Controversial Housing Project Opposed by Many Orange City Council Candidates

October 14, 2020 Updated: October 14, 2020

ORANGE, Calif.—The Epoch Times heard opinions from seven out of the 14 candidates running for city council seats in Orange, California, regarding a development project that has divided the city for more than a decade.

That project will come to a head this year with a ballot measure vote. Measure AA will determine the fate of 110 acres along Santiago Canyon Road, which is mostly occupied by a gravel mining operation.

A “yes” vote on the measure will permit developer Milan Capital to build housing on part of it, while leaving 70 acres as open space for community use.

Out of the seven candidates who offered an opinion on Measure AA, only two supported it: Mike Alvarez and David Vazquez.

Vazquez is running for the District 1 seat, one of four open council seats, and he spoke at an Oct. 6 candidates forum on Zoom.

He said the project would benefit his district, because it includes the completion of the Santiago Creek Trail, allowing residents to walk from downtown (in District 1) to Santiago Oaks Regional Park.

Mike Alvarez is the incumbent for District 3, and he spoke at an Oct. 7 Zoom forum for candidates in that district.

“Obviously I supported it. I voted for it,” Alvarez said. “And I think what people need to understand is that measure gives a lot of benefits to the city.”

His opponent, John Russo, replied that, while he is all for proper and well-planned development, the project in question is neither.

He claimed the environmental impact report is “faulty” and criticized Alvarez for taking donations from lobbyists who work for the developer.

“You can go look at our 460-forms,” Alvarez shot back. “You won’t find the developer on there, on mine.”

His 460-form for 2020 does not include such donations, but his 460-form for 2016 does.

It includes a $400 contribution from Christopher Nichelson, president of the developer, Milan Capital. It also includes contributions of $1,000 each from Franklyn Elfend and Carmen Morinello, both of whom are representatives of Milan. Also listed in the document is Milan Chair Claus Dieckell, who contributed $600.

Alvarez told The Epoch Times regarding his 2016 campaign donations, “We were four years away from approving that project, and I had no opponent, so I saw no problem with it.”

“I did not campaign in 2016 at all,” he said. “My campaign basically ended after the filing … and I think I gave a lot of that money away. I’m sure if I went back and looked, probably most of that money was either given away or [used] to pay a bill or something, most likely.”

Arianna Barrios, Eugene Fields, and Christian Vaughan are all running for the District 1 seat, and they said at the Oct. 6 forum that they are against Measure AA.

Jon Dumitru is running for the District 2 seat, and he told The Epoch Times he is currently undecided on Measure AA, but he’s “leaning to Yes.”

The land in question for development is in District 6, the city council seat for which is not open for election this year.