Local Democrat factions are splintering in the Irvine City Council race as election day draws closer – pitting the Los Angeles Democrats against Orange County Democrats.

It comes as developers are spending big to push their preferred candidates in a city where many residents are critical of developers. 

At the center of the battling Democrat parties is Irvine Councilman Larry Agran, a controversial Democrat who’s been part of the city’s political landscape for over 40 years and frequently butts heads with the council majority led by Democratic Mayor Farrah Khan. 

Councilmember Larry Agran during the Irvine City council meeting on June 22, 2021. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Los Angeles Democrats have funneled more than $270,000 through a political action committee that is bolstering Khan and opposes Agran, after the party was sent $300,000 by developers like the Irvine Company and FivePoint Holdings.  

Around $155,000 of that has already been spent – $55,000 supporting Khan and $100,000 opposing Agran. 

The move has angered the Democrats of Greater Irvine, while the Orange County Democratic Party said they’re looking into the issue. 

It comes as Khan’s defending her mayor’s seat this year, while Agran is looking to hold onto his city council seat – two separate races in Irvine.

Now, there’s a fight brewing.

The Democrats of Greater Irvine, who’ve been a frequent supporter of Agran’s and urged the party not to endorse Khan in her reelection campaign, put out a statement Thursday morning asking the state party to step in. 

“Our mission as chartered organizations under the California Democratic Party is to speak with one voice on election endorsements and activities, and we of course are expressly forbidden to work in opposition to an endorsed Democratic party candidate,” wrote Kev Abazajian, the group’s president. 

Abazajian also asked for the state party to order LA Democrats to pull back any remaining funds they donated to Working Families United, and ensure no more money was spent against Agran, giving them a deadline of one week. 

Ada Briceño, chair of the OC Democratic Party, said they were still looking into it as of noon on Thursday. 

“I’m working with Mark Gonzalez from the Democratic Party of LA and we’re in the midst of investigating what’s going on,” Briceño said in an interview.

While both are endorsed by the county party, Khan and Agran don’t agree very often on policy, and at city council meetings are generally seen arguing with one another over issues including the OC Power Authority, the All American Asphalt plant and the Great Park. 

“It’s kind of outrageous that money sent to the Los Angeles County Democratic Party would find its way back into Irvine to attack an endorsed candidate,” Agran said in a Thursday interview. “There’s no doubt more to come.” 

Khan did not respond to questions.

Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan at the June 22, 2021 Irvine city council meeting. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

How The Money Got Into The Race 

This year, the LA Democratic Party sent over $270,000 to the Working Families United Committee political action committee, a brand new spending vehicle that opened this year, according to state campaign finance disclosures.

The committee is almost exclusively funded by the LA Democrats, with the $270,000 in donations making up nearly 87% of the committee’s war chest, according to a tally of late contributions from the city database. 

As of October 12, the committee spent nearly $55,000 on mailers and advertising for Khan. 

At the same time, the committee also sent $100,000 to another brand new committee, called Citizens for Ethical New Leadership Opposing Larry Agran for Irvine City Council 2022. 

The committee has not reported any funding other than what was sent by Working Families United. 

While that committee hasn’t reported any spending yet, Voice of OC was able to locate five different fliers with the committee’s name on them, all criticizing Agran on a variety of issues. 

The committee also created a website called EnoughLarry.com that accuses him of misogyny and racism from the council dais.

The spending against Agran is also mixed with many of the developer investments from the city in this year’s race. 

To start, the Irvine Company invested $300,000 in the Building Industry Association of Southern California political action committee. 

One of the biggest shifts this year is that FivePoint Holdings, traditionally one of the biggest investors in local races, appears to be largely sitting this election out, investing just $55,000 in the same committee, bringing the grand total to $355,000. 

The Building Industry Association then sent $300,000 directly to the Democratic Party of Los Angeles, which then invested in Working Families United.

The only other investment that can rival the LA Democrats and developers in the race this year is the Orange County Lincoln Club, a prominent conservative donor group who has endorsed over 50 local candidates this year.  

As of October 19, the club has spent over $100,000 apiece on advertisements and mailers supporting Councilman Anthony Kuo and John Park, leader of the Greater Irvine Republicans and chair of the city’s finance commission. 

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a Groundtruth initiative. Contact him at nbiesiada@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.

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