We have been your lifeline during the pandemic, economic fallout, wildfires, protests and the election. Support us with a tax-deductible donation.

This guide has been updated to add more races, including Fullerton, Orange, Costa Mesa, Mission Viejo, Westminster, Newport Beach, Buena Park, San Clemente, Rancho Santa Margarita and San Juan Capistrano.

Voting is now underway for the 2020 general election, and below is a rundown of the races up for a decision by Orange County voters.


Editor’s Note: Voice of OC is Orange County’s only nonprofit & nonpartisan newsroom bringing you the best local election news absolutely free. No ads, no paywalls. Please make sure you subscribe to our free Politics & Election news emails to see our latest election coverage and when we add to this voter guide.


A host of competitive local, state and federal seats are up for grabs, with voters’ choices affecting how all levels of government – from Congress to the state, county, and local cities – will handle priorities like the coronavirus pandemic, homelessness, housing affordability and immigration.

Mail-in ballots have been sent out to all 1.7 million active registered voters in Orange County, with options of mailing back the ballot, dropping it off at any of the 116 ballot drop boxes across the county, or delivering it to any of the 167 vote centers that open starting Oct. 30.

People also have the option of voting in person at a vote center once they open. In-person voting has already begun at one location: the county Registrar of Voters headquarters in Santa Ana, where a vote center opened Monday.

In local races, a handful of voters – sometimes as few as 15 – can end up deciding who wins when the results are close.

Here’s a summary of key races on the ballot that we’ve been able to summarize so far, centering on the largest cities in the county first.

Let us know what cities you as readers would like to see added if possible. 

Click on the links below to skip to a particular contest:


TABLE OF CONTENTS

County Supervisor | Congress | State Senate | State AssemblyAnaheim | Santa Ana | Irvine | Garden Grove | Fullerton | Orange | Costa Mesa | Mission Viejo | Westminster | Newport Beach | Buena Park | San Clemente | Rancho Santa Margarita | San Juan CapistranoWater Districts | City Ballot Measures | Election FAQ


County Supervisor

Orange County Board of Supervisors, 1st District

Click here to read about this race in-depth.

One of the hottest local election battles of 2020, the 1st District Orange County supervisor race, pits incumbent Republican Andrew Do against Democrat Sergio Contreras, a Westminster councilman, for a seat on the county’s powerful Board of Supervisors.

County supervisors have enormous influence over public health policy, such as during the coronavirus pandemic, and decide how to prioritize $7 billion in annual spending between law enforcement, homelessness, mental health, social services and health care.

The outcome will decide whether Republicans keep their 4-to-1 supermajority on the Board of Supervisors, or Democrats pick up a seat, which would craft a 3-to-2 Republican majority. That could change the power dynamics on key issues, with some types of actions require yes votes from four of the five supervisors.

The 1st District seat encompasses Santa Ana, Garden Grove, Westminster, the northern part of Fountain Valley, and unincorporated Midway City.

Do is facing a highly competitive re-election in a seat where Democrats now hold a 17 percentage-point advantage in voter registration, an even wider margin than the 14 percent when Do narrowly won re-election in 2016 by 0.4 percent of the vote.

Do’s biggest financial backer, by far, is the union representing OC sheriff’s deputies, which has spent more than $855,000 promoting him this year – the most any group or individual has spent supporting any candidate for the 1st District seat in years.

Do voted last year for $151 million in raises for sheriff’s deputies, and moved $24 million from departments like the Health Care Agency to pay for sheriff cost overruns.

Contreras is backed largely by trade unions, the Orange County Labor Federation and individual donors, with most of his support coming in contributions of $2,100 or less.

Do has run on a campaign that he’s led the county towards safely reopening businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, while Contreras says Do and the other supervisors have failed in responding to the crisis by undermining public health experts.

Homelessness has been another major campaign issue. Do says he’s been solving homelessness and wants to continue doing so, while Contreras says the county has failed to move fast enough to create affordable housing to get people off the streets.

Do has declined to comment on longstanding allegations he’s been illegally living outside the 1st District, in a larger home he and his wife own in North Tustin.

Contreras has also been accused of wrongdoing that he’s denied. In 2016, the then-police chief of Westminster filed a legal claim leveling a host of corruption claims against top city officials, including allegations Contreras pushed city staff to fix a water leak on a private residential property to benefit a friend.

The city paid $500,000 to the former chief, Kevin Baker, to settle the claim. Contreras called allegations about him “absurd half-truths” and “a ransom note,” by someone “looking for a payday.”

In the heavily Democrat-leaning district, both Do and Contreras’ campaigns have sought to link their opponent with President Trump. Do’s campaign has claimed Contreras appointed a “dangerous far right Trump Republican to City Council,” while Contreras’ campaign alleges “Trump Republican Andrew Do is failing Orange County.”


Return to Table of Contents »


Congress

U.S. House of Representatives, 38th District

In this heavily Democratic district (50 percent to Republicans’ 21 percent), incumbent Democrat Linda Sánchez is facing one challenger, Michael Tolar, a Democrat who hasn’t fundraised. Sanchez was first elected to Congress in 2003 and has been easily reelected since then.

U.S. House of Representatives, 39th District

In a replay of 2018, Democratic Congressman Gil Cisneros is again facing Republican challenger Young Kim in the 39th Congressional District, which spans portions of North Orange County and parts of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. 

Cisneros, running on an anti-Trump platform, is advocating for gun reform and protecting undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, known as Dreamers, from deportation. 

Kim, a former assemblywoman and aide to former Republican Congressman Ed Royce, has avoided talking about Trump and is focused on homelessness and jump-starting the pandemic economy. She’s also criticized Trump for calling COVID the “China Virus.” 

The two had a close race in 2018, with Kim ahead in the first few days of counting but Cisneros ultimately securing more votes after all ballots were added up. 

Party registration is close between Democrats and Republicans in all of OC’s competitive congressional districts except the 39th District, where Democrats have a nearly five point lead over Republicans. 

U.S. House of Representatives, 45th District

Democratic Congresswoman Katie Porter is looking to defend her seat against Mission Viejo City Councilman Greg Raths, a Republican. 

Porter, a first term representative, quickly went viral for her grilling of banking and Wall Street executives during hearings of the Committee on Financial Services and Committee on Oversight and Reform. She’s promising to overturn the Trump tax cuts. 

Raths, a former U.S. Marine Corps colonel, says he wants to hold China accountable for the coronavirus pandemic. He also wants to get all the personal protective equipment to be manufactured in the United States. Unlike Kim, the Republican candidate in the 39th District, Raths has been pro-Trump on his social media accounts.

U.S. House of Representatives, 46th District

In this heavily Democratic district (49 percent to Republicans’ 22 percent), incumbent Democrat Lou Correa is up against Republican retired postal worker James S. Waters, who has reported no fundraising.

U.S. House of Representatives, 47th District

In another Democratic-leaning district (46 percent to Republicans’ 24 percent), incumbent Democrat Alan Lowenthal is facing Republican John Briscoe, a school board member at Ocean View School District. Lowenthal has raised $530,000 this election cycle, with some of the largest contributions coming from labor unions and corporate PACs. Briscoe has raised $36,000, all of which were contributions from himself.

U.S. House of Representatives, 48th District

Democratic Congressman Harley Rouda is looking to defend the seat against Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel, a Republican. 

Rouda, who beat longtime GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in 2018, is looking to bring back state and local tax deductions. He’s also for Obamacare and advocates various environmental policies. 

Steel says she will fight to lower taxes and open the economy. She has faced criticism by some OC residents for her handling of the coronavirus pandemic, including her questioning of the science behind masks, repeatedly mischaracterizing OC’s coronavirus rates to downplay them and advocating a faster reopening of the economy. 

Steel has consistently started the weekly Thursday OC news conferences about the pandemic, but rarely sticks around for press corps questions. She’s against sanctuary city policies and says she wants to strengthen border security. 

U.S. House of Representatives, 49th District

Democratic freshman Rep. Mike Levin is looking to defend the seat against San Juan Capistrano City Councilman Bryan Maryott. 

Levin, who’s routinely advocated for environmental reform, won by a landslide victory against Republican Diane Harkey in the 2018 election. 

Maryott is looking to beef up border security and is against any nationalized healthcare program. 

While party registration in most of the competitive Congressional Districts are nearly evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, experts and researchers have repeatedly told Voice of OC it was the No Party Preference voters that helped Democrats sweep the OC Congressional Districts in 2018, coupled with the Trump presidency. 
NPP voters make up roughly a quarter of all voters in the districts. 


Return to Table of Contents »


State Senate

State Senate, 29th District

Republican incumbent Ling Ling Chang will be facing off with Democrat Josh Newman in a rematch of 2018 that could have statewide implications. That year Chang beat Newman in a recall election, eliminating the Democrat supermajority in the state Senate.

Now the two are gearing up for a rematch in a key swing district statewide that’s drawing millions of dollars in spending.

Newman has raised about three times as much as Chang, with $3.2 million to her $1.1 million, according to the latest complete campaign finance disclosures, which run through mid-October.

In the March primary, Chang got around 48 percent of the vote, while Newman won about 35 percent of the vote, beating out Democrat and businessman Joseph Cho who won about 17 percent of the vote.

Of the registered voters in the district, about 39 percent of them are Democrats, about 31 percent are Republicans and about 25 percent are no party preference voters, according to state data.

Chang co authored a bill to stop price gouging during the pandemic. Newman is running on a campaign promising to reduce homelessness.

State Senate, 37th District

Republican incumbent John Moorlach is racing against newcomer Dave Min in the 37th State District in one of the county’s largest state senate districts, stretching from Anaheim to Laguna Beach. 

Min has never held elected office, citing his experience as a law professor at UC Irvine and senior congressional adviser as his credentials. He’s largely walked the party line, calling for Medicare for All and renewed action on climate change, pointing to COVID-19 and the recent wildfires as a reason that major change needs to be made at the state level.

Moorlach has been a major figure in Orange County since the 1990s, when he was appointed as county treasurer following the county’s bankruptcy. He went on to serve on the county board of supervisors, and came into the state senate in a special election in 2015.

His primary qualifications he shows to voters are his experience in public finance and his work on helping with mental health services at the county and state level for the homeless.

Democrats are also heavily investing in Min’s race, with over $870,000 from the state party along with thousands more from smaller organizations in Orange County and the Central Valley. In total, Min brought in over $2.2 million this year for his race, largely from subsidiaries of the party and unions, as of the latest complete disclosures in mid-October.

Moorlach had brought in $1.4 million at that point, with major investments from the state Republicans, insurance companies, and several large tech companies including Google, Facebook and AT&T.  Some of the largest spending in the race has been the state prison guards’ union, which has put $1.2 million into defeating Moorlach.


Return to Table of Contents »


State Assembly

State Assembly, 65th District

In this heavily Democratic district (42 percent Democrat to 29 percent Republican), incumbent Democrat Sharon Quirk-Silva is being challenged by Republican Cynthia Thacker, a retired businesswoman.

Quirk-Silva had raised $390,000 as of mid-October, while Thacker had not reported any fundraising.

State Assembly, 68th District

Republican incumbent Steven Choi is facing one of his toughest challenges in years from Irvine City Councilwoman Melissa Fox in a district where voter registration between the two parties is almost dead even.

Choi has taken his party’s stance on a variety of hot issues this election – including maintaining funding for law enforcement – and voted against AB-5, the law that put more requirements on Uber and Lyft to not treat drivers as independent contractors.

Fox has been the polar opposite of Choi on nearly every issue, and has repeatedly asked for discussions at the local level on state initiatives. She was also one of the leading voices behind the city of Irvine recognizing national pride month, and has been one of the loudest liberal voices on the council.

Fox is also ahead of Choi in fundraising, bringing in over $2.1 million through mid-October year according to campaign finance disclosures, most of which came from the California Democratic Party’s $1.2 million in donations to her. The 68th District has been in Republican control for the past decade.

Choi brought in just over $800,000 for the year.

State Assembly, 69th District

In this heavily Democratic district (52 percent Democrat to 18 percent Republican), incumbent Democrat Tom Daly is challenged by Republican Jon Paul White. Daly has brought in $420,000 as of mid-October, while White has not reported receiving any campaign funds.

State Assembly, 72nd District

In contention for this seat are former Republican state senator and former Garden Grove council member Janet Nguyen, and current Democratic Garden Grove Councilwoman Deidre Nguyen.

Both are two Vietnamese American women facing off for a seat currently held by Republican Tyler Diep, who sought reelection but was knocked out during the March primary amid tension between himself and the county GOP over his labor union-friendly votes in Sacramento.

The district includes Little Saigon and contains a vast Asian and Vietnamese American population, with 36 percent of voters registered as Republicans and 34 percent registered as Democrats.

In March, Janet Nguyen — the top vote getter in the primary race — pulled nearly 34 percent of the vote while Deidre Nguyen pulled 25 percent.

State Assembly, 73rd District

The race for this seat also comes after its incumbent, Republican Bill Brough, was knocked out in the March primary in the wake of sexual harassment allegations leveled at him last year by two women, which he’s denied, as well as claims he misused campaign funds. 

Now the race this November is between two challengers: Republican Laguna Niguel Mayor Laurie Davies, and Democratic LGBTQ+ advocate and political activist Scott Rhinehart. 

Republicans hold a wide advantage in voter registration, with nearly 41 percent of registered voters in the district compared to Democrats’ 31 percent.

In the primary, Davies led with 27 percent of the vote. Rhinehart got 23 percent.

State Assembly, 74th District

Democrat incumbent Cottie Petrie-Norris will square off against Newport Beach City Councilmember Diane Dixon for the district’s assembly seat, which was among the most competitive Assembly seats statewide in 2018.

In March, Petrie-Norris got the majority of the votes during the primary race with 52 percent of the vote while Dixon won 25 percent of the vote knocking out Republican Kelly Ernby, who works for the OC District Attorney’s office, from the running. Ernby had about 22 percent of the vote.

Petrie-Norris raised over $2 million as of mid-October, while Dixon had raised $565,000, according to campaign finance disclosures.

Of the registered voters in the district, about 35 percent are registered Democrats and about 35 percent are registered Republicans. About 25 percent of voters in this district have registered as no party preference voters, according to county data.


Return to Table of Contents »


Anaheim

Click here to read about these races in-depth.

The Anaheim City Council races are a battle between Disneyland resort-backed candidates against underfunded, anti-resort subsidy candidates in an election year that could see the current resort-friendly council majority swing the other way. 

So far, Disney has pumped $1.5 million into the races through the Support Our Anaheim Resort (SOAR) political action committee, according to the campaign finance filings. It gave the PAC money last year, long before the coronavirus pandemic hit and shut down Anaheim’s tourism-dependent economy. 

In 2018, Disney pumped $1.5 million into the Anaheim City Council races to help get Mayor Harry Sidhu and Councilmen Jordan Brandman and Trevor O’Neil elected. The entertainment giant also spent some of that money to fight the minimum wage ballot initiative that boosted pay for resort area workers whose employers receive a city subsidy. 

Shortly before the 2018 general election, the City Council — at the request of Disney — cancelled two major subsidies, including a $267 million planned luxury hotel subsidy. 

Brandman, O’Neil and Sidhu resisted calls earlier this year by some council members and residents for a $1 gate tax on Disneyland, Angel Stadium and the Honda Center. 

The Anaheim Chamber of Commerce is also backing some candidates. The chamber constantly pushed its members to support the $150 million Angel Stadium land sale and has received nearly $1 million between two contracts with the city since early last year. Sidhu brought both contracts before the council for approval. 

During the final weeks before the Nov. 3 election, a wave of spending by resort interests has picked up — especially against candidates who have criticized resort subsidies. 

Three out of the six district elected City Council seats are up for grabs this election. The mayor’s position is elected by a citywide vote and isn’t up for election until 2022.

Anaheim City Council District 1

This race pits Councilwoman Denise Barnes against two challengers, Jose Diaz and Ryan Balius.

Barnes announced late in the election season that she’s going to run for re-election in west Anaheim’s District 1. She fought against the Angel Stadium land sale, which saw the stadium and the roughly 151 acres it sits on sell for $150 million.

She’s been able to raise just over $14,000 for her campaign this year. 

Barnes is also fighting off spending against her.  

The California Association of Realtors spent nearly $48,000 for mailers and other campaign efforts to oppose Barnes.

And the Anaheim/Orange County Hotel & Lodging Association Political Action Committee spent just over $15,000 opposing Barnes. The PAC helped fund Sidhu’s 2018 campaign for mayor. 

It’s unclear who’s funding the realtor and hotel PACs because they haven’t filed any recent contribution reports, with the realtors filing no contribution reports this year on either the city’s website or with the Secretary of State. 

Last year, Barnes pushed for rent control to protect mobile home seniors from being evicted. She’s also questioned Chamber of Commerce contracts and the $6.5 million Visit Anaheim bailout, which was spearheaded by Sidhu, using the city’s federal COVID-19 relief money. She’s also criticized the Angel Stadium land sale and voted against it.  

The Orange County Register’s editorial board endorsed Barnes. The board has criticized the stadium sale, the Visit Anaheim bailout and a recent Anaheim Chamber of Commerce contract.  

Diaz, a manager at a local water district in Orange, has been endorsed by Sidhu and O’Neil. Some of his top issues are focusing on bringing businesses to Beach Boulevard and increasing public safety. 

The Anaheim Chamber of Commerce has spent nearly $48,000 supporting Diaz’s campaign through independent expenditures on mailers and other literature, according to campaign finance records. 

Support Our Anaheim Resort has also spent over $90,000 on Diaz’s campaign for literature and phone banking, according to recent filings. 

The Anaheim/Orange County Hotel & Lodging Association Political Action Committee spent over $16,000 on his campaign. 

And, the Anaheim police officers’ union also spent nearly $27,000 bolstering Diaz’s campaign. 

Diaz has raised around $20,800 in donations to his campaign, some of which come from former Disney-friendly Councilwoman Kris Murray, former Mayor Curt Pringle, lobbyist Peter Whittingham, and government-media relations firm owner Todd Priest. He is also supported by landlord interests like the California Apartment Association.  

Much of his campaign finance — $25,000 of it — comes from loans. 

Balius is a current parks and recreation commissioner. According to his campaign website, he wants to revitalize the Beach Boulevard area and address homelessness. 

Number one on his website’s list of priorities is homelessness, laying out a plan to “work with local and regional agencies to reduce or eliminate homelessness in Anaheim through the identification of long-term resolution options that effectively serve the needs of the homeless and our community.”

Balius has fundraised around $7,800 — some of which comes from resort subsidy critic and former Councilman James Vanderbilt — and $1,500 in loans.

Anaheim City Council District 4

Councilwoman Lucille Kring is termed out and this race could mean the Sidhu-led majority loses a reliable vote from the district. 

Annemarie Randle-Trejo, board of trustees president for the Anaheim Union High School District, this election cycle is campaigning largely on her criticism of the council majority. 

“There is no accountability without transparency and I will work to bring issues to light so that deals like the Angel’s Stadium contract that acted as a large tax giveaway to Arte Moreno (owner of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) at the cost of millions to Anaheim taxpayers doesn’t happen under my watch,” her website reads. 

The starting stadium price tag was $320 million — which already took flack from critics who said it was undervalued — and roughly $170 million was shaved off the price tag to subsidize 466 affordable housing units and a seven-acre park. 

Randle-Trejo also supports rent control. 

She fundraised just over $1,500 for her campaign, with donations coming from progressive activist and past Orange County Board of Education and former 39th Congressional District candidate Andy Thorburn, according to the reports she’s filed. 

The Anaheim/Orange County Hotel & Lodging Association Political Action Committee spent over $78,000 opposing Randle-Trejo’s campaign through literature and internet ads. 

She’s been endorsed by the OC Register editorial board and former Mayor Tom Tait. 

Community activist Jeanine Robbins is vying for a seat on the council, although she’s only been able to fundraise just under $7,000, including $3,000 she loaned herself. 

Robbins was a regular at City Council meetings before the pandemic, is looking to ban short-term rentals again and stop giving resort interests public subsidies.  

She’s also been a critic of the Angel Stadium land sale, and is part of the resident lawsuit against the city looking to overturn the sale. Robbins has also criticized the $6.5 million Visit Anaheim bailout. 

The lawsuit was filed earlier this year and alleges the City Council broke transparency law by secretly negotiating a land sale. 

Robbins has also been critical of the Chamber of Commerce created resident group, Anaheim First, which is supposed to recommend where the City Council should spend $250 million over the next decade. 

Many of Anaheim First’s initial members have ties to pro-business organizations like the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, Visit Anaheim and Support Our Anaheim Resort (SOAR). 

Earlier this year, some Anaheim First members voiced support for a luxury hotel subsidy

Avelino Valencia, a city budget and technology commissioner and aide to Assemblyman Tom Daly, has fundraised $70,000 this year. 

The Disney-funded SOAR PAC has spent nearly $354,000 on Valencia’s campaign for mailers and advertising, according to campaign finance forms. 

The spending on Valencia’s campaign is the most in the district. 

The Anaheim police union also spent nearly $24,000 bolstering Valencia’s campaign. 

Valencia is running on a pro-business platform and many of his campaign contributions came from various construction trade groups. He’s also been endorsed by the OC Democratic Party, a host of Democratic elected officials throughout OC and various unions. 

Julie Brunette is also running for the seat, but she hasn’t filed any campaign disclosures or has any active campaign website or social media.

Anaheim City Council District 5

Councilman Steve Faessel is defending his seat against two challengers — Kenneth Batiste and Sabrina Quezada. 

If Faessel doesn’t win re-election, Sidhu loses a reliable vote from the district. Sidhu often tees up items for Faessel to give his opinion on at City Council meetings and has at least once told Faessel how to vote on an item, which was picked up by a hot mic last year. 

During the Angel Stadium land sale discussions, Faessel didn’t ask many critical questions about the deal and instead praised the land sale since the council first voted on it last December. 

He resisted calls for the gate tax and to switch City Council meetings to Zoom or a similar service so residents can see the panelists’ faces and give live public comments. 

Faessel started fundraising three years ago and has received direct cash contributions from various building trade groups, hoteliers and Disney. 

He’s been able to fundraise nearly $58,000 this year and last year his campaign took in $66,000. 

Support Our Anaheim Resort, the Disney-financed political action committee, has spent nearly $385,000 for campaign mailers, literature and internet ads featuring Faessel. 

The Anaheim police union has also spent nearly $30,000 bolstering Faessel’s campaign efforts.  

Quezada is far behind on fundraising. 

According to the latest campaign finance disclosures, she’s only been able to raise roughly $3,500 this year. 

Quezada is focused on a universal basic income, free citywide WiFi and affordable housing, according to her website. 

Batiste, who’s also part of the lawsuit against the city over the Angel Stadium sale, has raised a little over $9,500. 

Like Robbins, Batiste was a regular presence at the Tuesday City Council meetings before the pandemic hit and the council switched to teleconference meetings without public comment. 

He’s been a critic of resort subsidies, the $6.5 million Visit Anaheim bailout, the stadium sale, the Chamber of Commerce contracts and advocated for a Disneyland gate tax. 

The OC Register’s editorial board also endorsed Batiste for his stance on resort subsidies and criticized Faessel’s record. 

“We’ve been disappointed, however, by [Faessel’s] vote for the stadium deal, his belief that pension liabilities will be handled simply by boosting the economy, and his backing of status-quo policies involving the Resort Area and major spending issues,” the board wrote.


Return to Table of Contents »


Santa Ana

Santa Ana’s police union is again the dominant spender in city elections this year, though at a far-reduced spending level than previous years following a successful – and expensive – recall campaign the union funded this spring.

City police officers and their union have contributed at least $186,000 toward ads supporting mayoral candidate Jose Solorio and council candidates Mark McLoughlin and Vic Mendez.

In supporting Mendez, the police union is seeking to unseat Councilman Juan Villegas, who was one of two council members to oppose $25 million in raises for the city’s police officers in a key vote last year.

The other council member to vote against the raises was Ceci Iglesias, who the union successfully led a recall effort against this spring, which used a significant portion of the union’s political action funds.

Another big spender in Santa Ana’s election this year is a political action group funded by Pam Sapetto, the lobbyist for the controversial 2525 N. Main St. project by developer Ryan Ogulnick. The City Council moved to reject the project April after previously supporting it, amid opposition to the plans from nearby neighbors.

The two biggest donors to the group trying to elect Vic Mendez are the police union, which contributed $12,500, and the PAC funded by Ogulnick’s lobbyist, which contributed $5,000.

The group funded by Ogulnick’s lobbyist has also put $10,000 towards the main group supporting Vicente Sarmiento for mayor.

Santa Ana Mayor

Click here to read about this race in-depth.

One of Santa Ana’s most pivotal elections in decades is the mayoral race, which comes roughly 26 years after current Mayor Miguel Pulido first took the seat and has stayed in it ever since. 

But Pulido is termed out this year, and seeking to take his spot are six candidates: 

  • Vicente Sarmiento, a Democratic councilman of roughly 13 years and lawyer who’s gotten support from many in Santa Ana’s young, progressive activist circles. Most recently, he has opposed revisions to affordable housing policies making it easier for for-profit development to spring up.
  • Cecilia Iglesias, a Republican who has recently advocated for charter schools and was unseated last year from the council in a recall effort funded mainly by the city police officers’ union. The recall came after she voted against $25 million in pay raises for officers. 
  • Jose Solorio is a Democratic former state assemblyman who currently does work for the Moulton Niguel water district and councilman who served between 2002 and 2006 and was reelected in 2016 for his current term. He is backed by the city police officers’ union, which has spent at least $5,000 on mailers supporting Solorio this election.
  • Claudia Alvarez, a former councilwoman and current Orange County prosecutor who’s vocal on public safety and lists endorsements like current Councilwoman Nelida Mendoza (who replaced Iglesias) and former District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. 
  • George Collins, a business owner who’s vocal about modernizing police department technology and economic development to make Santa Ana a more tourist-friendly area.
  • Mark Lopez, a business owner, who has no personal candidate statement and no website. He was vocal during a forum last month about making the elected positions in Santa Ana full-time posts.

Santa Ana City Council Ward 1

Vying for this seat — currently held by mayoral candidate Vicente Sarmiento — are Thomas Gordon, a school facilities manager; Tony Adame, businessman and founder of grooming product company Suavecito; Thai Viet Phan, a planning commissioner and attorney; and Cynthia Contreras, who works for the Orange County Probation Dept.

A top issue in this district is open space — namely around the looming sale of the 100-acre Willowick Golf Course by the city of Garden Grove, which legally owns the property, which sits within Santa Ana.

At a forum last month, Gordon said there’s a need to keep the golf course as open space; Contreras said she was interested in seeing it become a sports park; Adame indicated he’d like to see affordable housing there; and Phan argued for a mix of “boutique” businesses, open space, and housing at the property.

Gordon has been vocal about his opposition to needle exchange programs and the construction of more homeless shelters in Santa Ana. 

Contreras has been vocal about community policing and the need to curb street racing in the city.

Adame has said his priority is to revitalize the city’s parks and recreation services, specifically as they pertain to youth, and talked about what he saw as a need for special attention to recreation centers and WiFi access.

Among Phan’s main issues are economic development on the city’s west-end and getting mixes of residential and commercial development in the area, as well as outreach to the area’s Vietnamese American community.

Santa Ana City Council Ward 3

Hoping to win this seat — currently held by mayoral candidate Jose Solorio — are Jessie Lopez, a diversity development coordinator; Mark McLoughlin, a planning commissioner; Danny Vega, an electrical engineer; Jeffrey Katz, a business owner in the city; and Jannelle Welker, a policy advisor for Democratic OC Supervisor Doug Chaffee.

Lopez, who has the support of many young progressives in the city, has been vocal about community investment and increasing street parking availability for residents.

Vega has been vocal about ramping up public safety — namely, cracking down on homeless people — in the ward.

Katz is pushing for economic redevelopment in the city, specifically connecting north Santa Ana with downtown.

Welker, who comes from labor union experience, and McLoughlin, who has advocated for business and commerce in the city, have both emphasized the need to revitalize and support the city’s workforce in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

McLoughlin is backed by the city police officers’ union, which has spent at least $7,000 on mailers supporting him this election.

Santa Ana City Council Ward 5

In contention for this seat — currently held by Juan Villegas — are community health worker Johnathan Hernandez; property management coordinator Laura Perez; businessman Vic Mendez; and Villegas himself, an Orange County Sheriff’s Department special officer who’s up for reelection.

Perez, during a forum last month, said one of her priorities is addressing the inequities and gaps facing the ward, such as a lack of open spaces and affordable housing — something she said has been made apparent by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Hernandez was most vocal about introducing a free, citywide WiFi program to increase access to education for young children in town, especially as the pandemic has brought about a new era of distance learning online.

Villegas has said homelessness and public safety are among his top priorities, pointing to his role on the council in creating the Family Justice Center, which provides a “one stop shop” of resources for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, human trafficking and elder abuse. He joined fellow Councilwoman Ceci Iglesias last year in being the no votes against a $25 million raise for city police officers.

For Mendez, who is backed by the police officers’ union, a top issue is traffic safety: “I’ve been almost killed three times in downtown Santa Ana,” he said during last month’s candidate forum, contending “for too long City Hall has played a deaf ear to our concerns” when it comes to traffic management and high fatality vehicle accidents.


Return to Table of Contents »


Irvine

Irvine’s largest developer, The Irvine Co., is the dominant spender in Irvine elections, pumping at least $315,000 dollars into groups supporting candidates Mike Carroll, Christina Shea and John Park, and opposing Larry Agran and Tammy Kim.

Great Park developer Five Point, which was the dominant spender in recent elections, has also been spending along with its lobbying firm, though at a much reduced level of about $70,000, to the groups supporting Carroll, Shea and Park, and opposing Agran and Kim.

The money can take twists and turns on its way into the election.

Voters across the city have been receiving mailers from a PAC called the Greater Irvine Education Guide – the single biggest spender on ads in the election. That PAC is, in turn, funded by at least $78,000 from groups that themselves are largely funded by The Irvine Co. and, to a lesser extent, Five Point, according to public campaign finance records.

Irvine Mayor

The Irvine mayoral race is set to be a showdown between incumbent mayor Christina Shea and challenger Councilwoman Farrah Khan

Shea, a veteran of Irvine politics since the 1990s, has come under heavy fire this past year for her criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement, and blocking constituents on social media. One of the longest-seated Republicans in Orange County, she’s been a strong supporter of the Irvine Police Department and fiscal conservatism.

Khan has been a major proponent of environmental protection and one of Shea’s leading critics on the Irvine City Council, speaking at a press conference called to criticize Shea’s response to the defund the police movement. 

Shea has lagged heavily behind Khan in fundraising this year, with slightly under $7,000 saved for the final days of the election to Khan’s $71,000.  

If Khan loses, she will remain on the council for another two years in the seat she won in 2018.

Just days before the election, campaign finance regulators announced an investigation into Khan over $1,600 she reported receiving from the government of Azerbaijan to cover travel expenses for a trip last year to the country to attend the Fifth World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue.

Khan has slammed the complaint as “slimy politics,” saying her conference trip was taken as a private citizen and disclosed properly.

Irvine City Council

The local election in Irvine is a packed field this election cycle, with six candidates endorsed by major parties running for two four year seats and a potential two-year seat that could open up if Farrah Khan wins her race for mayor. 

Former mayor Larry Agran and city commissioners Tammy Kim and Lauren-Johnson Norris are running under the banner of the Democratic Party. Kim and Norris both worked under council members Khan and Melissa Fox, respectively, and are vying to take over their seats in November. 

Across the aisle, Republicans have backed businessman John Park, 2018’s council runner-up Carrie O’Malley and incumbent councilman Mike Carroll, who was appointed to the council last year and is running for the first time. 

Carroll has recently come under fire for his use of taxpayer money to send out $70,000 in mailers advertising city events to his constituents without informing the council or city manager’s office, with some of his critics calling it an attempt to get around campaign finance regulations. 

In addition to the parties’ endorsements, another eight candidates have thrown their hat in the ring, making for a packed field where few have been able to get their campaign messages out over all the noise. 

The election could see the council move out of its 3-2 Republican majority, potentially shifting the council to the left or right with potential room for three new members. Councilman Anthony Kuo is the only council member not running for office this election. 


Return to Table of Contents »


Garden Grove

Click here to read about these races in-depth.

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.

Garden Grove Mayor

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.

Garden Grove City Council District 2

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.

Garden Grove City Council District 5

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.”

Garden Grove City Council District 6

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.


Return to Table of Contents »


Fullerton

Click here to read about these races in-depth.

Fullerton residents will see at least two new City Council members after November’s election as City Hall leaders grapple with a nagging deficit and a proposed sales tax increase to keep the general fund afloat.

The tax measure before voters on the November ballot would raise sales tax by 1.25% throughout the city. Without it city staff say the council would need to cut $5 million out of the budget every year, and could still run out of savings by 2025.

If voters approve the tax measure, the city still has a hard financial future ahead, with a small staff caused by budget shortages and crumbling infrastructure that is a city-wide problem. Staff are also recommending that the city nearly double its rainy-day fund going forward.

Three Council seats are up for grabs against the backdrop of the financial crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, with two open seats as Mayor Jennifer Fitzgerald and Councilwoman Jan Flory are not running for reelection.

All the candidates said bringing in new businesses and adding more tax revenue is the key to fixing roads and restoring the budget, but each has a different approach to the issue. And all but one candidate are against the proposed sales tax increase.

Fullerton City Council District 1

There are two candidates in the northwest district, both businessmen, who are against the sales tax measure, have similar plans to help improve the city’s finances and want to increase spending on road repairs — an issue residents constantly bring up during public comment at Council meetings.

Andrew Cho, who owns an Anaheim-based bankruptcy law firm, said the city needs to increase its sales tax base instead of raising sales tax. He said City Council members need to be more proactive in attracting new businesses to the city.

“I would personally reach out and not only rely on staff,” Cho said. “I would like to focus on something high tech.”

Cho said the city can leverage its investment in fiber optic internet technology to lure some tech companies to town.

‘I’d like to see if that can be leveraged for maybe data centers, maybe leasing of land that’s owned by the city for the development of something hightech,” Cho said.

Once the economy begins turning around, he said he’d like to ease some of the permitting and planning processes to speed up new businesses development.

“There’s got to be a way the city can streamline that,” Cho said.

For too long, he said, adding new tax revenue for the city has been neglected.

“It’s been decades of policy decisions and my sense is that the can has been kicked down the road long enough to where the current council put [the sales tax measure] on the ballot to let the voters decide.”

Fred Jung, who owns a screen printing company in Paramount, said the city needs to diversify its tax revenue streams.

“Everything has to be about economic development — it just has to be,” Jung said. “You have to generate revenue outside of the basic property tax.”

Jung said city officials should focus on attracting Asian and Latino markets to the city so residents don’t go to nearby towns to shop at those businesses.

“Buena Park has four Asian markets, Fullerton has one. And that should tell everybody where we need to be. La Habra has a Northgate Market, we have none,” Jung said. “We’re not serving a culture and a constituency that would actively shop at those locations, keep our sales tax dollars in Fullerton.”

He also said the city needs to bring in businesses like Costco.

“There are a quarter of our residents that shop at another city’s Costco,” Jung said.

He pointed to the various businesses in nearby La Habra, which has big box stores like Walmart and Costco to small restaurants and businesses.

“They courted the right businesses to sign these long term investments with the city and that’s what we have to do.”

Fullerton City Council District 2

In the most packed district in the race, four candidates are running to represent the newly created second district.

All three of the candidates who spoke with Voice of OC said they were against the proposed sales tax measure.

Nick Dunlap, a businessman, said he helped the opponents of the measure write their argument on the ballot, and raised concerns that the money would go to pay raises for public employees and not infrastructure.

“I think if you really look at it, we live in a time where taxes, fees and rates only go higher. If we were to raise taxes at this point, we would have the second highest taxes in Orange County,” Dunlap said.

Dunlap said the city needs to do a better job working with California State University, Fullerton to build some business opportunities and development.

He said they can bring some classes or seminars to meeting rooms around Downtown Fullerton to help drum up some business and create a new customer base for the area.

Dunlap also said the city needs to streamline its business permitting and licensing process to speed up business development.

“The industrial base that we have between the 91 freeway and pretty much Commonwealth — there’s great potential there in industrial, manufacturing, shipping, logistics, things of that nature. If you bring those businesses, I think that’s going to help expand the tax base. I think big box retail is important as well,” Dunlap said.

Charles Sargeant, a former businessman and owner of a nonprofit dog rescue, said the solution is to work on bringing more business into the city and that he was already speaking with businesses to move into Fullerton.

“I don’t dance around the answer like everyone else does … I’m not for the tax,” Sargeant said. “If it goes into the general fund, some of the other candidates will tell you it’s controlled when it gets into their hands … you don’t have the voice to control that fund. It has to be controlled with the ballot.”

Sargeant said the city needs to attract more auto dealership businesses to boost tax revenue.

“We used to have robust auto dealerships in this city — they let it go, they did nothing,” he said. “You’re not going to go into movie theaters, that’s not going to work. You’re not going to go into bowling alleys, that’s not going to work. So auto dealers.”

Mackenzie Chang, a federal officer who works with asylum seekers, says he thought the new measure wasn’t properly explained to the public.

“I think they were a little deceptive in how they put it forth,” Chang said. “The way that they promoted it doesn’t really explain that it goes to the general fund and they promoted it as a street repair fund.”

Chang said one of his top priorities is renegotiating labor contracts to reduce overtime and pension costs for the city.

“You really have to be able to come to a new contract concession with these labor groups. The overtime pay is way too high. We need to either shut down loopholes or other ways certain officers and firefighters are doubling their salary with overtime. As well as being able to look at restructuring pensions, of course.”

Dr. Faisal Qazi, a neurologist, wants to bring in new businesses by easing some fees and regulations at city hall and also by partnering with the North Orange County Chamber of Commerce.

“Our retail is decimated right now and you have to bring it back, you have to facilitate the retail returning as the opportunity arises,” Qazi said. “Municipality cannot stand in the way of issuing business permits on time, delaying the inspections and so on.”

And once the city starts seeing its tax revenue rebound, Qazi said road repair will have to be a top priority to help spur further economic growth.

“Our infrastructure is not safe, it’s not conducive to attracting new businesses and new business ideas and it’s also going to inevitably affect home prices and it also has an effect on home development,” Qazi said.

He said when revenue starts coming in, the city should aggressively apply for matching grants from state and local sources.

“As the business regenerates and we get more tax revenue, that gives us something to work with,” he said. “It’s a loop — it’s a whole circle, and it includes the interconnectedness of the infrastructure to economic growth and also public health.”

Fullerton City Council District 4

In the city’s southwest district, incumbent Councilman Bruce Whitaker is defending his seat against challenger Aaruni Thakur, a member of the Fullerton School Board and attorney.

Whitaker, a self-proclaimed libertarian, has sat on the council for the past decade and served as mayor twice. But his experience on the council is one of the primary things his opponent has taken issue with.

“Frankly, in ten years he has no accomplishments to show. He had a conversative majority, he was mayor twice, and he’s still talking about fixing the roads,” Thakur said.

Whitaker is also the only member of the city council not to endorse the tax measure, saying the real problem is the city’s spending beyond its means and raising concerns that the revenue created from the measure wasn’t specifically allocated anywhere in the budget.

“That is primarily due to larger pension contributions to CalPERS as a result of their poor investment practices,” Whitaker said. “But what the majority of the council have chosen to blame is the fact that the citizens aren’t taxed enough.”

He said the city needs to reduce its pension costs and have the employees “contribute a larger percentage to their pension plan thereby reducing the city’s pension that gets paid.”

Whitaker said his idea to reduce spending were broad cuts across the board, and to outsource city services and become more of a contract city. He also brought up that city employees should be paying larger percentages of their wages into their pension fund, rather than having the city pick up the slack.

Thakur disagreed, saying that the new taxes would be essential to help fix Fullerton’s infrastructure.

“If the measure passes and I’m elected, I’ve stated that the lion’s share should go to infrastructure,” Thakur said. “As a concerned citizen of Fullerton raised here, raising my family here, I’m voting for it. But ultimately it’s up to every other voter as well.”


Return to Table of Contents »


Orange

Click here to read about these races in-depth.

Orange voters are now electing their City Council members by district for the first time, while also deciding the fate of a controversial development proposal that has become a key dividing line among candidates.

All in all, the race has drawn two candidates for mayor and 13 candidates for the four council district seats up for election this year, under a new system the city agreed to after being sued for allegedly violating the California Voting Rights Act.

One of the key issues in the election is whether to let a developer build 128 homes on an old sand and gravel quarry in east Orange, which is on the ballot as Measure AA

The project, which its developer calls The Trails of Santiago Creek, is opposed by many residents who say the development would worsen traffic congestion and raise the risk of back-ups in the event of a wildfire evacuation. 

Supporters say it will create more open space than developed land, provide much-needed housing, and that the developer has dedicated millions of dollars to city coffers by committing to additional traffic lanes in nearby streets, among other mitigation measures.

The developer, Milan Capital Management, has donated $700,000 to the campaign for Measure AA, as well as $29,000 to the Republican Party of Orange County. The party is endorsing Mark Murphy for mayor, as well as council candidates David Vazquez, Jon Dumitru, Mike Alvarez and Rick Ledesma.

The Democratic Party of Orange County is endorsing Adrienne Gladson for mayor, and council candidates Eugene Fields, Martin Varona and Danett Abbott-Wicker.

Candidates that have publicly supported Measure AA are Murphy, Vazquez and Alvarez.

Candidates that have publicly opposed the measure are Gladson; Barrios and Fields in District 1; Varona and Daniel Correa in District 2; John Russo in District 3; and Ana Gutierrez in District 5.

One candidate said he doesn’t yet have a position on the measure: Jon Dumitru, who said he’s been studying the issue and hopes to reach a decision soon.

Orange Mayor

The mayoral race is pitting incumbent Mark Murphy against challenger Adrienne Gladson, a former city planner in Brea who now works as a land use consultant.

Murphy didn’t respond to an interview request. Gladson did, and said she’s running to bring accountability to the mayor’s office and respect for the community.

“When did we become the enemy? The people, the community, the property owners, the taxpayers – why did we become the enemy?” she asked. “His mindset are investors, special interests are what rules the day, and so [his] goal is to make it easy for them,” Gladson said of Murphy.

Gladson said she jumped into the race in late June, inspired in part by the way the mayor treated a friend of hers who came to speak at a meeting in late March.

“I just couldn’t have him not have somebody run against him. He needed to explain his record. I challenged him, and he said no, to a debate on Measure AA. And I think he needs to explain his connections to the developer and the lobbyist on that project,” Gladson said, adding that Murphy is “very tight friends” with a leading lobbyist for the developer.

“I’m not opposed to development…but you [have to] do it authentically, you do it by following the rules,” said Gladson, who opposes Measure AA.

Gladson also has weighed in on another controversy in the city. She’s critical of Councilman Mike Alvarez running for a third consecutive four-year term in November, in light of the two-term limit on council members that Orange voters put in place in 1996.

“I think it’s unethical. I think it totally disrespects the voters of Orange, who established term limits in ’96, and I voted for it,” Gladson said in the interview.

Alvarez didn’t return a phone call seeking comment, but his lawyer has maintained Alvarez can run again because of the switch to district elections.

“The community isn’t going to stand for this any more,” Gladson said. “Term limits are term limits.”

Orange City Council District 1

This district, centered on Old Towne Orange, pits four candidates against each other: Arianna Barrios, Eugene Fields, David Vazquez, and Christian Vaughn.

Barrios, a marketing consultant and Rancho Santiago Community College District trustee, says she opposes Measure AA because she doesn’t “bow down to a development agreement that’s not in the community’s interest.”

“Sadly the City Council has become really insular, and has not [been] really interested in hearing from the community,” Barrios said of the panel’s overall attitude.

“There’s been a lot of party politics, and very partisan party politics at the City Council level that had no business being brought forward. And while they may have been good purity tests for the people bringing them forward,” they didn’t serve the community, she added.

Barrios counts as her endorsements Alvarez; former mayors Teresa ‘Tita’ Smith, a Democrat, and Carolyn Cavecche, a Republican; as well as construction trade unions and the Orange County Business Council.

She frames herself as an independent thinker who wouldn’t be swept up in partisan politics.

“Our city is changing. And I want to be that candidate who bridges the gap. Because we’re going to need people who are in the middle, who can bring that understanding, that right now, it’s just not there. And I am that bridge builder,” she said.

Vazquez, an Orange planning commissioner and executive at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, is endorsed by a majority of the current council.

In an interview, Vazquez said he would ensure the city’s police and fire agencies have the resources they need, and that he would work to address homelessness “through enforcement, services” and continuing to work with nonprofits and faith communities.

To manage the city’s budget, Vazquez said he would look at city services that could be contracted out, eliminating consulting services that are no longer needed, and working with the city employees’ labor unions on potential changes to their contracts.

He also wants to see the city be friendlier to businesses, including adding more types of business licenses that can be renewed online and devoting city community development block grants to help businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.

“My approach to COVID is, we have to find out a way to open across sectors, and of course do so responsibly,” Vazquez said, adding he would advocate state and federal lawmakers to establish liability protection for businesses that reopen.

Vazquez supports Measure AA, pointing to benefits like adding open space and $8 million in traffic improvements the developer would pay for along Santiago Canyon Road.

“When you strip it down, to me this is really the question: Do you want a sand and gravel quarry that has been there for a century, or do you want 100 acres of open space? And to have that property [turn into] 128 homes, 100 acres of open space is a benefit to the city,” Vazquez said.

Vaughn, a longtime Riverside police detective and Army veteran, says he brings strong leadership and experience qualities to the table from his 23 years in law enforcement.

“Whether it’s rioters, critical [incidents], or the pandemic, those are the kinds of things that are in my wheelhouse,” Vaughn said in an interview.

Homelessness is one of the major issues he wants to address, through more police enforcement and making citizens more aware of common code violations that can be enforced.

“When they’re in jail, they get back on their meds…they get rehabilitation,” Vaughn said of homeless people with mental illness and drug issues, adding officers’ hands have been tied by the state’s reduction of penalties for theft and drug crimes. 

“It’s pretty amazing that once word gets out that we’re not an easy city to be in, the one thing homeless don’t like and transients don’t like is being hassled,” Vaughn said. “Through greater attention, and a little bit more enforcement, we can make orange less hospitable” for homeless people.

Vaughn also supports adding more police officers in Orange once the economy recovers.

He opposes Measure AA.

“I would like to see it developed, but unfortunately I think the decision-making process leading up to [it] wasn’t transparent so that all the people can be behind it,” Vaughn said, adding there’s unanswered questions about cleaning up the sand and gravel site. “I think the developer’s gotten some favorable treatment,” he added.

Fields, a former Orange County Register reporter, points to his experience covering the city for the Orange County Register for five years, including attending City Council and planning commission meetings.

In an interview, Fields said he wants to add 35 more police officers over the next five years to focus on homelessness and traffic enforcement, along with additional social workers to work alongside the Police Department’s homeless outreach officers.

“We need more officers to be able to interface with the homeless and we need more social workers” to help route people to mental health or addiction services, Fields said, adding he wants to hold regular town hall meetings and office hours to hear from constituents.

To help local businesses during the pandemic, Fields is proposing a moratorium on business license fees on businesses that make less than $100,000 annually. He also wants a full ban on use of the weed-killer product Roundup at all city parks, as well as flashing-light crosswalks in front of all elementary schools in the city.

“We need to take care of our kids in these high-traffic areas,” said Fields, pointing to the 2014 hit-and-run deaths of three girls who were crossing the street in front of an elementary school near Orange on Halloween.

Fields said he opposes Measure AA mainly because of evacuation concerns during nearby wildfires, and said city council members should respect the will of the people when they gather enough signatures to get a referendum on the ballot.

“I someone can get a referendum [on the ballot], it is incumbent upon the elected officials to listen to their constituents,” Fields said.

Orange City Council District 2

This district, on the city’s western end, pits Martin Varona, Daniel Correa, Jon Dumitru and Caroline Alatorre against each other.

In an interview with Voice of OC, Dumitru said he’s running to support police and fire services, as well as local businesses struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“I want a very strong presence of public safety,” said Dumitru, a longtime Orange County Fire Authority employee. He noted his endorsements from the city’s police and firefighters’ unions.

To support local businesses, Dumitru is proposing to eliminate city inspection fees for businesses that remodel during the pandemic. And he wants to explore having the city buy protective equipment at bulk discounts and have the local chamber of commerce sell it to local businesses at-cost.

“It’s win win win,” Dumitru said, where businesses get savings, and the city doesn’t cost taxpayers anything extra.

“I really think right now, across the county we have a lot of folks running for office that are inexperienced. Now mind you, that brings new ideas as well. But I think right now, especially in Orange, we really need to get folks in” who are ready to go fast, said Dumitru, who previously served on the council.

On Measure AA, Dumitru said he hasn’t taken a position yet but is closely studying the arguments on both sides and hopes to take a position by early this week. “I’m catching up a lot of it,” he said.

One of the possibilities Dumitru says he’s considering is whether, if the project is rejected, the developer would be legally entitled to build affordable housing.

“That would be a huge deal to those neighbors out there,” Dumitru said, because they would “block 128 homes only to get four-story low income housing…people would go insane.”

Varona, a civil engineer who works at the city’s public works department, said he wants the city to make itself accessible to its immigrant communities – including live Spanish translation of council meetings – and supports shifting certain police responsibilities and funding to social workers.

“Right now I think a lot of people feel like democracy is deteriorating in front of our eyes,” said Varona, adding the city “hasn’t introduced a lot of ways to connect with marginalized communities in a meaningful way.”

In addition to live translation of council meetings, Varona said he supports increasing the number of council meetings to at least double. And he supports having council members be paid full-time, which he says would allow them to focus full-time on addressing the needs of the citizens they serve.

“The city of Orange doesn’t have a great history of being super friendly to immigrant communities,” he added, pointing to a gang injunction that a federal court ruled was unconstitutional and the council’s 2018 support for a lawsuit against California’s sanctuary cities law.

The city, Varona said, has an “over-reliance on police to be the answer to homelessness, to be the answer to all our public safety concerns. And I would very much like to have some very serious discussions about how we can take some responsibilities they have and reprioritize it to” other professionals like social workers.

Varona says he opposes Measure AA and wants to “go back to the drawing board” about the land, including potentially adding affordable housing options.

If he wins, Varona says he will step down from his job at the city. State law doesn’t allow city employees to also serve as city council members.

Correa and Alatorre didn’t respond to interview requests. Alatorre will appear on ballots but reportedly dropped out of the race earlier this month.

Orange City Council District 3

This northern district features incumbent Mike Alvarez against John Russo and Danett Abbott-Wicker.

Alvarez, who didn’t respond to an interview request, has drawn criticism for running for a third consecutive four-year term despite the city’s voter-approved term limits of two consecutive terms. His attorney has maintained Alvarez can run again because of the switch to district elections.

Russo, a coach at Orange High School, says the city code is clear that once you serve two back-to-back terms, you’re out.

“It’s unfortunate that Mr. Alvarez has manipulated the system to benefit himself, which is very upsetting. His first year in office was in 1996, which was the year that term limit [measure] passed.”

Alvarez served from 1996 to 2004 before winning election again in 2012 and re-election in 2016.

“It is for sure not ethical,” Russo said of Alvarez’s re-election effort.

Russo said his top priorities are “increasing public safety and supporting our first responders,” making sure the city budget is balanced, and ensuring “Orange is as business-friendly as possible.”

He said he’s a no on Measure AA.

“The city turned a blind eye to this whole situation. And because of our [current] leadership, the council has personally – each and every one of them – and the prior council members as well…they have left the city liable for the mistakes,” Russo said, pointing to a $1,000 donation he said Alvarez got from the project’s developer.

“It’s not technically illegal, but it does raise an eyebrow as far as the ethics of this. To me that doesn’t seem very ethical,” Russo said.

Abbott-Wicker, a field coordinator for Progressive Democrats of America, said she’s a Bernie Sanders supporter who favors more affordable housing and shifting some police spending to having social workers present on drug and mental crisis calls.

When it comes to mental crisis calls, she said in an interview, the city needs to shift from relying almost entirely on police. “Punitive does not work. And it’s inhuman the way [people with mental illness] get treated. And that needs to change,” she said.

Abbott-Wicker also said a struggling mall in the city, Village at Orange, is “a perfect place for affordable housing.”

“We desperately need it. We’ve got a lot of homeless people,” she said, adding the city should opt into renewable energy programs like Community Choice Energy.

Abbot-Wicker opposes Measure AA, saying she’d prefer affordable housing at the property instead of the current higher-priced home plan, but given the likely neighborhood opposition to affordable housing, would support open space there.

“I really don’t want high-end development up there, because people can’t afford it” unless they’re wealthier, she said. “Open space is better than upper-priced housing.”

Orange City Council District 5

This southern district, centered on the El Modena neighborhood, features two candidates: Rick Ledesma and Ana Gutierrez.

Gutierrez, an elementary school teacher, says in campaign materials that she’s a lifelong resident of El Modena who says she opposes any new taxes, strongly supports police and firefighters, and won’t accept donations from developers. She has come out in opposition to Measure AA.

Ledesma, a board member of the Orange Unified School District, is endorsed by the Republican Party of Orange County. He says in campaign materials that public safety is his top priority and that he opposes any efforts to undermine Proposition 13.

Ledesma didn’t respond to an interview requests, and Gutierrez wasn’t available before the publishing deadline.


Return to Table of Contents »


Costa Mesa

Click here to read about these races in-depth.

Democrats will be running to keep a majority of their seats on the Costa Mesa City Council come election day this November.

The council shifted from being a majority Republican to Democrat in 2018. 

Now Democrats are looking to fill two seats up for grabs and keep two current ones they have.

City staff in May projected a $30 million deficit caused by the Coronavirus pandemic. The deficit has drawn the current council criticism for not building up reserves for the city from candidates looking to replace incumbents.  

The city’s finance and pension board is now projecting a $250,000 surplus following close to $11 million in department cuts, layoffs and furloughs.

Around 37% of registered voters in the city are Democrats, about 32% are Republicans and 25% are no party preference voters, according to county data.

In 2018, Costa Mesa first utilized a voting district election system moving away from their previous citywide voting system. Elections were also historic in the city that year because it was the first time the public directly elected it’s Mayor, as opposed to the majority of the city council making the decision to fill the post on an annual basis. 

The change in system added two seats to the council. Democrats won all of the spots up for grabs that year with voters electing Councilmembers Andrea Marr in District Three, Manuel Chavez in District Four and Arlis Reynolds in District Five.

The mayor is elected at large for a two year term. Council members serve a four year term.

This will be the first election for districts one, two and six where residents will get to elect its own councilmember after the switch away from an at large voting system in 2018.

Costa Mesa Mayor

Mayor Katrina Foley is running for re-election. Up against her is Sandra Genis, a longtime local official who is also currently serving on the city council and has served as mayor before. The two went from campaigning for each other in 2014 to squaring off in a mayoral race in 2018 which Foley won by over 6,000 votes

Genis has raised over $12,700 for her campaign. John Saunders, an Orange County real estate mogul, contributed $10,000 to her campaign, according to campaign finance disclosures.

Foley has raised over $90,000 for her campaign with over $7,000 coming from the Costa Mesa Firefighters Association, according to campaign finance disclosures.

Al Melone, Quentin Pullen and Wendy Leece have also pulled nomination papers to run against the two but have not raised as much money as Foley and Genis in their campaigns. 

“These are campaigns during COVID and so my view is that I want to show how thrifty I am — as I would be being mayor — in the way that I run my campaign,” Leece said in an interview with the Voice of OC.

“I am not beholden to anybody. I’m only beholden to the people who elect me, those are Costa Mesans,” she added. “I’m not beholden to a party. I’m not beholden to unions. I’m not beholden to developers.”

Leece has served on the city council for eight years, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District’s board of education for four years and currently serves on the city’s finance and pension advisory committee as vice chair.

Pullen has raised over $4,700 for his campaign, according to campaign finance disclosures. 

“We’ve been a lot more strategic in the way that we spend the money that we have raised. I haven’t asked for any endorsements,” Pullen said in an interview. “What I’ve been doing is just basically self funding with my own money and family and friends.”

Pullen served in the Marine Corps for eight years and the Navy Reserves for four years. He also owns a small business in Costa Mesa called Body by Q Fitness where he does physical therapy and fitness coaching.

“I don’t want to owe anybody anything except the residents of Costa Mesa, so if a person donating to my campaign comes with strings, I’m not interested,” he said. “It’s not about politics. It’s about where our community is right now and where we want to see our community go.”

Melone did not wish to comment.

Costa Mesa City Council District 1

Councilmember John Stephens is also running for reelection against Consultant Jason Komala and Business Owner Don Harper.

Stephens has raised over $64,000 for his campaign while Harper has raised over $7,000 and received $55,000 loans, according to campaign finance disclosures.

Komala is not accepting donations and funding his campaign on his own, according to his campaign website.

Costa Mesa City Council District 2

Three candidates are running to represent District two on the city council including Loren Gameros, Ben Chapman and Gary Perkin

Gameros has the backing of the five current democrats sitting on the council including Foley and Stephens. He has raised over $50,000 for his campaign with over $7,000 coming from the Costa Mesa Firefighters Association.

Chapman has raised over $17,000 with Republican officials like Mission Viejo Councilman Greg Raths and Irvine Mayor Christina Shea donating to his campaign. 

Costa Mesa City Council District 6

Four candidates are squaring off for district six including Jeffrey Harlan, Hengameh Abraham, Jeff Pettis and Lee Ramos.

Like Gameros in the district two race, Harlan is endorsed by the five democrats already on the city council. He has raised over $46,000 for his campaign with over $7,000 coming from the Costa Mesa Firefighters Association.

Pettis has raised over $6,000 for his campaign, according to campaign finance disclosures.


Return to Table of Contents »


Mission Viejo

Click here to read about these races in-depth.

Delays in getting a new voting format online means only two City Council seats are up for grabs in Mission Viejo, a south county city and one of the country’s largest single-project planned communities.

A city that’s rich in parks and trees with a population of roughly 95,000 is in the midst of a transformation, moving away from at-large voting to cumulative voting in response to a legal challenge raising issues of voter disenfranchisement, specifically as it pertains to the city’s pocket of Latinos.

Running for reelection and hoping to stave off six challengers are:

  • Mayor Brian Goodell
  • Councilwoman Patricia “Trish” Kelley

Goodell is running on what he says is a proven track record of approving new “job-creating businesses,” improving the city’s community and arts centers, and preserving the Casta Del Sol Golf Course as open space, among other things, according to his candidate statement.

Much of the financial support for his campaign comes from individual donors and local community members, as well as interest groups like the union representing Orange County Sheriff’s deputies, the Apartment Association of Orange County landlord interest group, and a former lobbyist for Curt Pringle, Peter Whittingham, according to campaign finance disclosures.

Likewise, Kelley on her candidate statement boasts accomplishments like “reduced expenditures while protecting services during COVID-19 pandemic,” renovating and enhancing parks, also working to preserve open space, and reducing unfunded pension liabilities, among others.

Much of her campaign’s support comes from interest groups like the firefighters’ union, a group representing Orange County’s car dealerships, the Sheriff’s deputies’ union, the Apartment Association of Orange County, and notably Congresswoman Katie Porter’s Republican challenger this year and Mission Viejo councilman, Greg Raths.

Challenging these two council members are:

  • Cathy Schlicht, former mayor and businesswoman
  • Ryan Tworek, a small business owner
  • Jessica Gilbert, an IT executive
  • Pauline Hale, a real estate advisor
  • Steve Sipe, a retired, former communications company executive
  • Michael McConnell, a business attorney

Schlicht is campaigning on supporting police officers and protecting the Casta del Sol Golf Course from development, as well as closing term-limit loopholes “with a term limit ballot measure.”

She’s also voicing alarm over the city’s fiscal state: “In 2015, as Mayor, our approved budget contained 50% in reserves. Today, five years later, currently our reserves have dropped to a dangerous 35.7% level.”

Much of her support comes from individual small donors, according to campaign finance disclosures.

Tworek is campaigning on what he calls “firsthand experience with balancing budgets responsibly. The leadership in Mission Viejo has remained stable, and now it is time to  bring creative, pragmatic, and collaborative solutions.”

His initiatives, according to his candidate statement, are: “Maintaining a fiscally responsible budget, working to increase citizen engagement, (and) ensuring our citizens’ public safety.”

A lack of campaign finance disclosures reported by the city’s website paint an unclear picture of where his support is coming from, if he’s fundraised at all.

Gilbert says she’ll focus on “stabilizing businesses, engaging the community, environmental efficiencies and most of all, supporting the education of our children” if elected, according to her candidate statement, which also focuses on reopening plans for small businesses and carbon-neutral environmental initiatives.

She’s reported little fundraising, but has support from Democratic Irvine Councilwoman Farrah Khan, according to her campaign finance disclosures.

Hale says she’s running for council to “restore trust, fiscal responsibility, and transparency to city government,” according to her candidate statement, which adds “My goal is to improve our amazing city by supporting local businesses and focusing on upgrading infrastructure.”

Much of her support comes from local Democratic groups, and Planned Parenthood or Orange and San Bernardino counties, according to her campaign finance disclosures.

Sipe is campaigning on issues like maintaining the city’s levels of public safety, ensuring city spending is “in the best interests of our community,” protecting the city’s rainy day fund, promoting “equality and equity for all residents” and supporting and expanding business in the city, among others, according to his candidate statement.

Much of his campaign’s financial support comes from himself and other individual donors, according to his campaign finance disclosures.

Among McConnell’s priorities, according to his candidate statement, are reopening local businesses safely “while also protecting the health and welfare of our citizens” during the pandemic, and promoting public safety and public health “by working with local experts and community members to address the specific issues facing our community.”

Much of his campaign’s financial support comes from donations to himself, according to his campaign finance disclosures.


Return to Table of Contents »


Westminster

Click here to read about these races in-depth.

A city hall beset by political divide and pushed close to the brink of financial calamity will, like many other cities in Orange County, see two of its council seats go up for election on Nov. 3. 

There are five candidates hoping to take charge of this city with a vibrant Vietnamese American community in the heart of Little Saigon and ambitions to expand its status as a tourism destination, but marked by neighborhood blight in areas like the west-end and years of intense bickering and disagreement at the government level.

Notably, the city’s recent switch to district elections have put two council members who have clashed with each other, Kimberly Ho and Tai Do, in the same District 3 — meaning they’ll run against each other. 

If Ho loses, she’ll lose a place on the dais as her current term is up. If Do loses, he’ll remain for two years since his current seat was elected by voters citywide.

Recently, the two were on opposite sides of the debate over what to do with the city’s financial future. Ho was in favor of putting a ballot measure question before voters over whether to continue the city’s sales tax measure that’s kept its budget above water for years. 

Do and a majority of council members weren’t, leaving the city at risk of cutting key services and basic functions when the tax measure expires in 2022. 

His candidate statement continues to campaign on the commitment of opposing tax increases, as well as “reducing excessive bureaucracy to attract and retain businesses,” supporting police officers, and addressing homelessness. 

He’s reported more than $42,000 in fundraising for his campaign so far, and reported loans to his campaign of $25,000. 

Ho is campaigning on her support for public safety — much of which depends on the extension of the tax increase to fill its coffers — as well as addressing housing concerns, roads and street repair, business development and promoting tourism in Little Saigon. 

She narrowly out-fundraised Do with $45,000 in political contributions, but has reported far more in loans of $86,000.

Running for District 2 are all newcomers. 

Carlos Manzo, a planning commissioner, has been a frequent at council meetings (pre-COVID-19) and was a supporter of the recall movement against the three-member council majority — Ho, Charlie Nguyen, and Mayor Tri Ta — by political group Westminster United this year. The recall was unsuccessful, and the council members in a special election retained their seats. 

“I am running for City Council because I want to increase the quality of life for all residents, ensuring our tax dollars are being spent wisely,” his candidate statement reads. “I want to work to beautify our city, and to make it a place we can all be proud of. Most importantly, I want to bring ethical and transparent decision making to City Council.”

He’s fundraised around $19,000 in political contributions, according to his most recent campaign finance report. 

Also running for this seat is city traffic commissioner NamQuan Nguyen, whose support comes partly from Lan Quoc Nguyen, an attorney who represented the council majority during the recall process. 

Among his priorities, according to his candidate statement, are maintaining “small, limited municipal government with a balanced budget, low taxes and no fee increases” among others. 

He’s reported more than $52,000 in political contributions, and more than $5,000 in loans. 

Trung Ta, whose ballot designation lists him as a “retired project manager,” cites his experience working with budgets to campaign on issues of the city’s financial circumstances.

“Westminster City has faced many problems in the last 10 years from homelessness, public safety issues, high cost of housing, transparency problems, and a budget deficit. To solve these problems, Westminster needs a city council member who has vision, experience in budget management … and a passion to serve the people,” his candidate statement reads. 

He’s reported roughly $4,300 in fundraising through donations, and more than $7,000 in loans, according to the latest campaign finance reports he disclosed.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Councilman Tai Do would lose his seat this year. He will not. Voice of OC regrets the error.


Return to Table of Contents »


Newport Beach

Click here to read about these races in-depth.

Three seats on the Newport Beach City Council are up for grabs this November and five candidates are in the running to represent their district.

The current council has been pushing back against state mandated housing goals that would have the city zone for close to 5,000 new homes — a task that city officials and council candidates have said is unattainable. This is one of the many issues candidates will have to deal with if elected.

Newport Beach City Council District 2

Incumbent Brad Avery will be squaring off against Nancy Scarbrough, owner of an interior design firm, to represent the district.

Avery has raised over $64,000 for his campaign this year while Scarbrough has raised close to $40,000 — $17,000 of which she contributed to her own campaign, according to campaign finance disclosures.

At a candidate forum in September held by Speak Up Newport, a nonpartisan citywide resident group, Avery said one of the most important issues in the district is traffic through neighborhoods.

“I’m committed to protecting property values and property rights. We must continue to support small businesses, we must be vigilant against airport noise and pollution, maintain clean waterways, reduce traffic congestion and modernize Newport harbor,” said Avery, stating the reasons why residents should vote for him.

“I will continue to oppose and minimize the impacts of the state’s misguided housing policies which threaten our quality of life with major density increases,” he added.

At the same forum, Scarbrough said one of the biggest issues is the state mandated housing goals.

“Right now the Housing Committee is looking at places to put high-density, low-income housing, and they’ve got their eyeballs peeled for a lot of areas in West Newport, which are now industrial,” she said. “We’re going to have more traffic and more problems with the infrastructure that goes along with all of that.”

On Scarbrough’s campaign website she promises to concentrate on resisting the housing mandates, addressing noise and pollution issues that have to do with John Wayne Airport, as well as oppose short-term rental expansion in the city.

Newport Beach City Council District 5

In this district, Councilman Jeff Herdman is looking to keep his spot on the council while restaurateur and business owner Noah Blom is hoping to unseat the incumbent.

Herdman has raised over $38,000 for his campaign this year, while Blom has raised over $62,000. Blom has received contributions from property managers, real estate investors and developers, as well as restaurant owners, according to campaign finance disclosures.

Blom has been endorsed by current Mayor Will O’Neill as well as Councilmen Duffy Duffield and Kevin Muldoon. He is also backed by the Newport Beach Police Assn., Newport Beach Fire Assn., and the Newport Beach Short-Term Rentals Assn.

Council members Joy Brenner and Diane Dixon are backing Herdman and so is Michelle Steel, member of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. Scarbrough has also endorsed Herdman.

Blom does not support a cap on short-term rentals in the city while Herdman does. Herdman believes the city should more aggressively enforce coronavirus restrictions while Blom does not.

Herdman, in his candidate profile, asked for the district’s vote so he can continue to work on issues of homelessness, the state mandated housing goals as well as “revitalizing the economy.”

“I would say that quality of life issues as they relate to John Wayne Airport and the takeoff procedures is probably the biggest issue affecting the people in district five,” Herdman said at the Speak Up Newport forum.

Blom said in his candidate profile that he will support public safety officials, “work to improve city infrastructure” and “support the success of our local businesses during these challenging times.”

“We are in a recovery, we need to get back to business,” Blom said at the forum as to why residents should vote for him. “We’re going to constantly be building to get what we need out of our independent businesses so that we can find the strength this city needs to stay on the right path.”

Newport Beach City Council District 7

O’Neill is running unopposed in this district.

“The reason to vote for me this year would be the steady leadership that came during an incredibly difficult time and the very quick reaction to partnering with our local health partners like Hoag hospital, to amplify their messages, and also to follow the health recommendations that were coming from the state and county health care agencies,” O’Neill said in an interview.

The mayor is backed by the Lincoln Organization of Orange County, the Newport Beach Police Assn., and the Newport Beach Firefighters Assn.

He is also endorsed by fellow council members Duffield, Avery, Muldoon and Dixon, county Supervisors Steel and Don Wagner, as well as Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes.

O’Neill has raised over $65,000 this year for his campaign, according to campaign finance disclosures.


Return to Table of Contents »


Buena Park

Click here to read about these races in-depth.

Two seats are up for grabs in one of Orange County’s northernmost cities — Buena Park — and three members of the community are hoping to win them.

This is another Orange County town with a tourism-oriented cadre of attractions like Knott’s Berry Farm and the Source Mall. The city also neighbors Anaheim, with its (pre COVID-19) bustling Disneyland resort area. It’s also well positioned in the southland, a gateway between Orange and Los Angeles counties.

Buena Park’s strong Korean American community for the first time saw one of its own, Sunny Park, get elected to the council in 2018.

Buena Park City Council District 3

In the race for the city’s District 3 council seat are:

  • Sharon Smith, wife of current mayor and longtime Councilman Fred Smith.
  • Susan Sonne, a local nonprofit director and city commissioner.
  • Paul Gonzalez, a businessman and staffer at the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, who also served on the city’s planning and traffic commissions.

Smith is campaigning on a platform of conservative fiscal leadership, looking to the city’s economic growth and development of local businesses and tourist attractions as a foundation of the sales tax that brings money into city coffers.

She’s also campaigning on investing in parks for children and programs for seniors, as well as “public safety” support in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and calls to reallocate resources away from police into other areas — which she rejects, according to her website.

“I am committed to economic development, increasing our property values and enhancing our quality of life. I will always make public safety a priority, while limiting taxes/spending and supporting our children and seniors,” her candidate statement reads.

Sonne, a more liberal candidate whose idea of public safety, according to her website, means supporting police but also investing in other areas to create economic mobility and “decriminalize poverty.”

She too is advocating for more senior support in the city through more investment in making areas like parks and sidewalks more accessible, as well as meal delivery programs.

But her online platform also includes making government more accessible and culturally diverse, paying attention to climate change in a city that sits between major freeways, and “reimagining” the Buena Park Mall in downtown.

Gonzalez doesn’t appear to have a candidate website.

His candidate statement says little beyond details about his life and family and owning a small business at the Cypress College swap meet.

In the statement, he briefly lays out his ambition to “fight for the safety and quality of life our families enjoy” and use his experience on the city’s commissions to “ensure our city is safe for all of our citizens and visitors.”

Buena Park City Council District 4

Running for District 4 are:

  • Donna Sipl, who according to her official ballot designation is a “Global Compliance Manager.”
  • Incumbent Councilman Art Brown.

Sipl is campaigning on issues like protecting “public safety and reduce property crimes,” transparency and fiscal responsibility, preserving quality of life, and improving communication between the city and residents.

“I want to amplify the voices of District 4 residents to ensure inclusiveness in policies that are implemented, and promote a city council that maintains high standards of local government transparency and accountability …” her candidate statement reads.

Brown is campaigning on his experience, which he said the city needs to get through the pandemic.

“These difficult economic times along with the COVID-19 pandemic require an experienced candidate with a commitment to the future of our city. I know first-hand the city’s financial strength is of paramount importance to the citizens,” his statement reads.

It adds: “It’s especially important to make difficult decisions without resorting to increasing taxes and fees on residents while insuring a balanced budget.”


Return to Table of Contents »


San Clemente

Click here to read about this race in-depth.

Nearly 20 candidates are running for office on the San Clemente City Council, setting up a crowded race that will determine the future political balance of what has been a divided council.

With two full four-year term seats and one two-year term seat up for grabs, the new council will take over after a hectic year that so far has seen two interim city managers, intense arguments between council members and a threat by the Orange County Sheriffs’ Department to pull deputies out of the city. 

This election will restore the council to its full five members, after months of deadlocked votes following former mayor Dan Bane’s resignation when he moved to Missouri earlier this year.

The new officeholders’ first major actions on the council will be resolving budget concerns and management issues that have plagued the city over the past year, with a search for a permanent city manager and the appointment of a new mayor after months during which the council could not reach a consensus.

With no agreement on the next mayor, Mayor Pro Tem Laura Ferguson has run the meetings, but has had a strained relationship with the rest of the council, resulting in regular disagreements on the dais.

Voters will also be given a choice to establish term limits for council members under a new proposition that would limit elected officials to two consecutive four-year terms, after which they would need to wait at least two years before running again.

Ten candidates are running for the city’s two four-year terms up for grabs.

Councilman Chris Hamm has announced he’s not seeking reelection to his seat on the council, but incumbent Gene James is looking to win his first full term. James won a special election in 2019 after the sudden death of then mayor Steven Swartz in May that year.

James, an Army veteran, will be running against nine other challengers looking to take his place. Former Department of Homeland Security attorney Chris Duncan, pub owner Jeff Provance Jr., small business owner Joseph Kenney, 35-year Navy veteran Aaron Washingtonsmall business owner Thor Johnson, insurance agent Patrick Minnehan, and health care sales director Jeff Wellman, along with city commissioners Charlie Smith and Bill Hart are all fighting for a seat.

Eight others are running to fill the two remaining years of Bane’s seat, and will be back up for reelection in 2022 alongside Councilwomen Laura Ferguson and Kathy Ward. Candidates include former councilman Steven Knoblock, local business owner Tyler Boden, contractor George T. Gregory, retired fire captain Jim Dahl, property manager Jerry Quinlan, architect Zhen Wu, businessman Laron Rush and Donna Vidrine, a nurse and the only woman running for any of the open seats.

The race hasn’t picked up massive amounts of outside spending, but several candidates have pulled ahead of the main pack.

Duncan has led the fundraising push, bringing in nearly $48,000 for the year as of Oct. 17. Most of that money has come from individual donors, with large donations from Planned Parenthood and several branches of the Democratic Party.

Smith has also brought in nearly $40,000, largely from individual donors, with several local business owners contributing as much as $5,000 on their own.

James comes in third despite his position as an incumbent, but has not submitted any updated information since September. In the last year, he brought in just over $16,000, with big donations coming from the Association of OC Deputy Sheriffs, along with individual business owners.

Among the candidates vying for the two-year position, Boden has raised far more than any of his competitors at more than $23,000, with donations from the Orange County Professional Firefighters Assn., and Business For A Better San Clemente.

The new mayor will be chosen by a majority vote of the new council, along with the mayor pro-tem.


Return to Table of Contents »


Rancho Santa Margarita

Click here to read about this race in-depth.

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

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.


Return to Table of Contents »


San Juan Capistrano

Click here to read about this race in-depth.

Two candidates are vying for an open seat in the San Juan Capistrano City Council election.

Of the two candidates, John Alpay and Howard Hart, Alpay has raised more campaign funds than his opponent this election season. The candidates are competing for the District 5 seat, which is currently filled by Councilman Brian Maryott who is running in the 49th Congressional District race.

Alpay is running on a platform to “recharge [the] city’s economic engine,” as well as support public safety and education, according to Alpay’s campaign website.

Alpay served two terms as trustee for the San Juan Capistrano Unified School District and currently serves as the chairman of the board of the city’s chamber of commerce.

Hart’s platform includes improving open spaces and trails, and protecting neighborhoods by supporting first responders and “regulating residential treatment facilities,” according to Hart’s campaign statement.

Hart served in the Navy for 30 years as a naval Intelligence officer and now works for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

From the start of his campaign in January through Oct. 17, Alpay has raised $39,000, according to his campaign finance disclosure statement. Hart began his campaign in February and has raised $22,000, according to his campaign finance disclosure statement.


Return to Table of Contents »


Water Districts

Orange County Water District and Municipal Water District of Orange County

Seven candidates are running for election to the Orange County Water District board and 14 are running for the Orange County’s Municipal Water District’s board.

Candidates Tri Ta, Cathy Green, Megan Yoo Schneider, Jeff Thomas, Allan Mansoor, Stacy Taylor and Karl Seckel have all raised money or took out loans for their campaigns.

The Poseidon Water Co., which is seeking approval of a controversial desalination plant, has spent over $140,000 in total on mailers supporting candidates Tyler Diep, Stacy Taylor, Debbie Neev and Cathy Green, according to filings with the Registrar of Voters.


Return to Table of Contents »


City Ballot Measures

City of Orange Measure AA – The Trails of Santiago Creek Open Space and Residential Project

Click here to read about this measure in-depth.

Voters in Orange will decide whether they want 128 low-density homes on an old quarry site along Santiago Canyon Road in the city’s east end. 

The project is opposed by many residents who say the development would worsen traffic congestion and raise the risk of back-ups in the event of a wildfire evacuation. 

Supporters say the project will result in more open space than developed space and that the developer has dedicated millions of dollars to city coffers by committing to additional traffic lanes in nearby streets, among other mitigation measures. 

The Yes campaign is funded entirely by $700,000 from the developer, Milan Capital Management.

The No campaign is funded by about $15,000 in individual contributions from dozens of Orange residents, to a committee called Orange Citizens to Keep Orange Safe.

City of Costa Mesa Measure Q – Retail Cannabis Tax and Regulation Measure

Click here to read about this measure in-depth.

If approved, the measure would legalize retail cannabis shops in Costa Mesa and the city would be able to tax, regulate and profit off of weed sales. No money has been reported raised for either the support or opposition, according to the City Clerk’s office.

The city would then be able to tax, regulate and profit off of legal retail cannabis shops. City Staff estimate that doing so could bring in between $1.4 million to $3.1 million at a time when the pandemic has cost Costa Mesa millions in sales tax revenue. Cannabis sales would be taxed between 4 percent and 7 percent.

A majority of council has spoken in support of the measure, saying it will not only diversify the city’s revenue stream but will bring an end to the numerous unlicensed pot shops in the city that have been selling cannabis products untaxed and unregulated. 

Two council members, Sandra Genis and Allan Mansoor, oppose the measure, with Mansoor saying there’s no assurance the measure would bring a stop to unlicensed marijuana businesses.

Angelina Hicks contributed reporting to this voter guide.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

Have an opinion on this story? Join the conversation… In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join the open conversation on our Facebook page. Message us via our website form or staff page. Send us a secure news tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.