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Election Fundraising Drops in Low-Key Race

With a sole challenger running against a trio of local City Council incumbents, the mailboxes and yards of Laguna Beach voters have not overflowed with the usual onslaught of candidate literature and signs running up to the Nov. 2 election, shaping up as the least expensive locally in a decade.

Candidates vying for a four-year term as a Laguna council member as well as organizations weighing in on the race cumulatively have so far spent $92,825, based on the most recent pre-election campaign disclosure reports, filed on Oct. 21. So far, that amounts to $4.90 expended to reach the town’s 18,873 registered voters. Final spending figures will be higher, but won’t be reported until Jan. 31.

That compares to six-figure spending tallies in five earlier local council campaigns, including 2000’s high-water mark when seven candidates and political action committees spent $411,452, according to an unofficial tally of previous campaign expenditure reports.

“When the incumbents realized the opposition didn’t have much money, they felt secure and didn’t have to fundraise,” pointed out Frank Ricchiatzi, a founding member of Laguna Beach Republicans.

Nonetheless, Mayor Elizabeth Pearson has amassed the biggest war chest at $57,000, with all but $10,000 raised in spring even before the field of candidates was clear. “Why did we raise all this money if there is peace and harmony? Because you assume the worst,” said her campaign manager, Anne Johnson.

Pearson began strategizing in January, mapping out three fundraisers and buying advertising space in advance. “I wanted to get ahead of the fundraising in the event there was a lot of competition and contentiousness,” she said. All but $2,800 has been spent, Pearson said, put aside in the event of a last-minute hit piece that demands a mailed rebuttal. If the kitty remains unspent, she plans a donation to a nonprofit.

More than 300 individual donors contributed to Pearson’s campaign from all parts of the city and political spectrum, said her treasurer, Matt Lawson. Recent contributions came from local residents including architect Todd Skenderian, attorney Steve Gromet, venue owner Mark Orgill, gay activist Fred Karger and senior-center administrator Carole Zavala.

City Clerk Martha Anderson does not forecast expected turnout at the city’s 14 polling places. Laguna Beach, along with Buena Park and Santa Ana, are the only cities in the county where Democratic registration (7,164) exceeds that of Republican (6,673), according to voter registration counts updated by the county registrar as of Oct. 22.

Despite the dearth of challengers for the three-seat council contest, the non-partisan race between incumbents Kelly Boyd, Toni Iseman and Pearson against Emanuel Patrascu, an aide to a state senator, attracted good-sized crowds at most candidate forums. But local turnout could be affected by the absence of an election at all for the Laguna Beach Unified School District board. Without any opposition, Betsy Jenkins, Ketta Brown and Theresa O’Hare skipped the hard work of campaigning altogether after filing their candidacy papers in July.

In their ballot statements, council candidates outline a host of challenges in Laguna’s future.

Challenger Patrascu pledges to create an environment where business will thrive and to balance the city’s budget through fiscal restraint. He boasts of endorsements from the local congressman, Rep. John Campbell, a Newport Beach Republican; former mayor, Steve Dicterow; and state Sen. Tom Harman, his employer, a Huntington Beach Republican. He’s received $9,386 in contributions, including donations in October by school counselor Ina Alexandre, Harman aide Cynthia Determan, author Henry Mace and a Costa Mesa legal group.

Boyd, a downtown tavern owner, vows to loosen restrictions that hinder potential merchants, to assure resources for safety personnel and to seek a view preservation ordinance. Boyd’s received $33,852 in contributions, including donations this month from builder Gregg Abel, book store owner Jane Hanauer, insurance agent James Lawler, and battalion chief Rob Patterson.

Pearson promises to honor community values, to maintain public-safety and city services, and to find solutions to help businesses and managing parking.

Iseman, a retired college teacher, citing challenges ranging from economic uncertainty to the hiring of a new city manager, believes voters would be well-served through continuity in officeholders. She reports $28,547 in contributions, leading in taking in the most donations during the final pre-election reporting period. These include contributions  this month from developer William Witte, retired attorney Richard Picheny, and physician Myron Wacholder.

The local contest comes at the very end of a lengthy ballot of candidates for 19 statewide offices and six regional races, including representation of Laguna Beach in the state Assembly and U.S. House of Representatives.

Candidates in the latter two contests have not visibly sought votes in town, with the exception of some private fundraising by Irvine Democrat Beth Krom. In a mostly email-driven campaign, she is challenging incumbent Campbell for the 48th Congressional District.

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