There are two very different candidates and campaigns for Mayor.
Can Planning Commissioner Mary Ann Gaido’s grassroots, pro-resident, growth-control message overcome State Assemblyman Donald Wagner’s developer-funded, pro-development campaign?
When she launched her 2014 campaign for Mayor — to unseat incumbent Mayor Steven Choi — two-time former Councilwoman Mary Ann Gaido (pronounced Guy-doe) minced no words in her official candidate statement. She declared, “This election will decide who controls the future of our City — profit-driven developers or Irvine residents.”
Taking her growth-control, “slow growth” campaign to every corner of the City, Gaido’s 2014 underdog campaign came within 954 votes of defeating incumbent Mayor Steven Choi — Choi’s narrow victory came only after Irvine mega-developer FivePoint Communities came to his rescue in the closing days of the campaign with hundreds of thousands of dollars in anti-Gaido mailers — “hit pieces” — that were part of a so-called “independent expenditure” campaign.
Now, Mary Ann Gaido is running for Mayor again. She is promising, if elected, to “put the people back in control” by instituting strong growth control and traffic control measures. But this time she faces a different opponent. With Choi apparently headed to the State Assembly, the Mayor’s seat is open. Officials and political operatives at FivePoint Communities, fearful of Gaido’s tough stand against overdevelopment, is involved once again in the Irvine Mayor’s race. This time, FivePoint has recruited termed-out Assemblyman Don Wagner to run for Mayor. In effect, Choi and Wagner, both conservative Republicans, want to switch seats — with Choi going to Sacramento and Wagner seeking the Mayor’s chair in the November 8th election.
Growth, Traffic, and the Veterans Cemetery
In announcing his candidacy early this summer, Wagner said he wanted to be Mayor to “guide the future growth of Irvine in a reasonable and balanced way.” Wagner’s vague reference to “guiding” future growth is in sharp contrast to Gaido’s specific commitment to “control” growth — and the citywide traffic congestion it generates.
Gaido recently declared, “If I am elected Mayor, I pledge that at the first City Council meeting, I will introduce a Comprehensive Growth and Traffic Control Ordinance.” Gaido explained, “We need to take a ‘time-out’ from overdevelopment by strictly limiting the number of residential building permits issued by the City, and by requiring a vote of the people before any major new residential project with traffic-inducing effects can move forward.”
Gaido, an expert in land-use and planning matters, added: “Under State law, we have ample legal authority to put strong growth control and traffic control policies in place. What’s needed is a Mayor with the political will — the backbone — to stand up to big developers and do what’s right for the residents of Irvine.”
While Wagner has offered no specifics on dealing with residential growth, development — and the traffic it brings — last spring he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Emile Haddad, President and CEO of FivePoint Communities, in proposing that the City “swap” 125 acres of land already approved and set aside for a Veterans Cemetery in the Great Park. The proposed “swap” of City-owned land — which was put forward by Councilmember Christina Shea and FivePoint — would apparently be the first step in allowing the developer to then have the Council re-zone the 125-acre parcel for thousands of additional houses and apartments at the Great Park.
The Council has already approved 10,000 housing units at the Great Park, despite Gaido’s opposition on the Planning Commission.
While the City Council, in April, rejected the FivePoint- Wagner-Shea Veterans Cemetery “land-swap,” the City’s commitment to actually build the Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery in the Great Park — a commitment Gaido calls “sacred” -— is likely to be another major issue in the Mayoral contest.
Don Wagner comes to the Irvine Mayor’s race with financial advantages. In his various State legislative races, beginning in 2010, he has taken in $1.6 million in campaign contributions. His contributions — largely from developers, lobbyists, and special interests — have averaged about $1,000 each. Meanwhile, developer FivePoint Communities is expected to bankroll Wagner’s run for Mayor with hundreds of thousands of dollars in unlimited SuperPAC contributions and so-called “independent expenditures,” just as they did to keep Choi in the Mayor’s chair in the 2014 election.
Gaido, in contrast, says she has no interest in developer money, and will rely instead on a broad base of small donors — with donations averaging about $50. Gaido’s “grassroots” campaign expects to raise about $100,000. She says she has raised $52,000 so far. “We can’t match Wagner and FivePoint dollar-for-dollar. We can’t even come close. But, if we can meet our $100,000 goal, and continue to energize scores of neighborhood volunteers, I’m confident we can win.”
In addition to Gaido and Wagner, two other individuals — Gang Chen and Katherine Daigle — have officially declared their candidacies for Mayor of Irvine. Irvine Community News & Views will be covering their candidacies in September and October, as the Mayoral race further develops.