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Two incumbents and seven challengers are vying for the two open Rancho Santa Margarita City Council seats on Tuesday.


Editors’ Note: This dispatch is part of the Voice of OC Youth Media program, working with student journalists to cover public policy issues across Orange County. If you would like to submit your own student media project related to Orange County civics or if you have any response to this work, contact Digital Editor Sonya Quick at squick@voiceofoc.org.


The election comes at a time of unease among residents who fear potential rezoning of Dove Canyon Plaza, a nine-acre commercial center off Dove Canyon Drive. Many candidates have included in their campaign platforms specific statements against a zone change to residential in this area. The city, which was incorporated 20 years ago, now faces the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and the newly elected City Council members will have to combat potential climbing cases.

Carol Gamble, who has served on the council since 2011 and previously from 2000 to 2004, was elected to the city’s first governing body. Gamble also worked with the cityhood committee to establish self-governance for Rancho Santa Margarita in 2000, according to the city’s website.

Tony Beall, the current mayor pro tem, has also served on the council since 2004, and he has been involved in city organizations since before its incorporation. Beall is also a licensed attorney and has been practicing law in California for 25 years, according to the city’s website.

The remaining seven candidates are seeking to unseat the incumbents.

Julia Bendis, a Russian immigrant, expresses the desire for growth from the Rancho Santa Margarita City Council, according to her campaign website. Bendis wants to serve as a leader to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, allocate funds to low-income families, create jobs, and help local teachers.

Wendy Braun has been a Rancho Santa Margarita resident since 2001, and she describes herself as an advocate for bridge safety, suicide prevention, seniors, teens at risk, small businesses, kids, and families, according to her campaign website.

Glenn Acosta has called the city home for 20 years, and he believes in “small government, fiscal conservatism, and prosperity through growth in business and capital markets,” according to his campaign website. Acosta also opposes any rezoning of commercial properties, including Dove Canyon Plaza.

Beth Schwartz emphasizes a need for increased affordable housing for working class people, care for local people experiencing homelessness, and a revitalization of Dove Canyon Plaza instead of potential rezoning, according to her campaign website.

Andrea Machuca wants to create programs that will help serve, educate, and foster community in Rancho Santa Margarita, according to her campaign website. Machuca also promises to work toward advocating for affordable housing, ensuring equality for all people, and prohibiting further developments by corporations and hotel chains like Dove Canyon Plaza and Robinson Ranch.

Christopher K. McLaughlin is running on a non-partisan agenda, emphasizing improving the city’s response to COVID-19, managing the contract with Orange County’s Sheriff’s Department, and preventing rezoning at Dove Canyon Plaza, according to his campaign website.

John Christopoulos, who has been a resident for 23 years, lists his top three priorities as fiscal responsibility, public safety, and preserving the planned community, including zoning ordinances, according to his campaign website.

Gamble has outraised all other candidates. Her campaign finance disclosure statement states she has raised $48,294 between Jan. 1 and Oct. 17. Beall has reported the second highest amount at $17,689, according to his campaign finance disclosure statement.

Schwartz has raised $9,740, and Christopoulos is close behind with $9,773, according to their respective campaign finance disclosure statements. Acosta has reported the lowest amount, raising $2,919 during the calendar year.

Bendis, Braun, Machuca, and McLaughlin have not filed any forms, according to Rancho Santa Margarita City Clerk Amy Diaz.

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