Jack Wu: Why don’t more people run for office in O.C.?



Jack Wu: Why don’t more people run for office in O.C.?


2014-09-23 15:46:58

For the third time since its inception in 1991, Laguna Hills has canceled its city council elections because of a lack of candidates.

A list from the Orange County Registrar of Voters details 33 school districts, water districts and library districts where elections are going to be canceled for the same reason – too few candidates.

And, for the second time in two years, the city of Newport Beach will have a council election for an open district seat where there is only one choice on the ballot.

Is life so good in Orange County that no one feels compelled to run for office?

After all, this is the same Laguna Hills that pays its city manager $380,000 in total compensation per year to manage its 30,000-plus residents.

Aren’t we all concerned enough with public education and the Common Core curriculum to at least make the school board elections interesting?

Isn’t California going through a major drought? Shouldn’t we be concerned how the local water districts handle their water?

Or maybe people just don’t care anymore.

In 2012, if you were watching Costa Mesa, you’d think that the sky was falling. An angry and very loud minority came out in droves to every candidate forum, screaming that Mayor Jim Righeimer’s crew was trying to destroy the city. But when it came time to vote in the presidential election, Costa Mesa had a lower voter turnout (64.4 percent) than the county average (67.3 percent).

In the 2014 primary election, as an indication of things to come, Costa Mesa mustered a 21.37 percent voter turnout while the county averaged 24.11 percent. Costa Mesa will be lucky to hit 40 percent turnout in November.

In Newport Beach, there are seven council districts, and you have to live in the district to represent it, but votes are cast at large by the entire city. For instance, in 2008, incumbent Councilman Steve Rosansky lost in his own District 2, but, because he received the most votes citywide, he was re-elected.

According to the Residents for Reform Political Action Committee, in the past decade, Newport Beach has been encumbered with over $571 million in debt, its budget has increased by 172 percent – from $110 million in 2003 to $280 million in 2014 – while, according to the city’s website, its population has gone up by 7 percent (80,661 in 2003 to 86,874 in 2014).

Newport Beach also has the highest per capita unfunded pension liability per resident in Orange County, according to the Orange County grand jury, as well as the highest ratio of full-time equivalent employees per resident in the county.

So you’d think that people would be in an uproar and would want to change the direction of that ship.

But in 2012, the District 2 (West Newport Beach) seat was up for election as an open seat for the first time in 12 years, and only one person put their name in the hat to run – now-Councilman Tony Petros.

In 2014 the Balboa Peninsula/Lido Isle District 1 seat only had one person file for candidacy – Diane Dixon.

So why are there no people wanting to run for City Council from the most westerly districts in Newport Beach? Is life that good in those parts of the city?

A former mayor of Newport Beach once said not to bother with the Balboa Peninsula and West Newport because they don’t vote. With a transient population filled with absentee landlords, perhaps that’s why no one wants to run for office, either.

Or maybe life is good. Too good for democracy, apparently.

Jack Wu is an accountant who lives in Newport Beach and has been a longtime Republican Party activist. Contact him at [email protected].

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