The Complete Guide to Today's California City Elections

By Robb Korinke

​It’s election day and roughly 30 cities are heading to the polls today (and/or shipping their absentee ballots off before the deadline). What’s at stake? The balance of power in Riverside, a few high profile vacancies, a couple dozen tax measures, and ongoing impacts of District elections in one of the last real off-cycle elections we’ll see in California local government. 

I have read more candidate statements from these races than I’ll freely admit. Through various client work I’ve actually personally interviewed more than 30 candidates running Tuesday. From a policy standpoint I have a few observations. 

One is the increasingly partisan bent of “nonpartisan” local races. In the remaining competitive places, such as Riverside which has the highest stakes in this regard, this is playing out pretty overtly. But across the state Republican officeholders are pushed by increasingly coordinated partisan/progressive grassroots efforts, District elections which favor Democratic constituencies and a difficult brand that has more than a few local candidates (incumbents and challengers) re-registering from Rep to NPP to be viable. I believe a few retirements are due to this issue as well.

There’s also, of course the “intermural” politics of progressive vs moderate Dems in more urban areas. San Francisco’s Board of Supes could flip to a progressive majority and Long Beach’s election has implications for its council majority. 

Homelessnees is obviously a leading policy issue, and in basically every race it’s getting mentioned. The degree to which this can be weaponized as anti-incumbent/anti-establishment issue is something to watch. Likewise Housing Affordability, which is a distinct but sometimes related issue politically, depending on the local politics. I think Burlingame, which is set to field an ever greater influx of tech jobs with the Oculus/Facebook expansion there, is a fascinating object example of the housing issue in suburban cities. 

For local political junkies it’s a bittersweet day, as a November odd-year election would have historically seen dozens of cities with elections, mostly in LA and Marin. Alas, passage of SB 415 in 2015 has compelled most of these cities into consolidated elections, and of the contests below, many are seeing their last off-cycle elections. 

It’s creating headaches in some cases, such as in Santa Barbara where ballots are being shipped to Norwalk in LA County -- a result of the city contracting with LA County to administer the election. Private firms had specialized in off cycle elections and have folded up shop as these off year elections have dried up.

Retirements abound in these races. We’ll be saying goodbye to longserving members like Larkspur’s Larry Chu, Riverside’s Chris MacArthur, RPV’s Susan Brooks, Hermosa Beach’s Jeff Duclos and others. By my (quick) count, nine of the 18 cities with candidates on the ballot have open seats for retirement, and that’s not including several special elections to fill vacancies. Palm Springs and Novato are holding their first district elections, and both prompted retirements.

Below I’ll focus mostly on candidate races, but there are sales tax measures in Fairfax, Lynwood, Parlier, Claremont, Irwindale, Monrovia, Oakdale, San Bruno, Sierra Madre and South Pasadena. There may be more. In LA County most of the cities would be capping out at 10.25%, seemingly in an effort to head off a potential County of LA measure that would siphon those funds off if not preempted by municipal levies. 

Other sundry measures on the ballot; Hotel Taxes in Angels Camp, Brisbane and Stanton, Parcel Taxes in El Cerrito, Fairfax and San Anselmo, Cannabis Measures in Brisbane and Stanton, San Francisco has like 8 measures on the ballot including an affordable housing bond and tax on ride shares. 

Here’s the full rundown of all the candidate races, more or less in order of the most interesting. 

The City of Riverside is on the cusp of major changes, and likely a political left turn starting with this Tuesday’s runoff election for wards 1, 3, 5 and 7. The council has a narrow conservative majority, but with the retirements of Chris MacArthur and Mike Soubirous, and a somewhat chaotic re-elect effort for Mike Gardner, the council majority is defitneiyl up for grabs. These elections are also a table setter for next year’s Mayoral race, in which Mayor Rusty Bailey has already signaled he will not seek re-election. At least one sitting councilmember, Andy Melendrez, has already announced for that election.

As for this week, Ward 5 may be the most interesting, pitting Sean Mill, a sales manager at WFC Title against school counselor Gaby Plascencia. This is another clear conservative/rpgressive face off, with Plascencia grabbing union support and Mill having the backing of the Chamber, Mayor Bailey and outgoing councilmember Chris MacArthur. Plascencia however has support of Police and Fire, as well as the local Realtors. She would be the first Latina on the Riverside City Council.

In Ward 1 Mike Gardner is running for re-election — though earlier this summer he withdrew from the race, only to subsequently re-enter on the condition he wouldn’t actively campaign. Non-profit manager Erin Edwards finished first in the Primary and has high profile Democratic supporters including fmr Mayor Ron Loverdige, Assemblymembers Jose Median and Sabrian Cervantes and Congressman Mark Takano. 

Ward 3 sees local business owner Ronandlo Fierro face Warren Avery. Avery has the backing of Mayor Bailey and sitting councilmembers Chuck Conder and Steve Adams. Fierro grabbed business endorsements, including the Chamber of Commerce.

Long Beach District 1 Special Election
Eight candidates are running for District 1 in Long Beach to fill the vacancy created by Lena Gonzalez’ election to the State Senate. That race itself was a Special Election created by now-Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara’s election. 

Long Beach Council District One, which covers much of Downtown, has to be the biggest political springboard in California state politics. Previously held by now-State Senator Lena Gonzalez, but previously Robert Garcia, who won his Mayor’s race while holding the District 1 seat. Garcia won the seat when Bonnie Lowenthal vacated it after her 2008 election to the State Assembly. You get the point. 

It’s historically the lowest turnout district in the city, and this being a Special election, just a few hundred votes could win it. Mary Zandejas is the clear establishment choice and leads the candidates in fundraising with more than $93,000 and has received endorsements from Senator Lena Gonazales and Mayor Robert Garcia as well as police, fire, labor and some business groups. 

Ray Morquecho is the Chamber of Commerce backed candidate, he is a former staffer for then-BOE member Michelle Steele, now on the OC Board of Supervisors. He is clearly a conservative alternative to Zendejas, though has has distanced himself from his past Republican activities in a solidly Democrat seat. 

There are others running viable campaigns that could surprise. Joe Ganam is deeply involved in the Downtown Association and is a former City Manager, but entered the race very late and has raised little money. Misi Tagaloa is a local pastor who has run before, raised significant money and has some pretty creative mail. Mariela Salgado, a small business owner and Parks & Recreation commissioner, impressed in local forums.

Santa Barbara:
Incumbent Jason Dominguez will be running for re-election in District 1 while Randy Rowse from District 2 has termed out. Mike Jordan has a who’s who of endorsements int eh Distrct 2 race, including sitting Mayor Cathy Murillo and former Mayors Hal Conklin and Helene Schneider. For followers of Santa Barbara politics that’s about as broad a coalition as you can imagine, and he has many more current and former electeds beyond those three. Brian Campbell is the sole Republican in the District 2 race, hoping the others can split enough votes to hold what has been the city’s most conservative seat (though Rowse is officially a NPP registrant). Here's a pretty good rundown of the whole field in both races.

Rowse came to the council in December 2010 to fill the vacancy left by Das Williams after he left for the Assembly. Rowse beat a list of 46 applicants to win the role on the council.

Santa Ana Ward 4 Special election:
Santa Ana will look to fill their vacancy in Ward 4, which is a long story. The short version is former councilmember Roman Reyna resigned amid an election fraud controversy that has seen him pay out nearly $600,000 in fines and earn a lifetime ban from holding elected office. You can get a longer version of the sordid backstory here.

It’s a packed field, with Phil Bacerra, who ran and lost against Reyna in 2018 and was the plaintiff in the lawsuit that ended in Reyna’s resignation. Bacerra is endorsed by the Orange County Professional Firefighters Association, as well as former City Council members like Tom Lutz, Alberta Christy and Rob Richardson. Manny Escamilla is a former Santa Ana city staffer and is endorsed by SEIU Local 721. Beatriz Mendoza worked for former 34th District State Sen. Joe Dunn. She is endorsed by the Democratic Party of Orange County’s, as well as former Congressowman. Loretta Sanchez. Voice of OC has a good rundown on these and other candidates.

This will be the last “at-large” election as next year the city will move to by-district elections, versus the at large wards in place now.

Palm Springs:
Palm Springs joins the list of Districted cities this year, and will hold its first District elections in newly drawn Districts 1, 2, and 3. There is also talk of making the council into a full time position, vs part time. 

Owing to the District implementation, the city will see major changes on the dais. Three of the sitting councilmembers were drawn into the City’s 3rd District, including Mayor Rob Moon and Councilmembers J.R. Roberts and Geoffrey Kors. Kors is the only candidate running and has significantly outraised his opponents. 

District 1, which according to the Desert Sun “demographers drew to ensure residents of minority backgrounds made up a majority in at least one district,” has four candidates. Les Young, a retired banker who has served on multiple city commissions, and attorney Scott Meyer seem to be the frontrunners. One of the issues here is a proposed downtown area that the Agua Caliente Band of Mission Indians would like to build. 

In District 2, Planning Commissioner Chair Dennis Woods and Peter Maietta, who sits on the Board of Appeals and  has extensive LGBTQ invovlement, are the frontrunners. Adrian Alcantar, who owns a local hair salon, is also running. 

More on all three races from the Desert Sun.

San Francisco
The Mayoral race in San Francisco looks to be a snoozer, with no real challengers for London Breed. The race for her old seat in Supe Dist 5, however, could be interesting and consequential. The Board is narrowly split in favor of moderate members, if the challenger wins here it would tilt to the progressive side. 

Supe Vallie Brown is an “incumbent”, having been appointed to the seat after Breed won the mayoral seat. Her opponent, Dean Preston is a Democratic Socialist and came close to beating Breed for this seat in 2016. He’s a tenant’s rights candidate, SFist has a good rundown of the race here.

Probably the bigger headlines here are going to the DA’s race, which is said to be “the first open, no-incumbent race for San Francisco District Attorney since 1909.” This is another seat with an appointed incumbent, Suzy Loftus, who faces a progressive challenger, Chesa Boudin. There are others also in the race, Alameda County deputy attorney Nancy Tung and state deputy attorney general Leif Dautch.

Novato has moved to Districts and there’s potential for a shakeup in the council majority. New Districts 1, 3 & 5 are up. Only Mayor Eric Lucan, in District 1, will run as an incumbent as Councilmember Fryday resigned earlier this year and Councilmember Drew will not run for reelection. Lucan’s opponent Kevin Morrison is making his second run for council. In the 5th District, Amy Peele looks like clear frontrunner, backed by a bulk of the current council as well as Police, Fire, Labor and the newspaper. The Marin Independent has a great rundown of all three races here.

The council has seen disfunction of late, and was unable to come to consensus on an appointee to fill Fryday’s vacant seat. The previous council split  had Lucan, Athas, Fryday voting together while Drew and Eklund) were often on the other side. 
It’s the first District elections for Novato, sued under the CVRA to increase Latino representation, but no Latino filed for any of the three council seats this cycle. 

Mayor Donna Colson and Vice Mayor Emily Beach are both running for re-election. Mike Dunham, a former teacher, is challenging with backing of Democratic Groups on the Peninsula, his campaign is centered on housing affordability issues. This election, as much as anywhere, may embody some of the housing and growth ennui that is gripping many elections this year and looking into next. Occulus, a Facebook backed Virtual Reality company, is setting up shop in the city, and residents are worried about influx of more tech workers and a worsening housing crunch. The Daily Journal has a good rundown on the race and that debate here.

San Clemente: 
Mayor Steve Swartz passed away in May of this year. The council tried to appoint a successor but deadlocked. Gene James was the runner-up in 2018 and was a candidate for the appointed position, he will run in a field of five candidates including Jason Hinkle who has backing fo a pair of former mayors, the local firefighters union and employees union. More on the race from Voice of OC.

Pico Rivera
Pico Rivera will fill the vacancy left last year by former councilman and now State Senator Bob Archuleta. The seat has sat vacant for nearly a year, and four candidates are looking for a one-year seat. 

Whittier Daily News has a good rundown of the race. Monica Sanchez, a former Parks and Rec Commissioner, is the sole female candidate running for office, and would be the sole female member of the City Council. Diego Rubalcava-Alvarez is an environmental activist, Erik Lutz, who ran unsuccessfully in 2018 are also running. 

Rancho Palos Verdes
Five candidates will run for 3 seats on the Rancho Palos Verdes city council for a 3 year term expiring in November 2022. The 3 year term is to allow the city to move to even year elections. Councilmember Ken Dyda is the only incumbent running for re-election. Former Mayor Barbara is running and three sitting planning commissioners are also in the race. The new councilmember will be a crucial part of appointing a new city manager as Doug Willmore is set to retire later this month.

Retiring from the council are Susan M. Brooks and Jerry Duhovic. Both are noted conservative members and Brooks has been a fixture of Republican politics in the South Bay since the 90s, including several stints on the council and a couple unsuccessful runs at Congress.

Voters will also vote on a ballot measure for Hospitality Working Conditions, which basically targets Terranea Resort. Like a similar measure in nearby Long Beach last year, the measure would impose “Panic Buttons” and raise wages for hospitality employees. The City Council and all five candidates have opposed the measure. 

San Marino
Voters will vote for 2 city council members and 1 ballot measure, a public safety parcel tax. There are only 3 candidates for city council with both councilmember Steve Talt and current Mayor Steven Huang running as incumbents. The last candidate, Andrew Ko, is a write in candidate. The city will also vote on a parcel tax in order to fund emergency services.

Hermosa Beach
3 Candidates will run for 2 city council seats in Hermosa Beach. Councilmember Justin Massey will be the only incumbent on the ballot as Jeff Duclos will not seek reelection. The city will also vote on the city clerk, city treasurer and 2 ballot measures for this election.

Duclos was first elected to the city council in 2009 and served one term before losing a re-election bid in 2013 by seven votes, “but I’m not counting,” he told the Daily Breeze. He was elected again in 2015 and is now retiring at age 74.
Trent Larson has run unsuccessfully in the past and now has a shot at an open seat. He’ll face the incumbent Massey and first-time candidate Michael Detoy, a City Commissioner. 

Duclos was elected to the city council in 2009, but lost re-election in 2013 by just 7 votes. He came back to the council 2015 and now plans to fully retire.

La Habra Heights
Four candidates will run for 2 city council seats in La Habra Heights. Jane L Williams is running for re-election and Roy Francis is retiring from the council after two terms. Kyle Miller is seeking a return to the council after a narrow loss in 2017. That election saw two newcomers elected to council, the City will now either see the return of Miller or election of at least one new member between Dennis M. Laherty, a pastor and retired Navy chaplain and GinaRose Kimball. These seats are for five year terms as the city moves to even year elections. 

Voters will elect two council members, a Town Treasurer, a Town Clerk, and consider the extension of a local tax measure this upcoming November. Renee Goddard is the only Incumbent out of 3 candidates running for re-election, the others are Cindy Swift, Chair of the  Planning Commission, and Stephanie Hellman who is backed by the current and former mayor. 

Larkspur cancelled their due to only two candidates filing for two open seats. The next city council election will happen in 2021. Scot Candell and Gabriel Paulson were appointed to the seats by council resolution back in August. Candell is a cannabis attorney. Paulson is a Tech executive. 

Retiring are Mayor Ann Morrison and Vice Mayor Larry Chu. Chu has served nearly two decades, being first election in 2003. Morrision was election in 2011 and told the Marin Independent she plans to travel abroad with her family for the next year.

San Anselmo
Four candidates will be running for two spots on the town council. Ford Greene is the only incumbent running, as current Mayor Matt Brown is retiring after just one term. It’s gotten chippy according to report in the Marin Independent, in which one candidate accuses another of “verbal assault.”

Both incumbents are running with no challengers. The 2019 election will continue, however, to vote on 3 measures on the ballot. Measure E is a Cannabis Tax, there is also a TOT and business license tax on the ballot. 

San Bruno
Both incumbents marty Medina and Irene O’Connell will run against 2 challengers for their seats next week. Voters will also decide on a ballot measure to levy a 0.5 cent sales tax. O’Connell, a 20 year veteran of the council, got the local paper’s endorsement but Medina did not. The Daily Journal instead touted Linda Mason, a planning commissioner whose husband is on the school board. Stephan Marshall, whose father Bob is a former San Bruno Mayor, is also running. 

Ok that's all I've got.
Did I miss anything? Please let me know!


Special Reports

Tuesday, September 8, 2020 - 04:40

The coronavirus pandemic has breathed new life into the debate over “strong mayors.” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg have recently pushed for strong mayor charter