Your Guide to the 1,000+ Local Elections in California
By Robb Korinke
There are over 1,000 City Council seats on the ballot today in California. That’s right, 1,000… not counting County races.
Because of election consolidations and newly districted cities, it is the largest single local government election in State history -- and a lot is at stake. For all the focus on issues like housing, policing, cannabis and other issues, it is these folks that will really decide how these issues play out in your community.
Here are the races I’m watching, not necessarily in order.
The biggest local race in California? Has to be San Diego Supe Dist 3, where a win by Democrat Terra Lawson-Remer over incumbent Kristin Gaspar would complete the Democratic takeover (or Republican collapse) in San Diego local politics. The San Diego mayor’s race is also worth watching, but will in either event see a Democrat succeed outgoing Mayor Kevin Falcuoner.
In the City of LA the race between Nithya Raman and David Ryu has grabbed lots of attention and also galvanized progressives on behalf of Raman. I don’t view this race as super consequential, however, despite the ink spilled over it. Ryu has alienated a lot of the business community and the LA Chamber even revoked their endorsement of him. In either outcome, Democrats will still hold 14 of 15 seats. All eyes should be on the mayor’s race in LA in 2022.
It is actually Long Beach that has the really interesting races in LA County this year. Three seats will determine the balance of power on the council, currently controlled by moderates but with progressives mounting strong challenges. In North Long Beach, incumbent Councilman Al Austin is trying to fend off Tunua Thrash-Ntuk, backed by labor and also Austin’s concilmate and would-be Mayoral contender Rex Richardson. Richardson is also backing Suly Saro against longtime Councilman Dee Andrews. Andrews won a write-in campaign for re-election in order to skirt term limits in 2016.
Then there’s the race to succeed Councilwoman Jeanine Pearce. This is a district that has seen more than its fair share of drama in recent years, and the race between establishment-backed Cindy Allen and neighborhood leader Robert Fox has not disappointed on that front.
Speaking of drama, you are really missing some of the best in local government life if you don’t follow Carson politics. There you have two sitting councilmembers with free rides challenging Mayor Al Robles. Among the challengers is Jim Dear, former mayor who stepped over to the City Clerk seat … only to see himself recalled two years later. In 2018 he won a seat back on the council and now seeks his old Mayoral gig.
Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido is leaving office after 26 years, and an unsuccessful bid for Supervisor in March. Councilman and former legislator Jose Solorio is running to succeed him, as is Councilmember Vincent Sarmiento, backed by progressives, and former Councilwoman Ceci Iglesias, a Republican who was recalled last year by the local police unions and is a conservative darling in Orange County.
Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey is also retiring. Current Councilmember Andy Melendrez is facing a strong challenge by School Board Member Patricia Lock Dawson, who Bailey has endorsed along with the firefighters and others. This council has seen lots of changes with recent retirements.
The toughest race to handicap in the Inland Empire has been the race to succeed Josie Gonzales in the 5th District. Fontana Councilmember and Rpeublican Jessie Armendarez faces Rialto Councilmember, Democrat (and former legislator) Joe Baca Jr.
Whoever wins could see a less appealing gig than they set out for, San Bernardino has a couple Charter reform measures that cut Supervisor salaries and enact term limits. The most draconian is Measure K, which sets the term limit to one four-year term.
Also watching the Pasadena Mayor’s race, where another sitting councilmember, Victor Gordo, is challenging the sitting mayor Terry Tornek. Gordo is labor backed while Tornek is nominally more moderate.
Burbank has a rent control measure, Measure RC, worth watching. The Bay Area has seen its fair share of these measures but RC is among the first in greater LA. In the context of Proposition 21, RC would be a very aggressive rent control measure -- among the most restrictive in the state. The proponent of RC is also running for council.
I think incumbents will hold in Santa Monica, where no fewer than 21 are vying for 4 seats. West Hollywood also has longtime incumbents facing seven challengers, but this could be a year where some changes are in the offing.
In Shasta County, former Redding Mayor and avid supporter of the “State of Jefferson” secession movement, Patrick Henry Jones, is challenging incumbent Steve Morgan. Jones received what is thought to be perhaps the largest single direct contribution in CA history, a single $100,000 check from a local vintner.
That’s direct money of course, and not IEs, where the real money gets spent. That award this year has to go to 49ers owner Jed York, who has poured $3 million into unseating local councilmembers in Santa Clara. The Niners stadium has become a lightning rod in town, and a recent Voting Rights Act fight has also roiled the city. York hired Gavin Newsom’s consultant to make the play for Yorktown, USA.
Also on the Peninsula, Redwood City is holding its first districted council races.
In the East Bay, Fremont has an open District 6 seat. Businessman Yogi Chugh seems to lead a pack of 6 candidates. This is a rare example of a city that may have gotten more conservative with a switch to districts last cycle. If you want more on East Bay races I’d point to the inimitable Steven Taveres.
City of San Francisco is seeing its typical battles of Moderates vs. Progressives, this year in Supervisorial Districts 1, 5, 7, and 11. In D1 progressive Connie Chan is competing with moderate Marjan Philhour for first place against a crowded field, including perennial second place conservative candidate David Lee. D5 is a rematch of a 2019 race which saw Dean Preston win against Vallie Brown. Brown is being largely supported by developers in this effort. D7 is another tight and crowded field with at least 4 candidates who could pull off a victory here. The outcome will largely depend on whether progressive voters will coalesce. D11 is having a race to the left with Incumbent Ahsha Safai fending off criticism of big money connections. Safai has held the support of the Democratic Party and labor unions which should be enough for him to hold his seat.
Several Oakland councilmembers are up, but eyes are on District 3 and Carroll Fife’s challenge to Lynette McElhaney. Fife is an activists’ activist, backed by Dem Socialists and a host of progressive and labor groups.
Antioch is holding its first district elections and the entire council is up for election. The Mayor’s race is one to watch with Democrat councilman Lamar Thorpe challenging Republican incumbent Sean Wright. I’d also keep an eye on Walnut Creek, where both Republican incumbents are up and Democrats could take control of the council.
Irvine’s mayoral race pits incumbent Republican mayor Christina Shea against Democrat Councilwoman Farrah Kahn. Together with some competitive council races the city could turn “blue”.
Inyo County could see a new majority on the Board, open Dist 4 sees Jen Roeser face Donald Bright in a runoff from march.
Corona, where incumbent Jason Scott faces his first District election and has a couple challengers, including progressive Meg E'amato.
In Rancho Cucamonga incumbents Sam Spagnolo also face their first district races. Spagnolo has a couple viable challengers.
There’s a couple dozen cannabis measures on the ballot, we wrote about those here.
Certainly I’ve missed some, let me know what’s worth adding!