Bolstered by moderator Norberto Santana from the Voice of OC, the inaugural Irvine Watchdog candidate forum at Irvine High School Sunday was an extraordinary opportunity to meet the candidates and hear where they stand on issues affecting the City of Irvine. It was a very purple crowd and even those candidates who identified as Republicans did their best to find common ground. The theater at Irvine High holds 300 seats and there was easily between 230-260 people in attendance, about three times the size of the 75 who attended a similar candidate forum at the Irvine Chamber of Commerce where some guests tell TheLiberalOC candidates were getting text messages from someone in the crowd and one candidate appeared to read the answer to a question from a sheet of paper.
Cell phones were not present on the stage so candidates had to rely on their knowledge of city issues. The exception seemed to be candidate David Chey who was using an Internet-connected laptop which probably should have been taken away from him. He did a nice job answering questions, but I want to know who was emailing him answers.
The forum was four candidates short; Republican Anthony Kuo claimed a conflict and did not attend. Republican Carrie O’Malley backed out due to a death in her family. Republican Mark Newgent did not attend and there was no explanation. Democrat Lauren Johnson-Norris withdrew on Saturday morning telling organizers the forum might be biased against her. I’ll cut O’Malley some slack here but I think Kuo and Newgent just didn;t want to address questions on stage culled from the readers of the Irvine Watchdog blog who weighed each question by the number of requests readers submitted. For Lauren Johnson-Norris to back out of a event that seems to cater to progressives was, in my opinion, a big mistake.
Some of the questions were Yes and No where candidates had a handheld colorized sign with Green for Yes and Read for no. A question of note: “:Have you benefited directly or indirectly from contributions made by developers?” All of the candidates signaled they had not. Kuo, O’Malley and Johnson-Norris would have had to say “Yes.” Johnson-Norris hasn’t received contributions from FivePointe Consultant Starpointe Ventures but she has multiple contributions from Starpointe CEO Patrick Strader and his family. The top question dealt with Traffic which Johnson-Norris is adopting as a signature position; by not attending, she missed a big opportunity to offer a vision for traffic management in Irvine.
Another question asked candidates to weigh in on transparency and public access by the Irvine Land Trust; all candidates believed those meetings of a body tasked with developing affordable and low-income housing should open their meetings to the public. This tied into a hypothetical question on the homeless which was “what would you do if a federal judge says Irvine must take on 50 homeless people. Chey, Gang Chen and Dr. Lee Sun suggested the city attorney sue and seek an appeal to overturn the decision. Other candidates, notably Farrah Khan and Kev Abazajian called on voters to show Irvine’s compassion to help the homeless gain some sort of housing by defining families living in cars where children don’t attend school. The audience was far more receptive to that message than litigation. Chey, Gang Chen and Dr. Lee Sun were also for having Irvine exit SB54 as a sanctuary city where other candidates were in support. And only Gang Chen was opposed to building the Veterans Cemetery on the ARDA site. And just about every candidate believes the current council majority is not listening to residents and carries a certain degree of corruption with them.
I was impressed with Frank McGill and Jaci Woods who, between them, have decades of experience living in Irvine. They lent a voice to what the city and its residents can accomplish when common ground is found. The duo’s collective strength was their track record in listening to Irvine voters and residents backed up with evidence and history and not just rhetoric.
I also want to give some props to John Park who seems to grasp he is running for city council and not school board or county supervisor. He’s a Republican and cites the mantra about the GOP being the party of fiscal conservatism which is negated by actual evidence of the George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Donald Trump administrations, but he struck me as someone who is a far better Republican candidate than Kuo, O’Malley and Newgent.
Farrah Khan and Kev Abazajian were the winners of the debate; they didn’t go over on time and were in command of the questions asked with solid policy knowledge.
For a first time event, this was easily one of the best candidate forums I’ve attended in terms of the questions asked, the respect the candidates had for each other on stage, the audience was fully engaged, and it went off without a hitch.
Here are the links for the LiveStream; I hope it was archived: https://irvinewatchdog.org/2018/09/30/irvine-city-council-candidate-forum-is-live/