conspicuous places at or near their homes.
Stan and Glenda Rosen, longtime residents who helped found the city's Animal Rescue Foundation, said their mail carrier found the cat, its windpipe punctured, shoved inside their mailbox Saturday.
The cruel stunt, they said, is a political payback for their financial support of Harold R. Kaufman, one of two council members facing recall in a March 26 special vote that has divided this already politically fractured community.
Kaufman and Mayor Karen Lloreda have been targeted for recall because of their support of a controversial development on the Dana Point Headlands. Kaufman accepted financial contributions from the Headlands landowners, and Lloreda voted to approve the development plan.
The Rosens said they made a $100 donation to Kaufman's campaign in December, and they have also been vocal supporters of Lloreda.
"We have a mental case in our midst in this lovely seaside town, and it is the responsibility of everyone to speak up so this is stopped," said Glenda Rosen, adding that several members of the community have put together a $2,500 reward for information leading to the capture of the person who is killing the cats.
"Someone with a propensity toward violence to animals is not far removed from harming someone in the community," Rosen said.
Kaufman was skeptical that the Rosens were targets of a political dirty trick.
"Without some kind of proof, I think it's just a weird, sorry, sick incident," Kaufman said. "I don't want to minimize this, but I don't want to make this into a conspiracy."
Jack Roberts, one of the leaders of the recall of Kaufman and Lloreda, said his group would never have anything to do with such an act of violence. He was alarmed that anyone would suggest otherwise.
"I can tell you there is no way we would do anything like this," Roberts said. "For them to accuse us of this is really, really a cheap shot."
Others, including Lloreda, weren't so reluctant, and point to similar incidents that took place when the city was in the throes of a fierce debate over the development of the 121-acre Headlands, which since the 1940s has been owned by the M.H. Sherman Co. and Chandis Securities Inc. Chandis Securities, a firm that oversees the financial holdings of the Chandler family, is a major stockholder in Times Mirror Co., publisher of the Los Angeles Times.
Lloreda said her cat was stabbed and tossed into a yard near her home about a year ago. Days later, Councilwoman Judy Curreri heard a thud against the garage door of her home. She opened the door and found her neighbor's cat--its body still warm but its neck broken--lying on her driveway.
Both women, who supported development of the Headlands, said they believe the incidents were politically motivated.
"This just says that a few people have completely lost control and are misdirecting their anger," Lloreda said. "It is very frightening to me."
That cats have been chosen as the unfortunate bearers of these messages could stem from an emotionally charged incident that followed the discovery of pocket mice--a species previously believed extinct--on the Headlands more than two years ago.
In a comment that offended local conservationists, a resident of the Headlands told a newspaper reporter that her cat frequently brought home dead mice, perhaps including pocket mice. That resident's cat was killed and left on her doorstep days later, Lloreda said.
In 1994, the council approved a plan to develop the Headlands with a hotel and hundreds of homes. That proposal was rescinded by a local referendum later last year, but the controversy lingered, and some say it set the stage for the recall vote scheduled for March 26.
San Clemente Animal Control is investigating Saturday's incident, authorities said.