It’s Not Just Crazy. It’s Morro Bay Crazy

Here’s this story coming out of Morro Bay that is extremely unusual. The story goes something like this: local business owners are stepping forward with allegations that the City is preventing them from competing with businesses owned by City Council members. I’m quite familiar with these allegations because the two sources behind them — Jim Davis and Rick Holliday — reached out to me to look into them. Ultimately, nothing came to fruition because these individuals dropped out of contact and gave me information that was unsubstantiated hearsay. The communication took place while I attended some of their events at what Davis called “The Speak-Easy,” located in the Sun Bulletin building in Morro Bay.

On February 17, the allegations resurface in an article by CalCoastNews. Surprising, I know. The article had a lot of details with dots that were loosely connected to a conspiracy theory that the powers that be, in Morro Bay, are stifling competition. After reading said article, I was not really impressed because the hearsay was backed with more hearsay. Conversations are deprived of additional context. Suspicions aroused by author Josh Friedman pieced together the narrative that something is rotten in the state of Morro Bay.

As some of my readers know, I typically dissect and disassemble the CalCoastNews article to uncover journalistic flaws and fallacies. At this moment, there’s no need to do that. The case has been made with regard to the site’s journalistic integrity. The case is now closed. Now the focus is on the reaction to the article. There was a visceral reaction from site and their not-so-well-informed readers. Anyone and everyone with substantial roots in the community were considered suspects in a conspiracy theory that unraveled from a man who ran an illegal nightclub, and blamed everyone else but himself for the fiasco that unfolded. You stay classy, Mr. Davis.

But it was the comments that interested me. Comments under articles are usually considered lip service for readers to voice their opinions, not necessarily to libel a large group of people randomly and make criminal threats against them. This is what former Tribune columnist Bob Cuddy called “Swamp Gas”: this anonymous lynch mob that persecutes more than ponder. Division in the community widens and forces people to gravitate to political extremes. If you disagree with the article and support the “good ol’ boys and girls” of Morro Bay, then you’re corrupt and your comments suddenly disappear from the conversation like magic. If you blindly swear allegiance to a story that’s ripe full of unverified “he said-she said” assertions, you’re on the side of truth and justice. Sounds perfectly fair in Dreamworld.

Here’s a list of conspiracy theories that were floated by CalCoastNews readers:

Morro Bay Planning Commissioner John Solu and his wife Joan are stifling competition. Recently, Mr. Solu decided to vacate his seat to “spend more time with his family,” but that’s not the truth, say readers. A user named Diamond wrote, “Beware the soulless Solus. They came to town and immediately began to join every committee they could get their mitts on. John sat on the planning committee [sic], then worked to outlaw other motels from posting their room prices outdoors. Apparently the overpriced rooms they offer were being undercut by other motels so he used his position to rid the competition from showing lower rates. Neither Solu is out for the good of the town, only what will help themselves. Beware of both.”

Posting under his real name, Rick Holliday added, “The Solu’s agenda will come out soon! Stay tuned Morro Bay!”

Former Morro Bay mayor Bill Yates grants favor for his friends. Diamond wrote, “A good start would be the Flippo’s skating rink fiasco. The city chose to close it down immediately after purchase while assuring previous owners they would continue to operate it for the good of the community. This prime real Estate was sold a friend of Bills and is now being used as a private storage facility. Flippo’s was a treasure to everyone. Was it ever offered for sale on the open Market or was it another back room deal?”

Mr. Davis previously floated that theory to me. I wonder who Diamond is.

Current Morro Bay mayor Jamie Irons and his supporters are behind the story by CalCoastNews. A user named taxpayer wrote, “Jamie [Irons] and his two stooges are running scared and using every propaganda trick in the book to slander anyone whose done positive to help this city. I really think that the voters of Morro Bay are way too smart to fall for this kind of negative electioneering.”

Former Morro Bay mayor Dale Reddell was able to build a home during the time when the city was under a building moritorium. “The Reddells have been the recipient of, lets say good fortune,” wrote Diamond. “For those of you who were here during the years when Dan’s brother Dale Reddell was mayor, you may remember The Reddell family was able to build on a north Morro Bay property during a building moratorium. This hill property above Del Mar park was undeveloped, not a remodel or tear down. Reddell was somehow enabled to build a new home on this property during a moratorium. Many Many stories of working class citizens who have bought property with hopes of building a home that were later denied permits. Some gave up and re-sold their property only to have it developed later down the road by city friendly developers, who so kindly took it off their hands at bargin [sic] prices as unbuildable land. Deny some only to allow to others.”

Former Morro Bay City councilwoman Carla Wixom doesn’t want any competing businesses near hers in Morro Bay because of “parking issues.” A user named mbactivist1 wrote, “Carla’s business operates in the morning. Taverns get most of their business late in the day and at night so that would not impact parking Carla’s restaurant. You couldn’t get a whole lot of hotel rooms into that building, so that would not bring many cars into the neighborhood to impact her restaurant. However, a market or another restaurant or an arts center WOULD bring in a lot of cars.

“I think you see where I’m going with this,” mbactivist1 continued. “If people went to eat at Carla’s and couldn’t easily find parking, they might try someplace else. Could the issue with use of the Sun Bulletin building be exactly the same as it was for that other business?”

Aaron Ochs/Ochoa is a total jerk who should slit his wrists. A user named morroknights wrote this lovely gem: “You have a clear distaste for the work of CCN. You keep giving them backhanded compliments. Just because people wont go to The Rock doesn’t mean you go to your competitors comment section and start firing from the hip Aaron Ochs. I feel like I met the ‘real you’for the first time right now. There is no better way to over power a trickle of doubt than a flood of naked truth. So quit talking Aaron and come out with your ‘truth’ already. If you do decide to take the coward’s way out, cut along the tracks not across them. That’s a rookie’s mistake.”

“This town needs a hero,” wrote Rick Holliday in response to the previous comment. “I’m no hero but I’m doing it for you MBactivist1, and even you, cowpetal (who is really Aaron Ochoa) [sic] and every person who, in good faith follows the rules and is denied even DO PROCESS!”

He continued, “I never held an event at the location and Aaron Ochoa [sic] was never at any event with Rick Holliday’s name on it nor was anyone else.”

Mr. Holliday went on a lengthy rant about how I allegedly accused him of serving alcohol to minors under some alias that isn’t mine. Huh?

In response to Holliday’s assertions that I’m some random person on CalCoastNews, user mbactivist1 wrote, “Thanks, Rick. By making the truth public, with [CalCoastNews’] help, you are a major influence in making Morro Bay a better place to live.”

Please explain to me how making things up on the Internet makes Morro Bay “a better place to live.”

Looking into accusations made on CalCoastNews takes a lot of time, but the problem — much like CalCoastNews’ reporting in the past — is that only the accusations are presented. There’s no fact-checking, no validation; no effort to see whether the accusations are true or not. Led to assume that the published accusations are “hard evidence” of wrongdoing, the readers feel they have the creative license to float potentially libelous comments and criminal threats levied at community members without consequence. That’s not journalism. That is inciting a riot.

Before I was told to commit suicide, I was ordered to “quit talking and come out with my ‘truth.'” So here it is.

I have no interest in this story about alleged anti-competitive corruption, but I am strongly interested in balance. You see, I’m not one of the “good ol’ boys” or some stranger that thinks you’re completely out of your mind. Actually, I really have no idea why I was mentioned to begin with. But like most respected journalists, I believe it’s important to cover all sides of the story — not just one side that’s haphazardly assembled by someone like Mr. Holliday, who feels the need to write, “I have the proof!” every time someone gives a skeptical sneeze. Is he right to be as furious as he is about competition being stifled in Morro Bay? I don’t know. He never gave me the evidence.

I believe that if businesses are being prohibited to compete locally in the free market, then let the facts speak for themselves and skip the pomp. Seek an independent investigation — and with all due respect, get out of the way and shut up.