Flores felt compelled to act

Estancia High schoolteacher incorporates his zeal for human rights with his students.

May 02, 2011|By Joseph Serna,

COSTA MESA — As City Councilman Steve Mensinger strolled across the football field at Estancia High School's Jim Scott Stadium on the morning of April 23, English teacher Joel Flores said he saw an opportunity.

Flores, 38, isn't a member of any city employee groups affected by the council's broad outsourcing plan aimed at lowering city costs, but the teacher at Estancia High is as against it as any city worker.

"If you're opposed to it, you should say something to your public official," Flores said. "I thought, 'There is no way he's not going to hear from me personally.'"


And hear from Flores he did.

The two got into a confrontation, where Flores later accused Mensinger of "chest-bumping" him. Mensinger has said that they exchanged words, but has denied that he got physical with Flores.

Their publicized encounter overshadowed what was otherwise a friendly event. Instead of celebrating a fun run for children on a Saturday morning, the few moments of heated words had residents choosing sides in debates and online message boards in the following days.

The tenor of some comments ran into: Are you with Mensinger, a respected councilman who was inappropriately berated by a "union thug" at a nonpolitical event? Or are you with Flores, a dedicated teacher who bravely voiced his opinion against a councilman destroying the city from the inside out?

However, the politically passionate men, like their arguments, are more nuanced.

Comfortable upbringing

For his part, Flores grew up in Walnut Creek, a conservative, relatively affluent community in the Bay Area east of Berkeley. He and his three older brothers were raised by a minister father and a stay-at-home mother. He attended Walnut Creek Christian Academy and went to high school in San Diego when the family moved south.

"I've always had a strong sense of right and wrong," Flores said. "I think that comes from being raised a preacher's kid."

A youth group trip with his father to an orphanage in Mexico changed Flores' life. He was no older than 10 at the time and it was the first such trip for his family.

Before that trip, he said, he'd never seen how many advantages he and his peers had in Walnut Creek. He went to a school that always had enough supplies, enough books. Kids always did their homework and people didn't drop out.

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