Letter to the Editor: What I Learned Being a Citizen Activist

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Prior to forming the Balboa Island Preservation Association, I enjoyed splitting my time between California, where I grew up and relaxing at my Balboa Island cottage, and Texas, where I built a successful technology design business.

Balboa Island has always been magical and anyone who lives or visits the island knows the splendor of this iconic location. I have heard many people say “when you come over that bridge, it’s like stepping back into a simpler time.”

But, over two years ago all that changed for me.

After hearing from a distraught neighbor that the City was removing our mature eucalyptus trees, which have gracefully lined Marine Ave for 80 years, my inquisitive nature kicked-in.

Residents were told the trees were diseased, dangerous, and must be removed. My previous education in landscape architecture told me something seemed off. How could 40 mature trees, which have stood the test of time, suddenly come down with the same disease at the same time?

I learned that residents had very little information, so I dug deeper. Little did I know that my findings would throw me into the depths of being a citizen activist, likened to Alice in Wonderland who fell down the rabbit hole!

What I found out was the person in charge of protecting our quaint and historical village was planning on “redeveloping” it to be as stated “a more desirable place to visit,” with plans that look more like Palm Springs on a bad day.

Unfathomable, considering Marine Ave is one of the most beloved locations in the world and represents an iconic Southern California beach village that welcomes both bohemians and jet setters alike.

Now, getting back to the rabbit hole, like many citizens I just assumed that our City representative was doing the right thing. But then I received a letter from Councilman Jeff Herdman, which was scolding—he was livid that I would send a mailer to residents asking them if they were aware of his proposed project.

Herdman said, “not one person opposed the project.” As more residents became aware of the project, and that the renderings were void of any eucalyptus trees, in favor of African Tulips or Palm trees, it was apparent we needed to mobilize and quick!

In the following years, I learned that the process of an appeal at the City level is time consuming, expensive and stacked in the favor of the Council’s agenda. Like many people, prior to getting involved in this cause, I had never been to one Council meeting in my life. You can imagine the shock and dismay of only having a few minutes to present our case, when City staff is allowed an unlimited amount of time.

In the case against removing the trees; staff 1.5 hours, residents 3 minutes.

I learned that reports can be altered and that scare tactics are “king” for Cities that desire to push projects through. I learned that staff does not create projects, but supports the elected officials’ agenda, regardless if what they are doing clearly does NOT represent what the community wants.

The most important thing I learned was, if a community doesn’t have transparent representation, they have nothing.

Every four years, we have the ability to review Council’s record with an opportunity to vote for who we believe represented us well. Sound simple? Well, think again. Incumbents have leverage that newcomers can’t even touch, even those incumbents with poor reputations.

First, incumbents know how to play the game. They leverage specific hot buttons of the community, whether they voted in favor of what the community wanted or not. They build relationships with publishers and organizations, and strong-arm other Councilmembers they previously helped to protect them during campaigning.

And, they stack social media platforms, like Nextdoor, with paid campaign operatives as Leads, dominating the message by censoring and bullying residents that disagree with them.

Worst of all, because campaigns are weak in defamation laws, totally false and slanderous messages can be promoted to discredit opponents.

Such is the case when Herdman’s campaign sent an email to local residents authored by “the secret society” which alleged unfounded infractions of City Council candidate Noah Blom’s business operations by individuals who had no names. The allegations were vehemently denied by candidate Blom and were so bogus that publishers wouldn’t even touch it.

Herdman also fabricated that Blom supported resurrecting the “Museum House” which is factually wrong and stated otherwise by Blom in multiple candidate forums (which was a two-part question conveniently ignored).

And he continues to publish family details that have no bearing with being a qualified candidate or Councilman.

Without citizen activists, Council agendas and their own pet projects would dominate over what the community desires.

Jodi P. Bole, Chair, Balboa Island Preservation Association

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