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5 Already Off and Running for Council in Laguna Hills

Times Staff Writer

Less than a week after the county registrar of voters began accepting applications, five people have jumped into the race for the proposed Laguna Hills City Council, and up to a dozen others have indicated they may follow suit.

The candidacies are all contingent upon whether residents in unincorporated Laguna Hills vote to become the county’s 29th city in a June 6 election. Voters will be asked on the same ballot to select a five-member city council to take office if cityhood passes.

If the south county’s last three incorporation elections are an indication, the pack of council contenders will be very crowded. Mission Viejo’s Nov. 3, 1987, cityhood election drew 12 council candidates. Dana Point’s June 7, 1988, cityhood election had 25 candidates. And Saddleback Valley’s failed incorporation election on Nov. 8, 1988, had 18 council candidates.

5 Candidates So Far

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The registrar’s office began accepting applications for the Laguna Hills council on Thursday. As of late Monday afternoon, these Laguna Hills residents had filed:

- Janice L. Graham, 53, a teacher.

- William A. Honigman, 35, an emergency room physician.

- Herbert Schwartz, 71, a retired certified public accountant.

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- Craig R. Scott, 36, a lawyer.

- Jerard (Jerry) B. Werner, 61, a retired aerospace engineer.

Clerk Tina Vega of the registrar’s office said “10 to 15" others have also telephoned her office since Thursday to find out what they need to do to run.

The filing deadline is 5 p.m. March 30, when candidates must have returned to the registrar’s office a set of nomination papers signed by at least 20 registered voters living in the area.

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The filing is free, unless a candidate wants to include a statement of qualifications on the ballot. It costs $450 for a statement of no more than 200 words.

Two Powerful Voting Blocs

So far, the race features residents of two of Laguna Hills’ more exclusive--and powerful--communities. Graham, Honigman and Scott all live in Nellie Gail Ranch, a prestigious hilltop community of very expensive homes. Schwartz and Werner live in the gated Leisure World retirement community, which traditionally delivers a powerful voting bloc.

With Leisure World’s 21,000 residents making up nearly half of the proposed Laguna Hills population of 45,000 people, some younger property owners worry that retirees’ interests would outweigh those of young families.

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In fact, Dale White, a young mother who opposes cityhood, accused the registrar’s office of already showing preferential treatment to Leisure World by allowing anti-cityhood residents of that community to list their arguments on the ballot, while not allowing her to do so.

Registrar’s officials cited a state election law that bars having more than one opposition statement on a ballot measure. White said the Leisure World group has already drafted its statement.

“We’re going to be locked out,” said White, who was chairman of “Yes! For Cityhood,” a group that supported the failed Saddleback Valley cityhood drive to form a much larger area into a city.

Leisure World’s Influence

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The Laguna Hills candidates all say they do not believe that Leisure World would wield undue influence in city politics. Scott, a leader of the anti-Saddleback Valley group “Citizens to Save Laguna Hills,” said the concerns of residents of Leisure World extend beyond their community’s gates.

“They’ve been the ones in the past who have elected our school board and passed our school bonds,” he said. “And I find that the people of Leisure World are not all of one mind and one vote.”

Schwartz, an 11-year Leisure World resident, saw no reason that Leisure World residents would not get along with neighbors. “Leisure World has gotten along with the county and federal government and neighbors around us,” said Schwartz. “What’s the difference if we have a city?”


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