Larry Kornit (center, white shirt) and other Oceanside locals use Beatles tune with an anti-North River Farms chorus "Can't buy our vote" at November 6 city council meeting.
Platinum recording artist Jason Mraz has done well with his transition from singer/songwriter to Oceanside farmer. His Mraz Family Farms gained international publicity for growing and marketing homegrown avocados and coffee beans.
City councilman Christopher Rodriguez admits his efforts to pursue farming have not gone as well.
It’s not the fact that he may have failed as a farmer that is causing locals to band together and launch a recall effort to remove him from office. They say it's because he lied about being a farmer to get elected. (He made it clear to voters that he was an ex-Marine, a Republican, and a Hispanic.)
“In September 2018 he said on [Oceanside public access channel] KOCT ‘I’m a farmer,’” Oceanside resident Jodi Williams said at a meeting of some 50 local residents. They gathered November 17 at a mobile home park clubhouse to discuss what they should do about Rodriguez and the North River Farms housing development he voted to approve. His approval gave the green light to plow under 215 acres of agricultural land to support 585 homes. That North River Farms approval four days earlier appeared to have triggered the Sunday afternoon meeting.
Everyone present seemed committed to upend the North River Farms Project and to remove Rodriguez from the Oceanside city council.
“He told the city attorney he has not maintained any farming in 2018 or 2019,” Williams told the group. “[Rodriguez] told [city attorney John] Mullen he made no money from farming during those two years.”
Williams disclosed that her husband will be the one serving Rodriguez at the November 20 Oceanside city council meeting with an intention to recall. Rodriguez was elected to his four-year city council term last November. He was the first one elected to serve as councilmember for the newly-created District 2, representing Oceanside’s northeast quadrant.
The assembled group applauded loudly when Williams announced Rodriguez will be served the notice by her husband, who like Rodriguez is a former US Marine. “We plan to serve him in front of God and everybody…by retired Master Gunnery Sergeant Mr. Mike…One Marine to another.”
Williams did not make the 200-word recall statement available at the meeting. But she said it will include other reasons why the voter’s decision to elect Rodriguez 12 months ago should be overturned. They include: committing to North River Farms months before it came to a public hearing; how the project will put his constituents in prospective danger from fire; and that he voted on issues that benefitted his business interests.
It is not clear if the recall will even make it to the ballot. Those motivated citizens must garner 4,456 valid signatures or 20 per cent of the 22,280 registered voters in District 2.
Fellow Oceanside councilmember Esther Sanchez, an announced candidate for the 2020 election for mayor, piled on with numerous reasons why she thought her colleague is a “bad actor.”
“He has threatened city employees,” said Sanchez. “He tried to get the city manager fired…He has been a real jerk to people. He accuses everybody of everything under the sun.” Sanchez says that when she first became a city councilmember, “I didn’t get one piece of [office] furniture. It’s all public record.” She said Rodriguez, on the other hand, got a large wide-screen TV when he came to city hall a year ago.
Some members of the group admitted the all-volunteer recall effort to get petition signatures will not have it easy. They will probably have to compete at Oceanside grocery stores and public events like The Turkey Trot with paid petitioners pushing an Oceanside cannabis measure. They pointed out that petitioners who get paid by the signature can get pushy.
Often openly contentious, Oceanside politics have triggered four recall elections of city councilmembers over the last 40 years. The first two, launched and organized by then newly-elected councilmember Melba Bishop in 1981, tossed out Bill Bell and Ray Burgess. Ten years later, Bishop herself beat back a recall effort but then failed to win reelection the following year. Jerry Kern turned back a recall in 2009 orchestrated by the Oceanside fire-fighters union.
If the group gathers enough signatures to get the Rodriguez recall on the ballot, Oceanside City Clerk Zeb Navarro says it is not clear when the special election would be held due to a number of variables. In the case of Melba Bishop’s recall, her election came 11 months after she was first served with the notice of recall.
Navarro says the failed recall of Jerry Kern ten years ago cost the city $500,000. He says this recall special election, should it happen, would be significantly less expensive since it would only cover District 2 which is one-fourth of the entire city.
Larry Kornit ran against Rodriguez in last November’s District 2 election. “Nobody can be surprised at what his [North River Farms] vote was. We knew how he would vote on this before he was elected. Everything that Christopher Rodriguez says is ‘my district, my district.’ He never refers to it as our district. I find that to be an incredible character defect.”
Rodriguez responded via email: “Farming is not as profitable as we all wish it could be. My passion for farming outweighs the profit which in some years results in zero revenue.” He denies he supported North River Farms before the public vote, and did not specifically answer the charges that his votes may have benefitted his personal interests. He says the new fire station to be built with the project will help those in the South Morro Hills area who now live outside the Oceanside fire department's five-minute response time.
Rodriguez declined to address Sanchez’s concerns.
The planned Rodriguez recall is not the only weapon in the citizen group’s quiver. They mentioned that a complaint to the FPPC (Fair Political Practice Commission) has been filed.
Yvonne Obrite said she filed a complaint with the FPPC because Rodriguez’s business interests are so close to the North River Farms development that he stands to benefit financially, and that he should have never voted for it in the first place. “If they decide he had a conflict of interest, his vote is nullified.,” says Obrite. She added that that would then make the North River Farms approval void since it passed on a 3-2 vote.
Dianne Nygaard, a longtime environmental activist, says the group must consider launching a referendum, which would specifically overturn the ordinance that allowed the North River Farm project to proceed. Clerk Navarro says that such a referendum would need approximately 9600 valid signatures to get on the ballot, which is 10 percent of the total number of Oceanside registered voters.
The last referendum in Oceanside was Measure E in 2010 which would have eliminated rent control for mobile homeowners. It was rejected by the voters.