ORANGE, Calif.—Mayor of Orange Mark Murphy faced off against his sole challenger in the upcoming election, Adrienne Gladson, in a forum on Oct. 6. They discussed post-pandemic economic recovery, public safety, and a controversial local ballot measure.
Murphy, who served as mayor from 2000 to 2006 and was reelected in 2018, touted his record, his business acumen, and his endorsements by local law enforcement as primary reasons voters should keep him in office.
“Frankly, my 30 years in business give me the experience to lead,” he said. “In these times, the business experience differentiates [me], and it’s the business experience that will bring business back in Orange.”
Gladson, who served as planning commissioner for the city from 2011 to 2017, expressed her desire to see a change that reflects the spirit of the community.
“I want to be known as the mayor that brought culture change to the city hall, that shifted our focus to be people first, community first, and focused on proper planning,” she said. “Those two things are totally connected together and those are top issues for me.”
Economic Recovery After COVID
A recurring topic was how Orange can recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Murphy said a projected $5 million surplus in March deteriorated into a $18.5 million deficit by June. He said city employees contributed back portions of their salaries, and cuts were made to various services and departments to balance the budget.
“We probably aren’t out of the woods yet,” he said. “I’d like to stay cautiously optimistic that our business community is diverse enough that we can get back much sooner than many others, but it’s going to take a concerted effort to do so.”
He suggested that the the lockdown has created “a lot of pent up energy” within the community, which could result in a renewed sense of proactive behavior. “We need to leverage those opportunities every way we can,” he said.
Murphy said some recovery efforts for the business community could include pursuing recovery funds, streamlining business permits, and “thinking outside the box” in order to assist both large and small businesses.
In Gladson’s view, fostering new business opportunities in Orange requires a fundamental change in outlook.
“We need to be the place for businesses when they come, and that’s going to be a culture shift that I’ll bring to the city council dais [and] the chamber,” she said.
“We just need to think less pedestrian and narrow-minded and be a little more open so new businesses will want to come here. … It’s been more of an issue of staying comfortable with the status quo. We’re not going to be able to do that after this pandemic.”
‘Everybody Should Feel Safe’
Public safety is the cornerstone of Murphy’s approach as mayor—“a top priority,” he said.
He said that a safe community relies upon personnel who constantly strive for excellence and retain the funding they require to do their jobs.
“There’s a lot being talked about about de-funding, or reallocating, [funds for] safety services on a national level,” he said. “This is a discussion you will never, ever see me be a part of. If anything, we need to invest further in those things.”
Gladson praised the efforts of local law enforcement, indicating that her personal experience is a testimony to local police success: In the 34 years she has lived in Orange, she has never been the victim of a crime.
While she voiced her support for city safety personnel, Gladson also said the police department has to do more outreach for people of color.
“We have folks in our community that don’t feel it’s safe,” she said. “We have to really bridge those communication issues and those feelings of safety.”
“I’ve experienced marginalization in my life; I know what it feels like. But I don’t know what it feels like to be brown or black. So those are things we’ve got to tackle. Everybody should feel safe.”
Both Gladson and Murphy agree that law enforcement should receive an appropriate amount of funding and, in some cases, expand resources—particularly when it comes to services for homeless people and citizens with mental health issues.
“Ultimately, that’s up to our city manager and our police chief to come up with strategies,” she said. “But mostly, I think it’s really an attitude that we should portray as the mayor.”
Measure AA—To Build or Not To Build?
Murphy and Gladson completely disagree on Measure AA, the subject of heated debate within Orange.
The ballot measure will ask voters in November to decide the fate of 110 acres along Santiago Canyon Road. The majority of the land is currently taken up by a gravel mining operation that has created decades of discomfort and allegedly caused health problems for nearby residents.
If Measure AA passes, the city’s General Plan will be amended to allow developer Milan Capital to build 128 houses on the property, while maintaining the rest as open space for community use.
Murphy said he is a proponent of the ballot measure, because it creates 70 acres of open space and trails, 50 additional acres of public recreation (promised by the developer, but not directly included on the ballot measure), and $8 million in improvements to trails and traffic circulation.
“This proposal is by far the best that has ever been in the 35 years that this project has been around,” he said.
Gladson, on the other hand, is firmly against AA.
“This project is not properly planned,” she said. “Everything about it is inappropriate, starting with the Environmental Impact Report.”
Gladson and other opponents, including Orange Park Association, maintain that the area isn’t safe for development because it’s susceptible to floods and wildfires, there’s a risk of methane toxicity, and local infrastructure cannot support more housing.
“There’s a lot that we can talk about, [like] the mayor’s friendship with all of the parties involved, including the lobbyists,” she said. “And that should be vetted. The voters have the right to know all of that. I think this project should be denied.”
The mayor retorted: “I’m a little disappointed that somebody that makes a living as a paid lobbyist herself would be critical of a friendship or an acquaintance with another lobbyist.
“I voted for this one because it’s time that this thing be put to rest. … Open space and recreation [is] something almost everybody agrees is positive for the community.”
On Nov. 3, voters in Orange will decide on Measure AA and whether Murphy will serve a fifth term as mayor of the city.
The forum, which took place via Zoom, was hosted by the Old Towne Preservation Association, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the historical heart of downtown Orange.