Yesterday, January 12, was a very historic day. In 1932 Hattie W. Carraway of Arkansas became the first woman to be elected to the United States Senate. It was also the first time that a woman Chair of the Board of Supervisors, Supervisor Pat Bates, was succeeded by another woman Chair, Supervisor Janet Nguyen. And, it was a meeting adjourned in memory of the first woman ever elected to the Orange County Board of Supervisors, former Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder.
After sending you the Look Backs for 1994, the last year that Harriett served on the Board of Supervisors, it seems appropriate that Chris Knap would be credited with the first article below. He was with the OC Register while Supervisor Wieder was in office.
I adjourned in Harriett’s memory. She was kind enough to participate in our 2004 Treasurer’s Conference to discuss the Orange County Bankruptcy filing on its tenth anniversary. I can still remember her saying, “You’re running for my seat!” After moving into this office, we found a few memorabilia items from her administration. So I enjoyed a lunch with Harriett at the Balboa Bay Club and had fun pulling the items out of the bag. She was always helpful to me and encouraging of me. We exchanged e-mails often and we just were on the phone together a couple of weeks ago. Consequently, I’m comfortable in referring to her as “Harriett.”
I read the inside cover of her book, “Breaking Through: The Political Journey of the Honorable Harriett M. Wieder,” for my adjourning remarks.
The second article is from the opening comments from my colleagues and me on our impressions of the past year, 2009, and some brief thoughts about the upcoming year. I am very nervous about the trends. Our revenues are down. Sacramento is in denial. And people are moving out of the state.
Consequently, as you’ll see in the third OC Register article, I voted against the use of Fund 130 funds for a memorial. As I explained last week, these funds came from an early retirement funding discount. The previous Board put the savings into a fund for parks. Supervisors Campbell, Bates and I turned all of our remaining funds over to the County for the general budget last year, thanks to its current fiscal crisis. And we reaffirmed it in the County’s budget last June. I don’t agree with the continued use of these funds by my colleagues and have voted against these agenda items whenever they have come before the Board. It’s tough to explain to someone you’re laying off why we felt spending $350,000 on some plaques in a pocket park (versus playing equipment for toddlers) was a top priority. And, as a immigrant from a country that was occupied by the Nazis, I certainly appreciate the importance of memorials. I’m just not sure this is the time for another one.
In the fourth and final OC Register article we have former State Senator Joe Dunn, who is trying to fix a non-problem just because our neighboring counties have adopted ordinances addressing lobbying. If you watch the exchange during the “Public Comments” section at the conclusion of our Board meeting, you’ll see that he wasn’t even that familiar with his own proposal and couldn’t even answer my elementary questions. We’ve reviewed his proposal and it needs serious editing changes and corrections. This could have been done with a little teamwork with one of our Board offices. But, Mr. Dunn had never engaged one of our offices in any dialogue on the topic before dropping it in our laps. One walked away from the exchange feeling like Dunn was playing partisan games and not sincerely interested in reforms. If he were interested in reforms in this area, he would have a track record.
Harriett Wieder was one of the first to go rogue
By CHRIS KNAP
Harriett Pulvers Wieder, the henna-haired county supervisor who sometimes delighted, sometimes upset, but seldom bored her Orange County constituents, once told a story about herself that explained a lot.
Learning to drive in Detroit in 1935, she turned the wrong way down a one-way street – and panicked. Her mother, Sonja Pulvers, urged her on:
Former county supervisor Harriett Wieder, right, receives a congratulatory hug from Michele Ryan of Huntington Beach following the April, 2004 grand opening of the Harriett Wieder Regional Park in Huntington Beach.
"Keep going! You’re going the right way! The others are wrong!” Wieder later recalled her saying.
"She taught me to be a risk-taker and not be afraid to venture out."
Wieder, the first woman elected to the Orange County Board of Supervisors and former Huntington Beach mayor, was admitted to Hoag Hospital Thursday with severe breathing problems and congestive heart failure, friends said. She died Monday evening. She was 89.
"Harriett Wieder was one of the few modern supervisors who would tackle difficult issues and difficult problems, and often succeed in solving them. For a board that is mostly passive, she really was a breath of fresh air," said William R. Mitchell, who chaired Orange County Common Cause during much of her 16-year tenure on the board, which began in 1978.
Local political activists recalled her as a leader who often took a pioneering role on issues, but at other times tripped over her own feet.
She was a Republican who supported Bill Clinton for president. A supervisor who used her teeth to peel an orange at a fundraiser for abused children. A saucy senior citizen who flaunted her gams in a glossy magazine centerfold (hair down, scarf billowing across her body, confessing a love for parties, hot tubs and neck rubs).
Harriett Pulvers was born in Toronto in 1920, and grew up in Detroit. She met her future husband, Irving, on a double date at the ice-skating rink. (He was her friend’s date). They married in 1941 and moved to Los Angeles.
Wieder’s career in government and politics began in 1963, after she complained about rubbish service to the Los Angeles City Council. Staffers for then-Mayor Sam Yorty, a Democrat known for his diverse supporters, hired her as an aide.
"I fell into a garbage can and came out smelling like a rose,” Wieder joked many years later.
Harriet and Irving Wieder moved south to Orange County in 1971, after she had run unsuccessfully for Los Angeles City Council. She was elected to the Huntington Beach City Council just three years later.
"She definitely stood out. She knew where she wanted to go,” recalls Huntington Beach historian Alicia Wentworth, who was elected City Clerk the same year Wieder won her council seat. "She was on the council four years and then ran for the board of supervisors."
Wieder’s early years on the board were not easy ones. The board was somewhat set in its ways. The incumbent supervisors didn’t warm quickly to a woman in their midst. Some board members denigrated Wieder’s management and organizational skills, popped into the men’s room for exclusionary caucuses and plotted ways to avoid rotating the board chairmanship to her.
"She wasn’t one of the good old boys. It took a few years for the board to acknowledge that women could be supervisors," recalls long-time county activist Shirley Grindle, a former county planning commissioner.
Grindle said Wieder didn’t help matters by routinely losing her place on the lengthy board agendas, sometimes commenting at length on some item that had already been approved.
"It was always an interesting meeting … because Harriett was often on the wrong agenda item,” Grindle said.
But Wieder grew into the job, tackling issues such as water rights, wetlands development and crime-fighting technology. In 1989, after an accused rapist was acquitted because DNA tests arrived too late – and then was arrested five months later for raping a 12-year-old Huntington Beach girl – Wieder helped Sheriff Brad Gates fund one of the first DNA labs in the nation.
She also tried to broker a compromise between land owners, environmental activists and slow growth activists over development of the Bolsa Chica wetlands.
But some critics complained Wieder spent so much time fundraising with developers that she lost touch of her neighborhood roots.
In 1987 the Board of Supervisors approved a series of development agreements that locked in zoning restrictions for 60,000 south-county homes, effectively giving land developers an end-run around a pending slow-growth initiative.
Infuriated activists immediately began recall procedures against Wieder and Thomas Riley, the two senior supervisors. That recall effort would eventually fail, but it ushered in a no-holds-barred period of county politics.
After years as an outsider on the county board, Wieder was now seen, by some critics, as an entrenched insider.
In 1988 she launched a primary run for the 42nd District Congressional seat, which had been vacated by fellow Republican Dan Lungren. It would become the most disastrous election of her career.
During the campaign opponents doing basic opposition research discovered that Wieder had been lying for more than 15 years about receiving a journalism degree from Wayne State University, a Detroit college she had never attended.
"I’m embarrassed," Wieder told a Register reporter during an interview in her campaign headquarters in Sunset Beach. "My skeleton fell out of the closet."
Wieder, the eldest of three children, said she wanted to attend college and even took college-preparation classes in high school in 1938. But the family had only enough money to send one child to college. The honor went to her brother.
Wieder said she always felt ashamed that she hadn’t gone to college.But after the revelation about her phony resume became public, she learned that it had been an unnecessary lie all along.
"In fact, I’ve had a lot of people identify with me," she said.
Dana Rohrabacher, a former staffer in the Reagan White House, defeated Wieder by a 3 to 2 margin, an upset that stunned pundits who had given her the nod. When the extent of her defeat became clear, she at first lashed out at the media for "sensationalism."Later she invited Rohrabacher to her election night suite to meet her family, and Rohrabacher emerged calling her "a gutsy lady, and a classy lady."
The congressional debacle nearly cost Wieder her supervisor seat as well. She was forced into a runoff election in 1990 – despite 12 years on the board – but successfully defended her seat.
Although supporting many of the values of the Republican party, Wieder had long criticized its social policies, including its stand against abortion rights.
In 1992, she stunned Orange County’s Republican leaders – including many who had turned against her in the 1988 election – by endorsing Bill Clinton for president (joining developer Kathryn Thompson, Western Digital CEO Roger Johnson and four other prominent Orange County Republicans).
Local Republican leaders were apoplectic.
"That’s not a Benedict Arnold. That’s a Judas," said the Rev. Lou Sheldon, founder of the Anaheim-based Traditional Values Coalition and a GOP supporter.
But Wieder had already weathered the worst. In turning away from the county’s GOP machine, she found herself more in tune with the roots of her political career.
After fellow Supervisor Don Roth pleaded guilty to corruption and resigned from office in 1993, then-chairman Wieder supported a new county ordinance banning gifts to supervisors and their aides. It was the strongest such ordinance in the state.
"I didn’t appreciate being painted with the same brush (as Roth)," Wieder said afterward. "The allegations really reflected on all of us."
Political reformers still credit Wieder with helping them accomplish almost overnight a reform they had sought for years.
"I’ll never forget her infamous statement that the only reason anyone (at the Hall of Administration) gets any gifts, the only reason they even get a cup of coffee, is because they work for the supervisors,” Grindle said.
She was also the main force behind Cal-OPTIMA, the billion-dollar, community-organized health care delivery system for the needy, and was instrumental in supporting what would become the Orangewood Children’s Home.
"She had a real warm place in her heart for the abused children of Orange County," said former Supervisor William Steiner, who then headed the program for kids. "In our fundraising efforts to raise enough money to build Orangewood, we had an orange peeling contest with the members of Board of Supervisors. Harriet was the only supervisor to use her teeth to peel the orange. She was a really good sport."
Wieder’s political career effectively ended in 1994, when Orange County fled into bankruptcy court after losing $1.64 billion in public money.
The supervisors had been warned: An obscure Republican challenger named John M.W. Moorlach insisted that Treasurer Robert L. Citron, an independent official, had built a financial house of cards that could lose billions if interest rates rose. "Prepare for the worst-case scenario," Moorlach warned in a letter to the supervisors.
Wieder and the board supported Citron for re-election – and he won.
Moorlach turned out to be right. A series of interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve throughout the fall of 1994 devastated Citron’s leveraged bets. Orange County admitted on Dec. 1, 1994, that the pool had lost at least $1.5 billion. Five days later the county fled into bankruptcy court.
Wieder had announced her retirement quite some time before, but that fact was obscured by the largest municipal bankruptcy in history. She never again ran for elected office.
Although Wieder spent most of her career emphasizing her abilities as a politician and a leader, she was also a mother, to a daughter, Gayle Tauber, and a son, Leland. Gayle created a line of health-food cereals. Leland became a consultant to land developers.
"As a woman of many firsts, our mother led the way for so many, a woman who lived every experience and cherished the friendships made with all of you," Gayle and Leland wrote in an email to friends Tuesday.
"Many of you knew Harriett was a woman who would easily share her convictions in the most demonstrative ways. She was a woman who made things happen. "You don’t just talk about things, you do them." And our mother did make things happen. She was a vital, passionate force of nature."
Wieder lived at the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach in her later years, and launched herself full-force into charity work.
"I had lunch with her a few months ago," Steiner said. "She was very, very frail, but she was sharp as could be with regard to what was going on in the county. She definitely had her opinions about things."
There are parks and multipurpose rooms named after Wieder, but Orange County will most remember her presiding from the Hall of Administration.
"She really is one of the most memorable politicians I’ve seen in this county,” said Mitchell, the former Common Cause leader. "She certainly had a style and flair that you don’t see in most elected officials. So many people are just interested in conforming. … Harriett couldn’t care less."
A private family funeral will be held in Los Angeles. A Celebration of Life is being planned for Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 3 pm at University Synagogue, Irvine.
Register Staff Writers Teri Sforza and Jennifer Muir contributed to this report.
The life of Harriett Wieder
Born: Oct. 7, 1920
1970s: Worked as assistant to former Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty
1974: Elected to Huntington Beach City Council
1976: Elected Huntington Beach mayor
1978: Became first woman elected to the Orange County Board of Supervisors, representing the 2nd District.
1988:Launched a GOP primary run for the 42nd District congressional seat. During the campaign, opponents reveal that she lied about her education. Wieder loses to Dana Rohrbacher.
1992: Endorses Bill Clinton for president, drawing stinging criticism from Orange County Republican leaders.
1993: Spurred the board to enact a county ordinance banning gifts to supervisors and their aides. It is the strongest such ordinance in the state.
1994: Decided against running for re-election to the board. Later that year, on Dec. 6, county filed for protection under federal bankruptcy laws.
1995: Retired from county board
Recession rocks county government
By JENNIFER MUIR
SANTA ANA Declining sales tax revenue and a recession that’s left nearly 10 percent of residents unemployed are shrinking county coffers, crippling the county’s ability to pay for everything from public safety to basic infrastructure. And there’s no relief in sight for 2010.
"It was a tough year," Supervisor John Moorlach said. "And I have a sense that we might say in the next couple years that it may be the good ‘ole days because of the trends we’re seeing."
In their annual addresses to the public Tuesday, supervisors discussed the challenges of steering the county through a deep recession while continuing to provide vital public services.
Supervisors approved a $5.5 billion budget in June – an 18 percent decrease from the previous year. That was achieved by everything from layoffs to financial program restructuring to reductions of capital and information technology projects. In all, 271 county employees were laid off, and an additional 5,705 were affected by furloughs and pay reductions. County supervisors voted to cut their own pay – as well as the pay of other elected officials and executive managers — by five percent.
If tax and job rate numbers are any indicator, 2010 won’t be any easier.
The recession continues to eat into vehicle license fee, sales and property tax revenue, incoming board Chairwoman Janet Nguyen said. Additionally, the jobless rate has grown from 4.4 percent in January 2008 to 9.4 percent in January 2009. Until those rates improve, she said, the county’s financial health is not likely to rebound.
The good news, Supervisor Pat Bates said, is that the board spent 2009 leading the county through "one of the most concentrated efforts to scale back expenditures in our history."
"And it’s been no easy endeavor," Bates said.
In her outgoing speech as chairwoman of the board, Bates highlighted some of the efforts to reign in costs:
The county struck an agreement with the Orange County Employees Association to create a new, lower-cost pension formula option for employees. The county is waiting for the Internal Revenue Service to help implement the new option, Nguyen said.
Supervisors also voted to appeal a lawsuit challenging retroactive pension benefits for deputies.
"We agreed to see the case through because of the potential cost savings to the county," Bates said. "A successful outcome at the appellate level could result in significant cost-savings and potentially set a precedent that can assist governments throughout the state with similar pension liability issues."
The county has spent more than $2 million on that challenge to date, records show.
The county’s independent performance audit director has continued to identify ways to improve county government, including a planning department audit that was prompted by consumer complaints of overcharging and unnecessary bureaucracy. Work is underway to correct some of those problems.
The supervisors touted other highlights as well: Their work to preserve the Orange County Fairgrounds by submitting a bid for the land. Their plan to accept a donation of 20,000 acres of rugged wild land from the Irvine Company. New disaster preparedness services aimed at preparing residents for fire hazards and emergencies. And the delivery of nearly 900,000 doses of the H1N1 vaccine to residents.
"We stand together, ready to make the difficult decisions that are necessary to maintain the financial integrity of the county so that we may preserve our core public safety, infrastructure and safety net services for the citizens of Orange County," Nguyen said.
Update: Supervisors OK Vietnamese and American monument in park
By DEEPA BHARATH
SANTA ANA Orange County Supervisors voted 4-1 today to approve a $350,000 memorial dedicated to Vietnamese and American history to be funded by Supervisor Janet Nguyen with park money.
Supervisor John Moorlach cast the dissenting vote.
The memorial will be installed in Roger Stanton Park in Midway City.
Nguyen said the memorial will serve as an "interactive, educational wall exhibit" at the park where children gather for after-school programs.
"Other than a few picnic tables, there is no other utilization of that park area," she said.
Westminster resident Darrell Nolta said at the meeting that he believes spending $350,000 of park money on a monument is "ridiculous" at a time of economic crisis.
"$350,000 for plaques in a wall?" he asked. "This is nonsense."
According to staff reports, the Fund 130 money will be handed to a nonprofit called the Vietnamese Community Culture and Performance Arts Society, which will design and build the memorial.
The memorial will feature U.S. history, including presidents from different periods in history, according to the report. It will also portray important events in the history of the Vietnamese American community.
Supervisor Chris Norby supported the monument, saying it will remind the viewing public about the lessons of Vietnam War, which are applicable even today.
"History often tends to repeat itself," he said.
The staff report explains that the historical figures will be portrayed in plaques affixed on the wall monuments with descriptions of the heroes’ accomplishments.
Westminster has two monuments — the Vietnam War Memorial at the Sid Goldstein Freedom Park and the Boat People Memorial at Westminster Memorial Park. The city of Garden Grove is also considering a Vietnam War Museum as an added touri