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Newport Beach Council Debates Nichols Flap

A packed meeting is rocked by arguments over the official's remarks last month about Mexicans on the Corona del Mar beach.

July 09, 2003|Zeke Minaya | Times Staff Writer

The Newport Beach City Council continued to struggle late into the night Tuesday to resolve the controversy sparked by racially charged comments from Councilman Richard Nichols last month.

The six other council members have each asked Richard Nichols to resign since he made his comments to the Daily Pilot, a newspaper serving Newport Beach and Costa Mesa. Nichols said he opposed expanding the grassy area at Corona del Mar State Beach because "with grass we usually get Mexicans coming in there early in the morning and they claim it as theirs, and it becomes their personal, private grounds all day."

Nichols said that what he meant was that the small area of beach should not be reduced by adding a grassy picnic area.

The council chambers Tuesday was standing room only. TV news crews lined the walls.

The audience appeared split between supporters and opponents of Nichols.

When a woman told the council, "Dick Nichols, don't you dare step down tonight. We put you up there," her comments were greeted with loud applause.

As public comment began, arguments broke out between members of the audience.

At one point, Nichols accused Mayor Steve Bromberg of leading the fight to force him from the council.

Nichols has said that political rivals have taken his remarks out of context.

"To get this [meeting] rip-roaring ... they [council members] contacted everybody in the Mexican community, including many of those who are for Mexico, including those that feel this is their country," he said. "They are trying to activate many of the pro-Mexican organizations. In general, most of those organizations want to see California turned over to Mexico."

Nichols said the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a nonprofit advocacy group, is among the organizations that take such a position and attack him. Steve Reyes, a staff attorney for the organization, said his group does not promote the return of California to Mexico.

Bromberg, who is a member of the council, said the Nichols controversy goes beyond the comments about Corona del Mar. He said that during Nichols' short stint as a public official he has shown a pattern of racially derogatory speech.

Nichols, 63, joined the council in November as a supporter of the Greenlight initiative, a growth-control measure that voters passed in 2000. He was publicly rebuked this month by council members for making a comment that suggested a planning commissioner was taking money for his vote on a zoning variance.

On Tuesday's agenda was a proposed resolution condemning what was called a pattern of speech that "clearly demonstrates a racial or ethnic bias against people of Hispanic origin," according to the measure.

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