In one of closest elections in Irvine’s history, Mayor Steven Choi and Councilman Jeff Lalloway won re-election, and Planning Commissioner Lynn Schott won her bid for a seat on the City Council with a surprising first-place finish.
Because of the Orange County Registrar’s tedious counting of mail-in absentee ballots and provisional ballots, it was nearly two weeks after Election Day before it was clear just who the winners were.
In the Mayor’s race, Steven Choi received 18,333 votes, barely eeking out a re-election victory for a second two-year term as Mayor. He defeated long-time Planning Commissioner and former City Councilmember Mary Ann Gaido by just 953 votes.
The race for two City Council seats was even closer. In her first-time bid for a four-year Council seat, Community Services Commissioner Melissa Fox finished third with 16,539 votes — trailing incumbent Jeff Lalloway by just 210 votes and Lynn Schott by 275 votes.
Perhaps the biggest 2014 election surprise was that long-time Irvine Councilmember Larry Agran finished fourth, more than 2,000 votes behind Schott, Lalloway and Council running mate Melissa Fox.
The campaign proved to be a contest between two teams: the developer-backed Choi-Lalloway-Schott team and the Gaido-Agran-Fox “Slow Growth” team. The self-described “Pro-Resident Slow Growth Team” charged that the Mayor and his allies were “shredding” the City’s Master Plan by rubber-stamping approval of tens of thousands of additional houses and apartments, causing unprecedented traffic and school overcrowding throughout Irvine.
Choi, Lalloway, and Schott denied that the approvals were in disregard of the Irvine Master Plan, and fought off their challengers with a torrent of attack mailers. The mailers for the Choi-Lalloway-Schott team were funded as so -called “independent expenditures” — an estimated $500,000 to $1,000,000 spent by FivePoint Communities and related developers to launch vicious personal attacks not just in the mail but with massive TV buys as well. With limited funds of their own, the Gaido-Agran-Fox team had no TV advertising.
The New Council is Seated
As prescribed by law, Choi, Lalloway and Schott were sworn-in and seated at the December 9th City Council meeting. They joined incumbent Councilmembers Christina Shea and Beth Krom, whose terms run through 2016. The Mayor and each of the Councilmembers spoke briefly, their remarks mostly expressions of gratitude to families, friends, and supporters. Calling for unity and cooperation, Schott went out of her way to say kind words about Council candidate Melissa Fox.
Unlike the others, Lalloway seemed eager to inject his own political spin regarding the election results. “Let me be clear,” he said, “the choice was not about development or growth in our City.” He went on to say that the choice “was about the direction of our City.” Then he added, “They [the voters] like the direction of our City. They love the direction of our City.” He concluded with a call to “double-down” on that direction, presumably calling for an even faster pace of growth and development in Irvine.
Agran Leaves Council After 28 Years of Service
Missing from the dais, of course, was Larry Agran, defeated in his bid for another four-year term on the City Council. This was Agran’s 13th election for either Council or Mayor — he won 10 previously, beginning with his 1978 to 1990 stint on the Council, including 6 years as Mayor, and then returning to the Council for another 16 years, from 1998 to 2014, including four years as Mayor (2000-2004).
On December 2nd, a rainy Tuesday afternoon, an estimated 250 people crowded into the City Hall foyer to celebrate Agran’s 28 years of public service. Acknowledging that the gathering was bitter-sweet, “but mostly sweet,” Agran thanked long-time friends, supporters, and the City staff which he described as the “best municipal workforce in America.”
Agran said that after the November election loss, he was asked by a number of people about his “legacy” as a Councilmember and former Mayor. He described that legacy by pointing to several key land-use victories that resulted from the work of many people: first, winning voter approval (in 1988) of the Irvine Open Space Plan — setting aside 16,000 acres of hillsides, canyons and wilderness areas for permanent preservation; second, defeating the County’s El Toro Airport plan and replacing it with a plan to build the 1,300-acre Great Park (1998-2005); and third, winning Council approval (2014) to establish a 125-acre Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery at the Great Park.
These are what Agran called “forever” victories — land-use decisions that will last forever. He cautioned, however, that the Veterans Cemetery is not a “done deal” until the State Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery is actually built, putting the land well beyond the reach of developers who want to grab the 125 acres for private development and private profit.
Agran thanked Council colleague Beth Krom for leading the way in building a legacy that emphasizes “community building” — a legacy of positive, progressive leadership that always puts the public interest ahead of private interests, even when it means angering rich and powerful people.
Finally, Agran acknowledged that the 2012 and 2014 elections have been real setbacks. But civic activism, he said, should be thought of as a lifelong commitment. And for those who think he’s going to fade from the scene, Agran indicated that at 69 years of age, he still intends to be active in civic affairs for a long time to come. “I like to remind friends and adversaries alike,” he said with a smile, “that my parents lived well into their 90s.”
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