Poll Tests Opinions on Council Election

Ann Christoph, right, with Bill Rihn in the South Laguna Community Garden.

A recent opinion poll of Laguna Beach residents appears to be gauging support for two local residents who are not declared candidates for the upcoming City Council election.

Among many questions, the survey takers asked respondents of their opinion of real estate seller Audrey Prosser, a champion for gay rights and active in the Democratic party, as well as landscape architect Ann Christoph, an Indy columnist and Village Laguna board member who lost a bid for re-election in 1994.

Village Laguna officials declined to disclose any details about the June 10 poll conducted by the Washington, D.C. opinion research company GBA or the motivation behind its pulse-taking. Board vice president John Monahan confirmed commissioning the survey for the organization, a political action committee that advocates for preservation of village character.

The other individuals who were under scrutiny by poll-takers were all five current elected council members including the two incumbents seeking re-election, Jane Egly and Verna Rollinger, along with already announced challengers Robert Whalen and Steve Dicterow.

Rollinger is a longtime Village Laguna board member; Dicterow, elected to the council for three previous terms, withdrew from the 2006 election for business reasons.

Four years ago, campaigns by Rollinger and Egly were buoyed by expenditures on their behalf by Village Laguna. More than $136,000 was spent on the three-candidate 2008 election, according to an informal tally of expenditure reports.

“We aren’t going to start thinking about the City Council until August,” said Dick Frank, the Democratic club president, who is focused on opening a temporary headquarters by next month.

Audrey Prosser, right, with a supporter of gay rights.

So far, Dicterow is the first in this election cycle to trumpet an allegiance, aligning himself with incumbent Republicans Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and state Assemblyman Allan Mansoor though the council election is a non-partisan seat.

Reached this week, Prosser and Christoph said numerous supporters have individually urged them to become candidates this year, and neither ruled out such a possibility.

July 16 through Aug. 10 is the official nominating period for candidates, who must collect and submit 30 signatures for inclusion in the general municipal election. Robert Ross, who frequently hectors council members during meetings, has also filed forms saying he intends to run, said Deputy City Clerk Lisette Chel. Eli Grossman, another council critic, also vows to enter the race.

Prosser thinks people view her as a prospective candidate because of her candor. “They think I will say it like it is,” said the board member of the Laguna Beach Democratic Club. “I’ve never seriously considered it before,” she said.

She thinks the current candidates fail to offer voters enough detail to win loyalists. “I want to hear specifics about downtown, the shuttle, what to do to support local businesses,” she said.

Prosser said she wasn’t consulted about being included in the Village Laguna poll.

Christoph declined to answer a similar question.

Even so, Christoph said returning to an elected post remains a constant rumination. “I didn’t get to accomplish the things I was hoping to,” she said, recalling a final year in office overshadowed by fallout from the October 1993 arson-lit firestorm that consumed more than 400 homes.

Victims vented their anger at elected officials, similar to the overflow crowd that filled council chambers after the December 2010 flood. “Multiply that by about 100,” she said. “It was horrible.”

One of her pet projects sidelined by the disaster was a revision to the highway element of the city’s general plan, which would have made trails, sidewalks and harmonious landscaping a condition of development.

This election cycle, Christoph intends to put her energy into passage of a local open space initiative on the November ballot. “That is a very important long range benefit for our city, and I am hoping we can unite behind it,” she said.

Despite fiscal gloom from Sacramento, two-thirds of statewide bond measures were approved by voters during the June primary, pointed out political consultant Paul Freeman, who last year polled Laguna residents about an envisioned tax measure to add acreage to the existing greenbelt. “We will be out there; there is a campaign plan,” he said, when asked about the initiative’s prospects. “When it’s a local deal, it’s a different dynamic,” he said.

Village Laguna’s survey also asked citizens about city spending in various areas, attitudes towards various interest groups, whether endorsements of various issues swayed votes and their preferred media source.

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