ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. — Mail-in voting has been well underway in Orange County for the past month. For those who are still undecided or waiting to cast their vote on Election Day, here is an overview of some important local elections and measures in cities across the county.
Anaheim is Orange County’s most populous city with more than 350,000 residents. It is also the home of the Disneyland Resort, the Anaheim Convention Center, more than 140 hotels, and sports franchises, the Los Angeles Angels and Anaheim Ducks.
The city will have three of its seven city council seats up for grabs this year.
In years past, the way the council is made up often leads to big-time decisions regarding Disneyland, the city’s resort district, and investments in neighborhoods.
In 2015, a business-friendly council led to the expansion of Disneyland Resort, which resulted in the building of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and the creation of a controversial four-diamond hotel incentives program. The following year, when a more progressive council gained power, they immediately eliminated the hotel incentives program and banned short-term rentals. Most recently, a business-friendly majority reversed the ban on short-term rentals and voted in favor of selling Angel Stadium to keep the Angels baseball team in town.
Suffice it to say, the make-up of the city council can easily sway the direction of the city.
Now, more than ever, this new council will have to face decisions with the weight of the coronavirus pandemic and the downturn it has caused on their shoulders. The resort district is in chaos with several hotels closed and tourism down. The hotel bed tax revenue fell off a cliff, and the city’s unemployment rate is at 15%.
In District 1, which covers the western part of the city, two newcomers will try to unseat incumbent Denise Barnes, who was elected in 2016. Jose Diaz is a municipal water administrator who wants to increase business development and supports new housing developments. Ryan Balius serves on the West Anaheim Neighborhood Development Council and the District 1 Parks and Recreation Commission. He said he plans to prioritize public safety, among other things. The incumbent Barnes helped reverse the city’s controversial hotel incentive program and voted against the Angel Stadium deal.
City Council District 4 is the home of the Disneyland Resort and the Anaheim Convention Center, along with much of the city’s resort district and surrounding neighborhoods. With councilwoman Lucille Kring termed out, residents will choose from four new candidates to fill her seat.
Avelino Valencia serves as the chair of the city’s Budget, Investment, and Technology Commission and works as a senior field representative for Assemblymember Tom Daly’s office. Annemarie Randle-Trejo is the president of the Anaheim Union High School Board of Trustees. Jeanine Robbins is a community volunteer and a frequent presence at city council meetings, having spoken out against short term rentals, the city selling Angel Stadium, and the city’s favoritism towards Disneyland and the Walt Disney Co. The other candidate, Julie Brunette, is a retiree and told the Orange County Register that she is in favor of building more affordable housing throughout the city and is an advocate for her neighbors.
District 5 covers the city’s so-called Platinum Triangle, where the Angels and Ducks’ stadiums and the city’s transportation hub, ARTIC, are located. More than $1 billion in commercial real estate investments have been poured into this area in recent years.
Incumbent Steve Faessel will face off against two other challengers, Kenneth Batiste, a former firefighter and Los Angeles County probation officer, and Sabrina Quezada, a graduate student at USC. Faessel was elected in 2016. During his time on the council, Faessel voted in favor of the Angel Stadium land deal and supported the city’s efforts to address the homeless problem.
In Garden Grove, three city council seats as well as mayor are up for the taking.
Garden Grove is adjacent to Anaheim and Santa Ana. In recent years, the city has seen an uptick in commercial developments that includes the SteelCraft food hall and new hotels along the city’s end of Harbor Boulevard, a main artery that leads to Disneyland, including the Great Wolf Lodge hotel and water park, and a soon to be built Kimpton boutique hotel. The investments in hotels have more than doubled the city’s bed tax revenue since 2012 from $12 million to $26 million in June 2019, according to city documents.
But the pandemic has shaken things up. Mayor Steve Jones recently said the pandemic had dropped the city’s hotel tax revenue 60% year-over-year.
The elected mayor and city council will have to figure out a way to continue increasing tourism and business development and, most importantly, navigating the city through an unprecedented pandemic.
There is also the case of developing the city-owned but Santa Ana located 101-acre Willowick Golf Course, an opportunity zone project. That development is currently mired in litigation.
Incumbent Mayor Jones will try to keep his seat against two challengers, fellow councilman Phat Bui and retired businessman Donald Taylor. Jones served on the council in 2008 and 2012 and was elected mayor in 2016.
In District 2, incumbent councilman John O’Neill faces off against Julie Diep, the founder and president of OC Autism Foundation.
District 5, which is home to Great Wolf Lodge and other hotels, Robert Tucker, a retired union representative, will attempt to unseat incumbent councilwoman Stephanie Klopfenstein.
In District 6, incumbent councilwoman Kim Nguyen will try to hold off Huan Nguyen, an electrical engineer.
The city will experience a new mayor this election cycle.
For 26 years, Miguel Pulido has led Santa Ana as its mayor and benefited from the city’s no-term-limit rules. Santa Ana is Orange County’s second most populous city, with more than 330,000 residents, about 78% of whom are Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In 2012, Santa Ana voters passed Measure GG, which set term limits on the office of mayor. The law now sets a term limit of four, two-year terms on the office.
With Pulido gone, six candidates will vie for his vacated seat. The new mayor will need to navigate the city’s need for affordable housing, homeless issue, and police oversight.
The candidates include former Santa Ana Councilwoman and prosecutor Claudia Alvarez, resident Mark Lopez, current councilman and former state assemblyman Jose Solorio, another current councilman Vicente Sarmiento, business owner George Collins, and educator Cecilia Iglesias.
Aside from voting for a new mayor and four city council seats, the hot button issue in the city of Orange centers around a potential housing development.
Voters of Orange will have to decide on whether they want developer Milan Capital Management to build 128-single family homes and open space on a 109-acre site at the former Sully-Miller quarry in the east side of the city or keep it as a sand and gravel quarry.
The Orange City Council approved Milan’s project dubbed The Trails at Santiago Creek last year despite opposition from local residents. Milan has also committed to spend $8 million to improve the site.
Residents who opposed the project said the proposed development does not meet the city’s general plan for the site, is a wildfire hazard, and will increase traffic congestion in the area. The group gathered enough signatures to create Measure AA and take the decision out of the council’s and leave it up to the voters.
Facing rising pension liability and fiscal uncertainty, the city of Los Alamitos is asking voters to support Measure Y, a ballot measure that would raise the city’s sales tax by 1.5%, from 7.75% to 9.25%.
If it passes, the 9.25% sales tax rate for a city with a population of 11,000 would be the same as Santa Ana — a city with 330,000 residents. The two would have the highest sales tax rate in Orange County, if it passes.
Proponents said increasing the city’s sales tax an additional 1.5% would generate an estimated $4.1 million a year.
Opponents believe the additional sales tax would hurt low-income residents and increase the price of goods during the pandemic.
The city of Fullerton is also asking its residents to support a sales tax increase in Measure S.
Measure S would increase the city’s sales tax by 1.25%, from 7.75% to 9%. If passed, Fullerton will have the second-highest sales tax rate in Orange County.
Backers that include city officials say the tax would generate an estimated $25 million a year and pay for essential city services such as street repair and public safety.
Opponents of the measure say the council has badly mismanaged the city’s budget and will increase the financial hardship of residents already suffering from the coronavirus pandemic.