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Preliminary election results show one council incumbent re-elected, two newcomers win the votes; trio of local measures rejected

By SARA HALL

While votes are still being added up across Orange County, the three open seats on the Laguna Beach City Council seem to be assured in a bit of a shake-up to the current lineup on the dais. 

Headed to city hall are: Incumbent and current Mayor Sue Kempf, along with newcomers Alex Rounaghi and Mark Orgill. 

As of Thursday evening, Rounaghi was leading the pack with 4,785 ballots cast in his favor, or 21.16% of the vote. Kempf was close behind with 4,690 (20.74%), and the third spot appears to be going to Orgill with 3,280 votes (14.5%).

In an email to Stu News Laguna, Rounaghi said he is honored by the overwhelming support from the community.

“The residents’ participation is inspiring and I look forward to working with them, city staff, and the council to improve and enhance the Laguna Beach we all love,” Rounaghi said. 

On social media, Kempf thanked her supporters for their votes of confidence. She’s looking forward to the next four years, she added. 

“Tonight we celebrate. Tomorrow we get back to work,” Kempf said. 

Trailing behind were Jerome Pudwill and Ruben Flores, who were in a dead tie on Wednesday before Flores pulled slightly ahead in the Thursday update with 2,662 votes, barely above Pudwill’s 2,632. They were followed by Peter Blake with 2,418 votes, and then Louis Weil with 2,149.

Blake, the outgoing councilmember, said in an email to Stu News Laguna that he always felt he was in a win/win situation. 

“If I was re-elected, then I would have the privilege of serving my community for another four years. If I lost, then I would return exclusively to my gallery which I love running,” Blake said. 

“I’m proud of my incredible accomplishments over the last four years and feel honored to have worked with my colleagues on council and the incredible staff we have at city hall,” he continued. “I couldn’t be happier to finish this chapter and move to the next. I love Laguna Beach and will always be involved with my beloved community.”

Pudwill congratulated the winners and shared his wishes for the new councilmembers. 

“My only hope is that they treat residents with respect, listen to their needs, and strive to represent the will of the people – not just developers and commercial interests. Exercising far greater transparency and fiscal responsibility will also go a long way in ensuring a better Laguna Beach,” Pudwill said in an email to Stu News Laguna. “When residents say no to large scale, expensive projects, it’d be a fresh change to have the councilmembers listen.”

In another email to SNL, Flores had a simple message for the incoming councilmembers: “Congratulations = now make Laguna great!”

Weil also offered his best wishes to the winners in a letter to the editor. 

“I know you will each do good things for our community,” he said.

He also emphasized that he had no regrets, something a high school coach told him in pep talks before a match. 

“At the time, it was about setting your mind right to play the game,” he said, but it means more. “It was a moral message, about a mindset that when in life you make a choice to do something, you do it to your fullest, and about understanding the distinct difference between those two choices. Because when you do something to your fullest, whether you’re successful or not, you will leave the field with ‘NO REGRETS.’”

He also thanked his supporters and said he met many wonderful residents who he shared in positive discourse about the town’s future.

In terms of local measures, all three on the ballot for Laguna Beach were overwhelmingly defeated. 

Preliminary election results show council winners

Click on photo for a larger image

Photos courtesy of City of Laguna Beach and the candidates

Preliminary election results show (left to right) Alex Rounaghi, Sue Kempf and Mark Orgill winning the three seats for City Council

Measure R (voter approval for hotel projects) received the biggest pushback with 6,322 voters saying no (70.49% of the vote), while 2,647 had checked the yes box as of the Thursday evening update. Measure S (wage and standards for hotel workers) was also resoundingly rejected, with 6,220 ballots (or 68.85%) lodging votes against it and only 2,814 votes in support. 

Measure Q (voter approval for major development) was undoubtedly the most controversial of the trio during the campaign and, while it received the smallest point difference, it was also ultimately defeated. As of Thursday evening, 5,796 ballots, or 63.89% of voters, chose to decline Measure Q. While 3,276 voted in favor of the measure.

Both supporters and opponents of the measure commented on the results in separate emails to Stu News Laguna this week following Tuesday’s clear outcome. 

David Raber, co-founder of Laguna Residents First, was one of the official authors in favor of Measure Q.

“While we are disappointed in the results, and the massive amount of money that was spent by development interests to oppose Measure Q, we feel that the dialogue about the future of Laguna Beach as a potential coastal development area has begun,” Raber said. “The residents are now more aware of their role in defining the future of this town and balancing redevelopment with the environmental constraints that make this place unique.”

As a private resident, Councilmember George Weiss also spoke in favor of the measure.

“It was disappointing. There were false claims about Measure Q that were not corrected but it’s useful to know how well that strategy works,” Weiss said. “Let’s watch what happens and see if the predictions regarding large commercial developments happen.”

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On the other side of the issue, organizers for Citizens for Laguna’s Future, a PAC formed to fight Measure Q, were celebrating the victory.

“Laguna Beach residents resoundingly proved at the polls that they are savvy enough to recognize Laguna Beach has an existing surfeit of development restrictions, regulations, checks and balances. We are already legendary for the difficulty and red tape met by any building project,” said Barbara McMurray. “I’m happy our system didn’t get upended by a handful of folks who tried to convince us that everyone registered to vote in this town knows best about land use and building codes. It would have meant ceaseless, infinite conflict over every project ever floated and our town would have been the worse for it in many ways. I’m relieved.”

Tuesday’s vote also signaled that the electorate understands and is ok with representative government, she added.

“The system worked perfectly. Voters said no to a representative they disliked and replaced him with others,” McMurray said, referencing Blake being voted out of office. 

J.J. Ballesteros said they are pleased with the outcome of all three measures. He believes that once the community understood what the initiatives were about, they voted decisively in opposition.

“This is a win for business in Laguna Beach,” said Ballesteros, who also chairs the Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors. 

While the chamber doesn’t formally endorse any specific candidates, they do speak out about issues that are relevant to their members, including opposing Measure Q.

“We now have an opportunity to recruit unique businesses to Laguna which will provide a better shopping experience for residents and tourists,” Ballesteros said. “Despite these initiatives not passing, I feel our village culture and charm will be protected with our current guidelines as we move forward.”

Another Citizens for Laguna’s Future organizer, Sally Anne Sheridan compared the two sides of the issue and reflected on the success of the “No on Q” campaign. 

“Laguna Residents First did an excellent job of messaging in the community: Stop over development! They had blue and white yard signs placed all over town for the last two years making that claim. They braved signature gathering in markets, post offices and door to door solicitations. They wrote a 17-page initiative of confusing word salad that made no sense to the people who read it, lawyers who studied it, voters who were asked to vote on it,” Sheridan said. 

“The campaign to vote No on Q was made up of a coalition of diverse groups in Laguna Beach who all invested in one agreement: Laguna Beach is not over developed its ‘slowly developed’ and that’s the way we like it. We already have complicated codes and height limits, planning commissions, design review boards and all manners of citizen input for every improvement proposed for our town,” she continued. 

“The voters saw through the catchy slogan, the complicated wordsmithing and the basic untruth that the ‘Yes on Q’ campaign was built on,” Sheridan concluded. “The truth that the voters agreed on was that Laguna Beach is a very cool place to live and a very difficult place to grow a business and that’s the way we like it.”

Regarding regional representatives, Katrina Foley (D-Costa Mesa) beat out Pat Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) for Orange County Board of Supervisors, District 5. As of Thursday evening, Foley had gathered 81,530 votes (51.13%), widening her gap over Bates, who has received 77,917 so far.

With each update, Foley said she was “cautiously optimistic” about retaining her lead. On Wednesday on social media, she noted that there are many votes left to count, but that she remains in a “strong position to win.”

In state races, party preference dominated the recently redrawn districts that cover the city as both were comfortably leaning toward the Republican candidates as of Thursday evening: Diane Dixon (R-Newport Beach) was ahead of Judie Mancuso (D-Laguna Beach) for the 72nd Assembly District; while Janet Nguyen (R-Huntington Beach) led over Kim Carr (D-Huntington Beach) in the contest for the 36th Senate District.

Dixon had a total of 83,202 ballots cast in her favor, or 56.71%, as of Thursday evening, compared to Mancuso’s 63,514. Both had acknowledged the likely result of the race, which is unlikely to change as the final ballots are counted. 

In a message, Dixon thanked her supporters and noted her hefty lead. 

“I am more optimistic than ever before as more votes are counted,” she said on Thursday. “I am looking forward to serving as your next Assemblywoman and am beyond grateful for your support!”

In a newsletter message on Thursday, Mancuso said it’s become clear that her candidacy has come up short, although she was grateful for the experience.

“Coming into the race, we knew we faced tough odds in a district that heavily favored Republicans, but we gave it our all and I’m so proud of the campaign we ran,” Mancuso said.

She thanked her supporters and wished Dixon the best in Sacramento, 

As of Thursday evening, Nguyen garnered 132,576 votes, or 58.73%, well ahead of Carr’s 93,176 votes.

Nguyen also thanked her supporters and said she’s honored to have traveled throughout the district during the campaign. 

“I am so blessed to have had the outpouring of support from every corner the district,” she said, thanking her staff for their work as well. “We might be small, but mighty and a force to be reckoned with.”

Countywide, officials estimated on Thursday that a total of 356,888 ballots were left to process.

Results are updated at 5 p.m. each weekday until the election is certified by the Registrar of Voters.

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Sara Hall covers City Hall and is a regular contributor to Stu News Laguna.

Shaena Stabler, President & CEO - Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com

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