Guest Opinion: Takeaways From The Election                     

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Michael Morris.

By Michael Morris

Now that the dust has settled, I wanted to distill what I learned from our most recent election results.  

Ballot Measures

In Measure Q’s resounding defeat (65-35%), there’s a clear sense among voters that Laguna’s existing oversight for commercial development is sufficient; a balance can be found between greater commercial vitality and preserving the character of Laguna. 

Message received.  

Looking at the numbers, the failure of the Yes on Q message to resonate with voters becomes even more pronounced. I anticipated a total vote count of approximately 12,000 voters, which we exceeded slightly. Of that, 7,789 (64.27%) voted No, and 4,330 (35.73%), Yes. But taking a step back, I wanted to estimate the number of undecided voters influenced to one side or the other based on the enormous amounts of money spent and arguments put forward. We know that each of the Yes and No sides had a core base of supporters. For argument, I assumed that 2000 represented the numbers on both sides (I use this number since the Yes on Q side collected approximately 2,400 valid signatures, of which most, but not all, were offered readily). Assuming that each side started with about 2,000 supporters, only 8,119 votes were “in play.” Calculating the numbers with that hypothesis, the campaign to convince the “undecided voter” to one side or the other resulted in No claiming 71.3% to Yes’ 28.7%. Clearly, the voter undecided on Measure Q sided with the No side overwhelmingly.

The final accounting is still outstanding, but based on current spending reports, the No on Q side spent about $275,000 across two PACs (this doesn’t factor in the City’s spending on analysis and external consultants).

The Yes on Q side spent (estimates):

  • Laguna Residents First (LRF) – $98,000 over 3.5 years, of which $25,000 was spent on legal fees and canvassing
  • Village Laguna spent $20,200 (independent expenditures in the form of mailers and online advertising)
  • Advocates for Laguna Residents estimated $2,500 (independent expenditures in the form of 1 mailer)

If we exclude the legal and canvassing costs incurred by the Yes on Q side, we can estimate the total spend at around $100,000 for voter outreach. In short, each side spent a lot to garner every undecided voter to their side, but undecided voters weren’t receptive to LRF’s message.

Measures R and S

These Measures both fared even worse than Measure Q. Indeed, both lost in similar proportions to Q when its initial “base” was factored out. Measure R, which was very similar to Q but focused exclusively on hotel development, lost 70.2% to 29.98%. 

Measure S lost 67.8% to 32.2% (I believe its stronger showing was due to the simple proposition it promoted: a minimum wage for hotel workers). Vast amounts of money were available to the No on R and S sides, with the hotel and resort organizations spending upwards of $1.175 million to defeat both Measures. Residents will have noticed the avalanche of 28 full-sized glossy mailers that arrived in their mailboxes from the PAC “Protect and Keep Laguna Local,” which had a war chest of nearly $1.4 million. The union promoting R and S (Unite Here local 11) was vastly outspent and out-maneuvered in setting the terms of the debate.

City Council Results

We have two fine newcomers in Alex Rounaghi and Mark Orgill. 

Sue Kempf was re-elected and Peter Blake was resoundingly defeated. Based on repeat-donor and other data, I predicted a sixth or seventh-place finish for Blake as early as Oct. 10. This was a dramatic turnaround from 2018, when 43% of voters gave Blake 1 of their three (or fewer) votes. In 2022, only 26.1% did so (I predicted his support had dropped to 25%). This is noteworthy because the spending on Blake’s behalf was record-setting:

  • $47,530 raised over 15 months by the Blake campaign
  • $81,850 spent by Ray, Goldstein and Shopoff lead developer PAC Laguna 2022 (of which I estimate half was spent promoting Blake and opposing Flores and Orgill)
  • $18,425 spent by the Lincoln Club of OC on misleading Pro-Blake mailers and online advertising

Blake’s supporter numbers cratered, and the more than $100,000 spent on his campaign couldn’t find enough new support to salvage it. An incumbent who has spent their first term repeatedly bullying constituents and creating a hostile environment at council meetings can expect to lose voter support, despite the spending.

The current Laguna Beach electorate majority is different from that which led to the preservation of the greenbelt, the quirky nature of downtown or other aspects of what makes Laguna unique. Today’s Laguna voters continue to turn out when the stakes are high, which bodes well for the future. However, today’s majority seems to embody a “work hard/play hard” mentality rather than a “live simply/tread lightly” ethos that dominated in the past. The zeitgeist has changed. Many minority voters hope that our newly elected and future leaders find a way to work with us to help retain the essence of what made Laguna Beach so unique and beloved while moving toward their vision of the future.  

Michael is a Laguna Beach resident and homeowner who is a co-founder emeritus of Laguna Residents First. Previously, he served as Laguna Beach’s trustee to the Orange County Mosquito and Vector Control District and was a member of the Orange County Grand Jury. 

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Mike, Great recap of the the election results. I believe with the election of the two new members will usher a new era where inputs from the residents are considered as it is we who pay the largest share of the city generated and subsidize the 6.5 million tourists by $20 million dollars annually. Hopefully the new city council will find ways to make the commercial property owners and the businesses, especially the restaurants and bars, shoulder some of this annual subsidy.

  2. I agree with you Chris, terrific recap.

    I’ve seen this 6.5MM number before and I’m not calling you out for citing it.
    But, 6.5MM/365 = 17,808 tourists per day. Does this make sense to anyone?
    As David Hanson pointed out in the Pilot 5 years ago, “the Tourists must be arriving 20 people to a car.”

  3. Thank you Mike Morris for this recap.

    I hope the message residents sent to those who essentially threw their money down the drain to support “An incumbent who has spent their first term repeatedly bullying constituents and creating a hostile environment at council meetings can expect to lose voter support, despite the spending” learned something important about our city stakeholders.

    City representatives must listen and act professionally and respectfully at all times to all constituents. Looking forward to a new dynamic city council that works with residents to address and resolve serious issues and improve our city and residents quality of life. Happy Holidays Laguna!

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