Oceano officials take issues of civility to the courtroom

August 14, 2023


Disagreement between Oceano officials over policy and civility have advanced from the community to the courtroom with one district official seeking a restraining order against another district official.

Oceano Community Services District has battled allegations of harassment, threats and discrimination between several former and current district officials, employees and residents for decades. During the past 10 years, the district was awarded a restraining order against a vocal, and aggressive resident and another official quit after the district refused to file a restraining order on her behalf.

Last month, Director Shirley Gibson filed for a restraining order against Director Charles Varni after he allegedly verbally assaulted her following a board meeting in which Gibson attempted to donate use of a community center for 10 hours a month to the Boys and Girls Club.

Varni was upset that the proposed donation had been brought forward without review and consideration of the Parks and Recreation Committee on which he sits. He was also upset that Gibson had not returned his calls.

After the meeting ended, most of the attendees and directors headed for their cars, with several groups stopping to discuss the meeting. Gibson headed to her car at the far end of the parking lot, saw Varni standing in her path, and went back in the meeting room where former director Karen White was talking with the district’s legal counsel Chase Martin.

Varni followed her in yelling, “Liar, you are a liar,” Gibson said in her filing. He then walked up to her yelling allegations while pointing his finger in her face.

“He kept complaining and kept his finger in front of her face,” White said in a declaration to the court. “I was afraid for my friend. Shocked by his sudden appearance and actions only a few steps away, I instinctively yelled out, ‘Charles, you’re out of control,’ He yelled back, ‘No, I’m not.'”

Appearing to ignore White, Varni continued to berate Gibson, according to the filing.

Varni denies the allegations, arguing he never yelled nor came in close proximity to Gibson.

“My voice was raised because I was frustrated with her repeated negative behavior and lies about OPARC (Oceano Parks and Recreation Committee) and the clearly stupid action she had initiated at the meeting that evening as well as her refusal to have any discussion with me about her plan prior to the meeting.  I was NEVER closer that 8 feet to her so all of her remarks about my “jabbing my finger at her inches from my face” are absolutely lies,” Varni told CalCoastNews.

In an odd twist, Varni, Gibson and White are all registered Democrats.

In response to the court filing, Varni argues that Gibson and Director Linda Austin are the officials that “continually resort to name calling, labeling and character assassination when they are faced with rational, factual, and reasonable courses of action they do not agree with.”

On Aug. 1, the court denied a temporary restraining order request that asked that Varni be required to attend board meetings through Skype, because the facts as stated did not show “acts of violence, threats of violence, or a course of conduct that seriously alarmed, annoyed or harassed.”

The judge then set a hearing for Aug. 17, where Varni and Gibson can argue their cases for or against a restraining order.

During an Aug. 9 Oceano district meeting, White told the board she was there to walk Gibson to her car to protect her from Varni.

“I find Varni’s actions a disgraceful pattern of intimidation seen over and over. I feel that Varni is trying to control or destroy everything around him.”

Varni then responded to what he called White’s “outrageous” comments.

“I was definitely upset at the last meeting with the manipulative behavior of Director Gibson trying to do an end run around the parks and recreation committee and set up the boys and girls club with the exclusive use of a 110 hours of meeting space in that facility,” Varni said at the meeting.

After noting a deputy had served him a day earlier, Varni said the judge denied all allegations made in the restraining order request. However, while the judge denied Gibson’s request for a temporary restraining order, the judge did not refute or confirm any of the allegation made.

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Pass the popcorn.

It is always just a handful of individuals in Oceano that disrupt everything and every meeting…..same ones all the time, over and over. It is theatrical to watch. They don’t represent the community, don’t listen to community members, and just bully their way to their stated goals. In this case, in the broader scheme, Varney’s goal is to “break” Oceano so that it can be taken over by Grover Beach…which is interesting since he vehemently fought against becoming part of that district last year. Varney has a long history of disrespecting and harassing women (some he was related to, others he wasn’t)…you NEVER see him spew his venom on a man. Wonder if this is how he acted when he taught college. Someone should look to see if there was a rating system back then (similar to CalPoly’s) and read his ratings. I disagree with the story in that it doesn’t matter the political party…to Varney it just matters whether you agree with his way…if not, it is the highway…especially for women.

“In an odd twist, Varni, Gibson and White are all registered Democrats.” That one exquisite sentence has as much weight and is as golden as “a picture is worth a thousand words”.