Peotter, Privilege and a Line in the Sand

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 You’ve likely seen recent ads in our local print media announcing the formation of the political action committee (PAC) called Line in the Sand.

The PAC may be new, but the names behind it are familiar: Jean Watt, 2013 Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year and the founder of SPON (Stop Polluting Our Newport) in the 1970s, and Dorothy Kraus, board member of SPON (now known as Still Protecting Our Newport).

You’ll remember Watt and Kraus from their spirited leadership to defeat Measure Y, the Land Use Amendment Plan that would have permitted an untoward amount of new development, primarily in the Newport Center area of town.

Their quest was successful: Measure Y was soundly defeated by more than 69 percent of the voters.

So you’d think that would have resolved any confusion the City Council might have about citizens’ feelings on the idea of cramming ever-more dense development into our town. (At February’s Mayor’s Dinner, one councilmember joked, in reference to the majority of the Council’s support of Measure Y, “What were we thinking?”)

But one would be wrong. Apparently what the Council was thinking, to resurrect a baseball term popular when the Dodgers still played in Brooklyn and had yet to win a World Series, was “Wait Till Next Year.”

“Nothing’s really changed,” said Kraus in a telephone interview. “We continue to see rezoning, exceptions to height limits to accommodate developers’ interests. They continue to chip away at what makes our city so special – and people don’t like it.”

The key phrase here is “chip away.” Consider the Newport Beach Car Wash in Newport Center, long a convenient service for locals. Under Measure Y the car wash would’ve made way for a 125-room boutique hotel of eight to nine stories. Prior to the November election, however, the Council removed that element of Measure Y in an effort to reduce the Measure’s traffic numbers, according to Jean Watt. But that’s not the end of the story: The City is now considering a new land use amendment to replace the car wash with a seven to eight story condominium project.

“The worst of it is that it’s hugely precedent-setting,” adds Watt. She’s referring to the plan for Newport Center to situate its tallest buildings at the top of the hill, near San Joaquin Hills Road, with buildings becoming low-rise as they descend the hill. The area surrounding the car wash consists essentially of two-story buildings, preserving the views. Get the land use amendment changed on the car wash site, and you open the door to ever taller buildings.

“It’s a developer’s field of dreams,” Kraus says. In this the Council shows an unfortunate tendency to ignore the greater public good in favor of developers’ sense of entitlement.

To learn more about Line in the Sand, residents of all persuasions are invited to hear Dorothy Kraus speak at the Tuesday, August 18, meeting of the Newport Beach Democratic Women’s Club, 5:30 P.M., Newport Beach Yacht Club (1099 Bayside Drive, at the entrance to the Balboa Island Bridge). No charge and plenty of parking.

Let’s segue to another example of privileged entitlement on the Council, though with this apology: The responsibilities of running a city are complex and demanding. It’s regrettable that Councilmember Scott Peotter has obliged the City Council, the citizens of this city, and this writer to divert our attention from working together to make Newport Beach a great place to live and work to address his attempts to impose his personal agenda upon the people of this town.

In my July 31 column I quoted Pastor Mark Davis, of St. Mark Presbyterian Church, as follows: “Peotter was trying to get us to believe [the issue] was all about free speech, yet everybody there said what they said freely…This was not about anyone’s free speech, it was about city officials being responsible to those whom they represent. We are confusing the loss of a privileged voice with the suppression of free speech.”

Indeed, Peotter’s claim that the controversy has thwarted his right to free speech smacks of that of a sore loser. Here is how one reader, a dean and professor at a highly regarded evangelical seminary, put it:

“[Peotter’s] kind of religious and political buffoonery under the guise of “[C]hristian” behavior and convictions is discrediting to us all as Christians. I am grateful for your pastor’s statements. He said something that I have observed generally — not only related to speech, but to lots of things — that people get so used to privilege and power that simple movement towards equality feels like oppression. This past year I have noticed this to be particularly strong among white communities, especially within predominantly white enclaves in Orange County.”

In Peotter’s latest newsletter, inexplicably headed “We should Get Back to City Business!” he positively wallows in his sense of victimization, complaining that “some would rather disingenuously flog an artificially created whipping boy for their own political gain.”

The flaws in Peotter’s thinking are clear once again in this newsletter (To read the full content go to his website at


  • Peotter argues that the vote on his censure at the August 11 City Council meeting was “because of my support of TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE.” That’s incorrect. It was because of his use of the City seal to state his opinions, muddying the issue as to whether this was city policy.
  • “By having this special meeting [on July 14] it allowed the LBGTQ crowd to speak on an agendized item and allowed the city council to talk about it as well.” This is an odd point to make by someone who has argued for his First Amendment right to free speech in speaking out against same-sex marriage. Why shouldn’t the “LBGTQ crowd” and “the city council” also be free – not simply “allowed” – to respond to Peotter’s comments. Because he considers his position the privileged one?
  • Peotter states, “Since that meeting and until this Censure action, the furor had died down. There had been no press requests. No Media whatsoever.” This is patently false. Peotter was contacted by the very publication he used to write for, the Newport Beach Independent: On July 21 I emailed Peotter with a request for an interview; Peotter responded on July 22, “Sure, call me.” On July 23 I followed up with these questions:
  1. There are media references to your involvement in the 1989 Irvine Values Coalition campaign to pass Measure N…. Is it accurate to state that you were involved with the Coalition? If so, please tell me the extent of your involvement…. Several statements in the Coalition’s campaign materials were shown to be inaccurate when checked with the sources cited. Were you aware of this? Did the Coalition ever issue any corrections?
  2. As more LGBTs have come out and told their stories, many Christians’ positions on same-sex marriage and gay rights have evolved over the last couple of decades…. How has your position changed, or has it?…. Do you have any LGBT family members, close friends, or colleagues?… Have you ever attended a same-sex wedding?
  3. About the symbolism of the rainbow — when were you first aware that the LGBT movement used the rainbow?
  4. About the Bible’s position on marriage between one man and one woman. What about the many Old Testament passages that refer to the patriarchs’ multiple wives, concubines?…. Wasn’t Jesus’s reference in Mark 10 to the Creation Story all about divorce, not homosexuality?
  5. Do you feel that the legality of same-sex marriage in some way undermines your own marriage?
  6. Finally, I was told that you don’t hold an “outside job.” Is that accurate? Please tell me what do you for a living these days.

Peotter’s response of July 23: “I decline to respond to these.”

On July 23 I wrote, “Dear Scott, Please reconsider. When you raised the issue of same-sex marriage as a city councilman, you put it into the public forum for discussion. I’d like your response to the questions I raise.”

No response from Peotter.

On Tuesday night the City Council voted to “disassociate” itself from his comments rather than an outright censor. Too bad the citizens of this town can’t disassociate ourselves from a man who has yet to learn that effective governance relies upon an interchange of ideas, on dialogue, and that it can be collegial even among those who disagree.

Jean Hastings Ardell is the President of the Newport Beach Democratic Women’s Club.

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  1. Thank you, Jean Hastings Ardell, for writing such an informative and well written article. I hope that it gets read by many people. It concerns me that no one is paying attention to Peotter’s behavior and that he is not being made to suffer consequences. Is it to much to ask for a council person who actually respects and listens to the people he is supposed to be representing? Apparently so. He is bought and paid for by Ahmanson who is also apposed to the LBGT community having the same rights that others have. It would be interesting to know how and who pays Peotter’s rent.