Phil Bacerra Wins Santa Ana Council Seat

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Phil Bacerra arrives at his results watch party at the DePietro Gallery in Downtown Santa Ana on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. Bacerra points at the first round of results projected onto a screen.

Final results show Phil Bacerra, a land use consultant and former city planning commissioner, won last week’s special election for a Santa Ana City Council seat.

The last round of results, released at 5 p.m. Wednesday, had Bacerra leading former city planner Manny Escamilla by 1 percentage point, or 149 of the 13,908 total votes.

“It was close, but we did it!” Bacerra said in a Facebook message after the final results were posted.

“To those that supported my opponents, I hope that we can work together to solve our homeless crisis, improve public safety, and bring investment to our city to make our Golden City truly shine,” he added.

“I promise to all Santa Ana residents that I will deliberate on the Council dais, as I did as a Planning Commissioner, with the same independent thoroughness that serves the best interests of our fellow residents.”

Bacerra won the Ward 4 seat he lost last year to Roman Reyna, who ended up resigning and pled guilty to felony election fraud after Bacerra pursued legal action against him.

In last year’s election, at least $82,000 from secret donors – known as “dark money” – was routed into ads opposing Bacerra, which state authorities have been investigating for the past year.

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Phil Bacerra arrives at his results watch party at the DePietro Gallery in Downtown Santa Ana on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019.

Bacerra could be sworn in as soon as next Tuesday, 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 a controversial housing development at 2525 N. Main St., which could be up for approval at Bacerra’s first meeting.

Escamilla had narrowed the gap significantly since election night – from 6 percentage points behind Bacerra on election night, to 1 point Friday evening and in the final results.

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Left, Manny Escamilla, Jenny Lynn, and Escamilla’s campaign manager Jessie Lopez after the 5 p.m. results on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019.

Escamilla told supporters Friday night he had fallen short of winning, and said he would not officially concede until the final results were tabulated, which happened on Wednesday evening.

“I’ll be calling the other candidates to wish them well,” Escamilla said in an interview Wednesday night, adding that “Phil’s going to be governing.”

Escamilla said he plans to run for the county Democratic Party’s central committee in the March primary election, and would focus on supporting city candidates next year.

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.

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Santa Ana City Council candidate Beatriz Mendoza at her election night party, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019.

Bacerra 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.

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Gerry Serrano, the president of the Santa Ana police union (left), and candidate Phil Bacerra at Bacerra’s election night party, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019.

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.

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Manny Escamilla, a former Santa Ana city planner, addresses supporters through a live online video after a City Council results update showed on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019.

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 ngerda@voiceofoc.org.