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DANA PARSONS

Conspiracy against Rossmoor cityhood?

October 21, 2008|DANA PARSONS

When it comes to conspiracy theories, count me in. I just wouldn't have expected to find one in the unincorporated, quiet little bedroom community of Rossmoor.

But there's a good one brewing in the enclave of roughly 10,500 people nestled between Seal Beach and Los Alamitos, where voters will decide in two weeks whether to become a city.

An apparently sizable number of locals favoring cityhood wonder why the union representing the Orange County Sheriff's Department is so actively opposing them. Why did the association pay for a telephone survey of residents a few months ago and why has it continued to pay for mailers and signs and phone banks urging residents to vote against Measure U on Nov. 4?

Isn't it obvious? The association opposes cityhood because that might end Rossmoor's reliance on the Sheriff's Department for patrolling the community. Once it attains cityhood, Rossmoor might decide to join with Seal Beach or Los Alamitos or create its own police force.

Ah, if it were that simple, we wouldn't have a conspiracy theory.

Pro-incorporation leaders are convinced that the deputies association opposes them as part of a vendetta against Board of Supervisors Chairman John Moorlach, in whose district Rossmoor lies and who has led the fight to rein in the costs of deputies' pensions.

As the theory goes, whatever the union can do to upset Moorlach, it will do. The theory extends to the rest of the board, a majority of which apparently favors incorporation, as well.

Eric Christensen is co-chairman of the Rossmoor pro-cityhood group and a corporate attorney. He says the deputy association's dislike of Moorlach and the other supervisors is the only motive that makes sense.

"The union, in my belief, is using us as a pawn in the fight against the board," Christensen says.

Association president Wayne Quint dismisses that accusation, saying the union has gotten involved several times in the last decade in annexations, incorporation and taxation issues. In Rossmoor's case, residents will have to approve a utility tax as a condition for cityhood. The ballot will offer either a 7% or 9% option.

"I don't see this tax being enough to enhance or improve public safety," Quint says, "and that's why we oppose it."

Why not let Rossmoor voters worry about that? Why is that a political issue for deputies? Especially when Quint concedes he's not saying that Rossmoor will be less safe if it incorporates, only that it won't be more safe.

I couldn't get Quint to say in simple language that he's simply worried about losing a steady gig for his members in Rossmoor.

That's why Christensen thinks Quint is taking out his pique at the supervisors (and especially Moorlach) on Rossmoor. He says Quint knows that Rossmoor leaders on both sides of the cityhood issue have crunched numbers and retaining the Sheriff's Department as the community's law enforcement agency makes the most fiscal sense.

So, what's the union's beef?

Simple, says Christensen. The vendetta theory.

The utility tax, while necessary for Rossmoor's viability as a new city, would be one of several revenue sources. And when Quint says, "We believe to tax someone 7% or 9%, you should see a significant improvement in public safety," I roll my eyes a bit at his concern over how Rossmoor spends its money.

But is this really about Quint vs. Moorlach? Can I buy that theory?

Not completely, but Christensen knows how to make an argument.

"I know for a fact it's not about public safety," he says, "because I know for a fact we'll be a safer" as a city.

The vendetta theory is the only thing that makes sense, he says. "It's completely illogical that the deputy sheriffs would not support us incorporating and contracting with them on a full-time contract basis. So the only thing I can assume is this relates in some way with the battle with the board, and the union is thinking somewhere in its mind that if they stick it to the board, it can only help them."

I asked Moorlach for his take. Talk about your party-poopers: He doubts that Quint's motive is to sock it to either him or his fellow supervisors. Rather, Moorlach says, association officials are "basically trying to preserve their jobs. That's what I would conclude. [Quint] is doing what a union head would do."

That might end things, except for a potentially ironic final act.

The union's involvement has already alienated some in the community who might be on the first City Council if residents vote for cityhood. Christensen, who says he won't be a candidate, says, "Nobody in Rossmoor was thinking about using anybody but the Sheriff's Department on this. Until, of course, the union started funding all of this."

Dana Parsons' column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821 or at dana.parsons@latimes.com. An archive of his recent columns is online at latimes.com/parsons.

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