The free night at the Great Wolf Lodge Waterpark enjoyed by about 2,000 Garden Grove residents at the end of August amounted to a $58,000 donation from the company to Councilman Steve Jones’ mayoral campaign, according to his most recent financial disclosures.

Jones listed the amount, which will very likely end up the largest single contribution to a Garden Grove candidate this election year and in recent memory, as an in-kind donation from the owner of the Colorado-based joint venture between Great Wolf Resorts and McWhinney, the project’s developer.

The resort, which opened earlier this year, and the city’s financial support for it have been controversial. It has drawn praise from city leaders who say it will be a crucial economic engine, and criticism from those who question whether the development – which received $70 million in city subsidies – will benefit the residents who helped pay for it.

Jones said he suggested the free night at the waterpark to Great Wolf officials as a way to show them that the tax dollars were well spent.

“I’ve had an idea in the back of my head…that I would like to talk them into opening up the water park to Garden Grove residents […] to showcase this amazing new addition to our city and encourage them to establish a spirit of community involvement,” Jones said a week before the event.

While the event was largely well-received, some residents voiced concerns about the size of the contribution.

One resident, Paul Marsden, questioned the ethics and optics of a council member accepting such a large contribution from an influential developer in the city.

“This gift could easily be valued at tens of thousands of dollars,” Marsden said.

The massive campaign contribution is not illegal, as the city does not have a limit on how much any single donor can contribute to a campaign. There’s also no monetary limit on how much a campaign can spend on a voter.

While Jones will be the only candidate on the Nov. 8 ballot, local resident Tony Flores has filed to run as a write-in candidate.

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

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