Phil Bacerra, a real estate consultant and former city planning commissioner, appears to have won last week’s special election for a Santa Ana City Council seat, based on the latest results Tuesday.
With all of the roughly 13,900 ballots in the race now counted, Bacerra was leading former city planner Manny Escamilla by 150 votes in Tuesday’s 5 p.m. update, a week after the election.
Too few ballots are known to still be in play to leave a possibility of closing that vote gap.
Officials said Tuesday night 175 ballots with signature issues remained from not just Santa Ana but also two other cities’ elections, which voters can contest by 5 p.m. Wednesday.
But just 21 votes were added Tuesday and the only ballots still in play were about 175 with signature issues across Santa Ana, Stanton and San Clemente.
“I’m excited and looking forward to serving the residents of Santa Ana, especially those of Ward 4,” Bacerra told Voice of OC after Tuesday’s results update.
Escamilla had narrowed the gap significantly since election night – from 6 percentage points behind Bacerra on election night, to 1.1 points Friday evening and Tuesday.
But just 21 votes were added Tuesday, and the only ballots still in play were about 190 with signature issues across Santa Ana, Stanton and San Clemente.
Final results are expected to be posted online at 5 p.m. Wednesday, the deadline for voters to challenge their ballot being disqualified for signature issues.
Escamilla told supporters Friday night he had fallen short of winning, and has said he would not officially concede until the final results are out, which is scheduled for Wednesday.
“I’m proud of the team and all the folks that supported us. I really do believe that Santa Ana is ready for a different kind of politics,” Escamilla told Voice of OC after Tuesday’s results update.
“I just look forward to 2020, and I do hope that the residents of Santa Ana that do want to see change have an opportunity in 2020. I think what we’ve heard here is that on-the-ground campaigning with candidates that respect the interests of community members is completely viable in this city.”
Bacerra could be sworn in as soon as next week, and will round out a council of six other people dealing with issues like homelessness, complaints of slow 9-1-1 response times, and how to spend an extra $60 million a year from a new sales tax increase that has bolstered city coffers.
The city also has been confronted with sharply rising city police and pension costs and an upcoming decision on approving a controversial project at 2525 N. Main St.
Voters also chose a new Santa Ana Unified School District board member last week: middle school teacher Carolyn Torres, who beat former City Councilman David Benavides 47 percent to 31 percent.
Benavides conceded the race in a Facebook post last week.
Torres will join four other board members grappling with issues like class sizes, how to address students exposed to violence at home, and whether to welcome or limit the growth of charter schools in the city.
Bacerra, a real estate consultant and former planning commissioner, had about $87,000 spent in his favor as Election Day, according to state-mandated disclosures. Major financial support included $6,000 from a committee set up to support Mayor Miguel Pulido and $5,000 each from the county firefighters’ union, local developer Mike Harrah, and trash hauling contractor CR&R.
Bacerra also was supported by $89,000 from the police union last year when he ran for the same seat, though this time the union backed a different candidate, Jennifer Oliva, with $25,000.
Escamilla, who has worked as a city staff member at the main library, city manager’s office, and planning department, spent about $17,000 from the committee he set up and relied largely on door-to-door outreach to voters. His committee was funded largely by a $6,500 loan from himself, and most of his remaining contributions are $200 or less from city residents, activists and business people. He also received $249 each from downtown developers Irving and Ryan Chase; and from the union representing Santa Ana’s general employees, SEIU Local 721.
Escamilla was opposed by a committee funded by the lobbyist for the proposed apartment development at 2525 N. Main Street, which funded $3,000 in opposition mailers against Escamilla that voters received the weekend before the election. They were the only known opposition mailers in the election.
A host of developers and labor and trade unions, including the city’s police union, comprised the City Council race’s key campaign spenders. The final set of campaign finance disclosures, however, aren’t due until the end of January.
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Other Elections Coming Up
The Santa Ana political community has also been gearing up for next year’s race, which will see most of the council seats up for election – including the first open mayor’s race in 25 years.
Pulido was first elected in 1994 and has won every election since then, but is now termed out of office. In addition to the mayor’s spot, three council seats are up for election, currently held by Vicente Sarmiento, Jose Solorio, and Juan Villegas.
The mayor’s seat and two of the council seats are open races. Sarmiento is termed out and Solorio is running for mayor instead of seeking re-election to his council seat. The mayor’s race has also drawn Iglesias and former Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez as candidates.
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.