Donald Caskey, a longtime resident of Laguna Hills and established architect, has been appointed to the Laguna Hills City Council to fill a council vacancy.
Editors’ Note: This dispatch is part of the Voice of OC Youth Media program, working with student journalists to cover public policy issues across Orange County. If you would like to submit your own student media project related to Orange County civics or if you have any response to this work, contact Digital Editor Sonya Quick at email@example.com.
The City Council voted unanimously to appoint Caskey late last month to former Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy Bill Hunt’s seat. Caskey will serve until November 2022, when an election will determine who will serve out the remainder of Hunt’s term, which was to end in November 2024. Laguna Hills was among several Orange County cities that had been grappling with leadership vacancies of late.
Caskey was picked from four prospective candidates after deliberations and interviews over a couple of special council meetings. In his application, he states that he will be focusing primarily on the operating budget, public safety, and the stewardship of the parks and recreation programs.
“I have the experience to help make a difference,” Caskey said in his application.
Caskey, who has lived in Laguna Hills for over 39 years, has served on the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission this year, a position he will have to vacate since being appointed to the City Council, city officials said.
Caskey elaborated in his candidate application form that once the city can maintain a healthy operating budget, many of the other planning issues Laguna Hills faces, such as the Village at Laguna Hills, will become far more manageable.
The Village is a proposed project that is expected to replace the Laguna Hills mall that closed its doors in 2018. The development is expected to feature affordable housing, retail stores, restaurants, office spaces and a hotel. The council is expected to consider multiple approvals related to the project on Dec. 14.
Resident Karen Litfin spoke during the public comment section of the City Council meeting on Oct. 26 and recommended appointing Caskey to the council saying he has the knowledge and experience to address the issues the city is facing. Fourteen other emails were sent in before the meeting in support of Caskey.
However, not all Laguna Hills residents felt that the council choosing to appoint the next member rather than holding a special election was the right way to fill the vacancy. A few people emailed the city clerk in favor of holding a city-wide election and two expressed concerns about the appointment process.
“What I try to instill in my students is a pride in democratic process that this country is based (on)… it seems that the present City Council is thinking of taking that right away,” said Ann Owens, a former Saddleback Valley Unified School District history teacher, who was one of four people who submitted an email requesting the city hold a special election.
The cost of calling and conducting a special election to be held on April 12, 2022, would have ranged from $141,252 to $163,398, according to a city staff report.
After much deliberation, Caskey was appointed and sworn in as the new council member.
“It has been a little bit turbulent in the past couple of months, not having a council member, but we really appreciate you stepping up to the plate,” said Mayor Erica Pezold in congratulating Caskey.