Nine contenders are vying for elected office in Garden Grove this year, with three seats plus the mayor’s up for grabs.
The candidates who emerge victorious will oversee a city with a diverse population and strong working class presence, many Little Saigon businesses and a strip of hotels along Harbor Boulevard near the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim.
The contests come at a time when protests around law enforcement and policing have reached the city’s doorstep, while controversy over some officials’ responses to them have rocked City Hall. On the other hand, residents continue to voice concerns about crime and police resources in the city.
The winners will have to grapple with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on the city’s economy and its tourism-area hotels, as well as issues of affordable housing and the city’s much-awaited land sale of the Willowick Golf Course, one of the last open green spaces in a working class area that the city legally owns but sits in Santa Ana.
Challenging incumbent Mayor Steve Jones, a real estate businessman, in Garden Grove this year are city commissioner and retired businessman Donald Taylor and fellow Councilman Phat Bui.
Much of Jones’ support comes from local businesses and real estate groups. He’s raised around $42,000, thanks to contributions from companies like the city’s Great Wolf Lodge resort and its out-of-state hotel developer company, McWhinney.
McWhinney came close to winning a lucrative-yet-vague deal to lease the Willowick Golf Course last year, but City Hall dropped that proposal in the face of a lawsuit and heavy public protest.
Jones has recently been vocal in calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to ease coronavirus restrictions on local resort and hospitality businesses, joining similar calls by Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu, overseeing the Disneyland commercial area.
Bui is a well-known conservative figure in Little Saigon politics — a longtime former Tet Parade organizer who’s publicly clashed with opposing factions of Vietnamese American politicians in the area and this year has frequently come into conflict with more progressive Councilwoman Kim Nguyen.
He loaned himself more money than he fundraised for this election cycle, and has vocally rejected the recent law enforcement protests, voicing support instead for the city’s police.
Taylor has approached the mayoral race on a vocal platform of reducing crime and increasing public safety through a police volunteer program, and addressing the city’s economic losses from the COVID-19 pandemic by supporting small business and filling vacant storefronts.
Incumbent District 2 Councilman John O’Neill is challenged this year by Julie Diep, an autism awareness advocate.
O’Neill, an electrician, has raised more than $7,200 so far, much of that coming from the city’s police and firefighter unions.
The police union has also logged nearly $10,000 in independent expenditures on mailers and automated calls supporting his campaign.
Diep, a newcomer to politics who founded the OC Autism advocacy group, raised more than $8,700, much of that coming from individual donors in the health and caregiving fields, and loaned herself $5,000.
“There is a limited amount of money with which to fund essential programs and services, so we need to closely examine our expenditures to support our families, businesses and the tourism industry,” Diep said on her campaign website, also listing the issue of affordable housing as one of the city’s priorities.
O’Neill didn’t respond to requests for comment on his top issues as part of his reelection bid.
Incumbent District 5 Councilwoman Stephanie Klopfenstein is challenged this year by Robert Tucker, a retired union representative.
Tucker fundraised more than $800, mostly from individual people, and loaned himself $8,000.
By comparison, Klopfenstein has fundraised roughly $17,000 — much of it coming from local businesses.
The police union similarly reported more than $9,300 in independent expenditures supporting her campaign.
Klopfenstein told Voice of OC her top issues include retaining and increasing local jobs in the city, assisting small businesses’ recovery from the pandemic, “supporting our Garden Grove Police Department and ensuring they have what they need to keep our neighborhoods safe,” continuing to address “homelessness with both services and enforcement,” and fiscal responsibility.
Tucker is running on a platform of reexamining the amount of money the city spends on the police department, saying on his campaign website: “Public Safety is much more than spending more on the Police Department. In fact, crime is lowered more by increasing funding to community support services.”
Challenging incumbent District 6 Councilwoman Kim Nguyen, the city’s first elected Latina council member who’s also Vietnamese, is Huan Nguyen, whose ballot designation lists him as an electrical engineer. Voice of OC was unable to find a candidate website with his issues and priorities.
He also hasn’t reported any fundraising.
Kim Nguyen this election cycle has so far reported more than $36,000 in fundraising, much of it coming from progressive groups, individual donors and local Democratic officials, and building and trade unions.
This time around, according to her campaign site, she lists her advocacy for “economic development, public safety, infrastructure improvements, park rehabilitation, women’s issues, LGBTQ issues” as a reason voters should re-elect her.
Learn more about Orange County’s 2020 elections and how to vote by visiting this page.
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @photherecord.