Leaders Emerge in Orange County’s Coastal City Council Races

November 11, 2020 Updated: November 11, 2020

A vision of the future leadership of Orange County, California, is becoming clearer as results from the Nov. 3 election are finalized.

Leading city council contenders from the coastal cities of Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, and Huntington Beach—along with inland Fullerton—have vowed to better serve their communities with improved infrastructure, greater fiscal responsibility, and increased public safety. The election results listed are up to date as of the morning of Nov. 11.

Newport Beach

Although he ran uncontested, current Newport Beach Mayor Will O’Neill said it doesn’t mean he’ll take the opportunity to lead District 7 for granted.

“I thank every person who filled out the box next to my name because they did not have to, but still chose to,” he told The Epoch Times in an email. “I will continue to justify that choice in the coming years.”

O’Neill was elected to the Newport Beach City Council in 2016 before becoming mayor in 2019. He said he hopes to build on the council’s existing accomplishments.

“Newport Beach has a solid foundation of support for public safety, robust infrastructure, and fiscal responsibility. I hope to make decisions in tough times that will ensure future councils have good options available to them for future generations.”

In District 2, incumbent Brad Avery, elected to the council in 2016, appears  poised for another term. He has amassed nearly 60 percent of votes; his opponent, Nancy Scarbrough, received about 40 percent.

Avery, a Newport resident since 1969, campaigned on “keeping Newport’s heritage.” He pledged to protect the city’s safe neighborhoods, unique villages, and ocean bays, after serving on Newport Beach’s Harbor Commission for five years before his election.

Scarbrough’s platform included fixing Newport’s short-term housing problems, airport noise issues, and state mandates for increased low-income housing.

In District 5, small-business owner Noah Blom appeared to have clinched a comfortable victory against incumbent Jeff Herdman. Blom secured 59.5 percent of the vote, while Herdman received 40.5 percent.

Blom campaigned on support for police, firefighters, and lifeguards, and was endorsed by the Newport Beach Police Department. He also vowed to improve city infrastructure and preserve the harbor.

Herdman, elected to the council in 2016, committed to resolving airport noise pollution, homelessness issues, and economic recovery from the pandemic.

Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach’s non-district city council race had two open seats this year.

Mayor Bob Whalen is in the lead, with around 24.6 percent of the vote total. Whalen—who previously served two terms on the council and was mayor in 2015, 2019, and 2020—served on the city’s planning commission for four years. He was first elected to the Laguna Beach City Council in 2012.

“I am very honored to be leading and am confident that these preliminary results will hold up as the remaining votes are counted,” Whalen told The Epoch Times in an email.

“I will continue to focus on maintaining fiscal stability in our budget, implementing wildfire safety measures, adding more public parking at key locations throughout the city and looking for opportunities to create senior rental housing.”

In second place is George Weiss, who received about 21.7 percent of the vote. Weiss co-founded Laguna Residents First, a nonprofit seeking to preserve the look and feel of Laguna Beach. He campaigned against “big money” and its influence on city hall, the environment, and quality of life.

Ruben Flores, with 21.1 percent of the vote, is trailing close behind, followed by Larry Nokes with 19.1 percent and Steve Dicterow with 13.5 percent.

Fullerton

In District 1, small-business owner Fred Jung leads the race with 51.4 percent of the vote. Jung, who serves as a city commissioner, nonprofit director, and homeowners’ association chair, ran on a campaign of making Fullerton a leader in clean energy and affordable housing. He also stressed maintaining educational excellence.

Jung told The Epoch Times he was confident and proud of his victory.

“I look forward to taking office and carrying the standard as the first Korean-American on Fullerton City Council,” he said in an email.

“The City of Fullerton, like every municipality, will be asked to do more with less and I am up to the challenge of making certain all residents of Fullerton are represented accordingly. … I look forward to the challenge of working hard and thinking critically about getting out of this pandemic and the economic recession created in its wake.”

Attorney Andrew Cho, who was Jung’s opponent for the district, trails slightly behind with 48.6 percent of the vote. Cho campaigned on the promise of public safety, ensuring accountability with taxpayer dollars, business development, and restoring the economy.

For District 2, Fullerton businessman Nick Dunlap leads a race of four candidates with 49.4 percent of the vote. He campaigned to keep rising fees and regulatory burden for businesses out of the city. He also said he would fight for public safety, and improve road and traffic conditions.

In second place is Dr. Faisal Qazi with 28.7 percent of the vote. Qazi is a practicing neurologist, health-clinic business owner, and assistant professor of neurology at Western University and University of California–Riverside.

In District 4, current Councilmember Bruce Whitaker holds a slight lead, with just over 51 percent of the vote. Most recently elected in 2016, Whitaker served as mayor in 2017, and was previously elected to the Fullerton City Council in 2010.

Close behind, attorney Aaruni Thakur has received 48.8 percent of the vote. Thakur was previously elected a Fullerton School District board member. His campaign involved repairing the city’s poorly kept streets, fixing emergency response times, and bringing in new business.

Huntington Beach

Huntington Beach doesn’t use districts for its city council, and this year had no incumbents running for reelection for the three available seats.

In current vote tallies as of Nov. 10, Tito Ortiz, a former mixed martial arts champion, is leading with 41,633 votes, or nearly 14.8 percent of the vote. Ortiz ran as a conservative with the slogan “Make Huntington Beach Safe Again” and looked to solve the city’s homeless problems.

In second place is Dan Kalmick, a Democrat who had run three other times for a seat on the council. He received 30,135 votes, or 10.7 percent.

Kalmick, a planning commissioner for the past seven years, is a small-business owner. He campaigned on safe and clean neighborhoods, creating an economic recovery plan for small businesses, and addressing the city’s aging infrastructure.

In third place, Natalie Moser earned nearly 30,000, or 10.6 percent, of the votes.

Moser worked professionally in the financial services and credit union industry, and was appointed to the city’s Human Relations Task Force in 2017. She campaigned to make transparency in the city a priority, while protecting its health and economy, and fixing homelessness.

Gracey Van Der Mark with 8.2 percent, Oscar Rodriguez with 7.6 percent, Brian Burley with 7.3 percent, and Matthew Harper and Casey McKeon, each with around 7 percent, were the next candidates in line. There were 15 candidates in the race who received votes.

Follow Drew on Twitter: @DrewVanVoorhis