Irvine voters just reelected their mayor and gave two Democrats full four year terms on the council, giving the city’s governing dais its first Democratic supermajority in over a decade.
But while these new council members were all endorsed by the same party, there’s questions over how much that’ll matter once they are sworn into office.
Over the past two years, most of the council’s biggest votes on issues such as the Great Park’s development, the OC Power Authority and a controversial asphalt plant have been lopsided 4-1 affairs, with Councilman Larry Agran voting against the majority which included Democratic colleagues Mayor Farrah Khan and Councilwoman Tammy Kim.
But with Republican Councilman Anthony Kuo losing his seat to UC Irvine professor Kathleen Treseder, who was endorsed by the county Democratic Party, that dynamic is set to shift in a big way.
While Kuo regularly voted with Mayor Farrah Khan, Treseder has been an outspoken critic of the mayor, claiming on the campaign trail she reported her to the FBI for what she saw as corruption surrounding the OC Power Authority.
When asked whether or not she planned to work with Khan on the city council, Treseder pointed out that even without Khan, there were enough votes from the Democratic Party to push through legislation without her.
“Even if we’re not able to bring all the registered Democrats along on an issue, we can still have a majority,” Treseder said. “The Democrats on the council range in their philosophy, some of them seem pretty centrist while others are pretty progressive, so I expect the votes will follow that.”
Khan did not respond to requests for comment for this article.
Kim, who has largely voted with Khan in the past as well, said she is currently “disappointed,” with the mayor after Khan challenged her appointment to the Orange County Transportation Authority board, but was open to working together in the future.
“I have every intention in working with all of my council colleagues in making sure that we put our residents first,” Kim said. “It will be interesting to see how (Khan) will work through this new council dynamics given that she has isolated herself. ”
Agran said that the council was “dysfunctional,” over the last term, and that they were “unable to translate the will of the people into meaningful public policy,” but that it had nothing to do with the party.
“There seems to be continuing changes in personal and political relationships on the Irvine City Council,” Agran said in a phone call with Voice of OC. “The real question is do we have a city council with a working majority that wants to get things done and separate out personal ambition.”
Mike Moodian, a political science professor at Chapman University, said it’s clear to anyone watching that the candidates all have their own ideas that aren’t necessarily cohesive.
“These candidates certainly did not run as a slate,” Moodian said in an interview with Voice of OC. “What we might see is a council where even though there’s a 4-1 majority for one party, when it comes down to a certain issues that maybe there’s a break…that’s yet to be determined.”
The first big issue they’ll likely have to tackle is a debate over whether or not to expand the size of the city council, and whether that will include a switch to district elections.
Kim said she’s already drafted a memo with plans to discuss moving to a seven person council without switching to district elections, with hopes to discuss it at the first meeting of 2023.
While the county Democratic Party has officially endorsed cities moving to district elections, Kim has been a strong opponent of the move, while Khan and Agran both supported it earlier this year.
Irvine is the largest city in Orange County with only five council members, with each council member representing around 62,000 people according to US Census data, compared to 49,000 in Anaheim and 44,000 in Santa Ana.
While the council initially discussed putting a discussion on expanding the council on the ballot for the 2022 election, they ultimately decided to wait due to a tight deadline from the county registrar to approve the measure and get it in front of voters.
Councilman Mike Carroll also voted against the move, while Treseder has said she would support both increasing the size of the council and switching to districts.
“Running for the whole city at large is inaccessible to most people, it’s just too hard of a task,” Treseder said. “We need more city council members to more accurately represent.”
The council’s first meeting together is scheduled for December 13.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a Groundtruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.