The cities of central Orange County are gearing up for arguably the most consequential November election in decades, as residents of Anaheim and Garden Grove will for the first time elect candidates on a district-by-district basis following lawsuits by voting rights advocates.

Both municipalities made the switch from at-large electoral systems after the advocates successfully argued, under the California Voting Rights Act, that their councils do not reflect their diverse population and are thus disenfranchising minority communities.

Anaheim’s council is all white despite a city population that is more than half Latino. Garden Grove, meanwhile, has never elected a Latino to its city council even though Latinos make up 37 percent of the city’s population.

Meanwhile, Santa Ana and Westminster — both of which still elect council members by an at-large basis — will feature competitive races involving high-profile candidates.

Below is a run-down of the candidates who filed by the Friday deadline in each of the four races.

Anaheim

The largest city in Orange County will hold its first district election after a multi-year fight by the city council’s majority against council districts. At stake is Disney’s long-standing grip over the Anaheim City Council, a relationship that has defined city politics for decades.

Under the 2014 settlement of a Voting Rights Act case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, the City Council will expand from five to seven seats, with six councilmember districts and one at-large elected mayor.

Ahead of the election, Disney and other business interests have sought to push through several policies that may not have passed with an expanded city council. They include a controversial 45-year gate tax exemption for Disneyland and a hotel incentive program that subsidizes luxury hotel projects to the tune of 70 percent of their room tax revenues.

Those issues are likely to be center stage in November. Already, a resort workers’ union is attempting to collect signatures for a referendum to repeal two subsidized luxury hotel projects approved in June.

Four out of six districts will be up for election in November, with the mayor’s seat up for election again in 2018.

Two members of the current council majority – Jordan Brandman and Lucille Kring – are seeking re-election against a group of largely inexperienced candidates.

Brandman, who is running for the Third District seat, faces four challengers. Chief among them is Anaheim City School District trustee Jose F. Moreno, a longtime Latino activist and president of the community group Los Amigos, garnered 14.7 percent of votes in the 2014 election.

Other candidates include Linda Lobatos, a community liaison for the Anaheim City School District who also owns a janitorial services company; aircraft mechanic Robert R. Nelson; and legal assistant Jennifer Rivera.

Kring is defending her seat in the Fourth District against three challengers.

Arturo Ferreras, a minister and chair of the South Anaheim Neighborhood Council, was among the community leaders who backed a city ordinance banning short-term rentals.

Other candidates include Robert Williams, an emergency medical technician; and Joe Moreno, whose candidacy has yet to be approved by the city clerk.

Seven candidates have filed to compete in the newly-formed First District race. They include:

Denise Barnes, owner of a local property management company; Mark Richard Daniels, a west Anaheim resident and member of Los Amigos; Freddy Fitzgerald Carvajal, an insurance broker; Leonard Lahtinen, a board member of the North Orange County Community College District; Steven Chavez Lodge, a former county waste management commissioner and former council candidate; Orlando Perez, a realtor; and tax assistant Angel Van Stark.

Four candidates have filed to run for the Fifth District. The candidates include Donna Acevedo-Nelson, a property manager and outspoken activist on police brutality and police-involved shootings; Mark Lopez, deputy chief of staff for Supervisor Shawn Nelson; accounts receivable specialist Sandra Angel; and Steve Faessel, an executive at Ace Hardware who has served on multiple city commissions.

Garden Grove

Four of seven city council seats are up for election for the reconstituted Garden Grove City Council.

Like in Anaheim, the new district-based system divides the city into six council districts, with the seventh seat held by a mayor elected at-large.

With incumbent mayor Bao Nguyen running for the U.S. House seat being vacated by Loretta Sanchez, the mayoral race is wide open.

Councilman Steve Jones, a former planning commissioner who has been on the city council for eight years after being appointed to a vacancy in 2007 and elected in 2008, will run for mayor against a perennial candidate Albert Ayala, and newcomer Don Taylor, a former parks commissioner.

Update 08/17/16: Since this article was originally published, Ayala has been disqualified because he lives in Stanton, not Garden Grove. Taylor also announced that he would withdraw from the election on Wednesday afternoon. 

In the Second District, Planning Commissioner John O’Neill, a general foreman with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 441, is running unopposed.

Clay Bock, a longtime resident and owner of a local jewelery; and Diedre Thu-Ha Nguyen, a research scientist for Quest Diagnostics; will compete for a two-year term representing the Third District. After this November, all terms will last four years.

Candidates in the Fifth District, one of two Latino-majority districts, include: Demian Garcia-Monroy, founder of Garden Grove’s League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC); and Stephanie Klopfenstein, a Parks, Recreation and Arts commissioner and a board member for the Garden Grove Neighborhood Association.

The Sixth District, located on the eastern border of the city next to Santa Ana, has the largest and most concentrated Latino population. The race will be fought between two self-described Latino advocates, Rickk Montoya and Kim Nguyen.

Montoya, a Parks and Recreation commissioner and police dispatcher for the city of Los Angeles who has run for council in the past, was the plaintiff in the Voting Rights Act lawsuit that forced the city to transition to district elections.

Nguyen, a 25-year-old, Vietnamese-Latina, has billed herself as representing Garden Grove’s distinctive ethnic mix. Nguyen, a Clinical Systems Administrator for CalOptima, is known for authoring the district map that was ultimately selected by the City Council.

Nguyen graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz and has interned and volunteered for former state Sen. Lou Correa, who is running against Bao Nguyen for the open U.S. House seat.

Santa Ana

Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido will run for a 12th term, this time challenged by high school teacher Ben Vazquez and perennial candidate Steve Rocco.

Vasquez teaches history and ethnic studies for the Santa Ana Unified School District, and is a community organizer.

Councilman Vincent Sarmiento will run for re-election to represent the First Ward, facing a first-time candidate and attorney Jessica B. Cha. Councilman Roman Reyna, who represents the Fifth Ward, also faces one challenger, law enforcement officer Juan Villegas. 

Ward Three has the most crowded field of candidates. Because incumbent Angelica Amezcua did not file for re-election, candidates still have until Wednesday to file.

Former state assemblyman and lobbyist Jose Solorio stepped down from his seat on the Rancho Santiago Community College District and moved to the Third Ward in order to run for the City Council. The longtime elected official served on the City Council from 2000 until 2006, when he was elected to the State Assembly.

Solorio faces three competitors: Ana Urzua, a campaign coordinator for Santa Ana Building Healthy Communities; Irvine police officer Shane Ramon Barros; and Valley High School principal Patrick D. Yrarrazaval-Correa.

Although Councilwoman Michele Martinez is running for the First District seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, her council term does not expire until 2018.

If Martinez wins the county supervisor race, council members would have sixty days after Martinez leaves office to appoint someone to serve out her term or declare a special election.

Westminster

Eleven people have filed to run for three open seats on the Westminster City Council, a troubled city that faces potential bankruptcy in the next few years if city officials don’t take decisive action.

Incumbent Mayor Tri Ta faces a powerful challenger — longtime councilwoman and former Mayor Margie Rice. Rice, then mayor, was expected to retire at the end of 2012, but was quickly appointed to the vacancy created by Ta’s move from council member to mayor.

Now, Rice wants the seat back.

Two other candidates – Raymond De La Cerda and Visual William – have also filed to run for mayor.

Council members Diana Lee Carey and Sergio Contreras also face re-election against five candidates. They include: Kimberly Ho, a commissioner and businesswoman; Samantha Bao Anh Nguyen, who unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the Westminster School District board in 2014; Mark Lawrence, Linh Le and Tommy Luong.

A previous version of this article referred to Freddy Fitzgerald Carvajal as another name for William Denis Fitzgerald, a frequent speaker at city council meetings. Carvajal and Fitzgerald are two different people, and are not related. We regret the error. 

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.

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