With just a few days remaining before the fall election, Laguna Beach City Council incumbent Bob Whalen received the blessing of the city’s police employees as well as a first-time endorsement by the newly established police and fire department management association.
Whalen, a lawyer who specializes in public finance, also leads in contributions in the four-way race for two council seats. His campaign has received $43,297 in donations as of Oct. 22, the latest disclosure report filed with the city clerk.
Challenger Verna Rollinger also received approval from the police rank and file and commands the second largest campaign war chest in the council race with $31,807 in contributions.
Even so, the local campaign treasury reaping the greatest influx is the $59,900 taken in by proponents of Measure KK, a local initiative that would repeal the city’s 2009 ban on medicinal marijuana dispensaries. If voters approve KK, it would allow the operation in town of two dispensaries, which could also sell to recreational users 21 and over if the statewide legalization measure, Prop. 64, passes.
Costa Mesa-based companies controlled by local resident Houston Durand chipped in another $8,500 on Oct. 31 in support of KK, bringing his total contributions to $29,900. Laguna Beach Joint Ventures, of Woodland Hills, more than matched Durand’s contributions. Durand said the remaining contributions are from a former resident, who does not want to be identified out of fear his Laguna Beach retail business will be stigmatized by controversy over the measure.
The better-organized KK opponents, while not as well funded with just $40,292 in contributions, have received backing from many of the town’s establishment organizations, including the unexpected political bedfellows Village Laguna and the Laguna Beach Taxpayers Assoc.
The late-in-the-campaign endorsement last week for Whalen and Rollinger from the city’s police rank and file came as a surprise to both City Council candidates.
Neither candidate was subjected to an interview by the association, which had been its past practice when they both received a similar endorsement in 2012. Association President Zach Martinez did not return calls seeking comment.
The six-members of the Laguna Beach Police and Firefighters Management Association also did not formally interview everyone in the running, President Joe Torres said.
Whalen received the group’s backing because of his track record supporting public safety, he said.
Whalen alone among the four candidates supports local ballot Measure LL, a hike in the bed tax that could support more public safety funding, and has campaigned against Measure KK, Torres said.
“I was thrilled to get that as well,” Whalen said of the command staff’s endorsement, which he thinks could sway some voters. Public opinion surveys show respect for the opinions of the local fire and police departments, he said.
Notably, incumbent Mayor Steve Dicterow’s record on the two measures of concern to the fire and police command staff reflect the opposite stance. Dicterow was the sole vote against putting a tax hike on the ballot and in July recused himself from a vote on a marijuana dispensary measure.
“If that cost me their vote, so be it,” he said. “That doesn’t change my position; public safety is still my No. 1 priority,” he said.
That stance as a fiscal conservative when it comes to the city’s finances seemed to contribute to Dicterow’s receiving the Orange County Register’s endorsement this week. Last month, questions about his own personal finances, business losses and income sources put Dicterow on the spot, though he publicly answered each of the allegations.
Dicterow said he thinks it inappropriate for either employee group to issue an endorsement even as labor contracts are under negotiation.
Neither Whalen nor Rollinger said the endorsement would make a difference in their future consideration of a labor agreement.
Challenger Judie Mancuso criticized the endorsements as “favoritism and cronyism” by the police groups for failing to consider all candidates. “Inclusiveness and transparency is lacking throughout the city; it’s not a level playing field,” she said.
She alone among candidates questioned why Laguna Beach spends twice per capita on public safety compared to Dana Point, which contracts for its services from the sheriff’s department and county fire authority.
Among council candidates, Mancuso trails with $18,396 in contributions. Dicterow’s contribution tally of $30,750 falls close on Rollinger’s heels, disclosure records show.
And Rollinger’s push to return to public office is receiving an assist. Village Laguna, whose mission is preserving village character, has stockpiled $25,000 in contributions and is spending on behalf of Rollinger and the incumbent treasurer, Laura Parisi. An additional $3,000 contribution to Village Laguna was made Nov. 1, an infusion from former resident Audrey Prosser, according to a late-arriving report.
Anne McGraw, a first-time challenger in the hard-fought treasurer’s race, is outspending the incumbent. McGraw has raised $8,005 compared to Parisi’s $5,244, which includes a $1,594 personal loan. As of Oct. 22, Parisi had $6 left on hand, while McGraw had $1,991.
Supporters of a hike in the bed tax also collected $4,532 in contributions, disclosure reports show.