Orange County's off-year elections Tuesday could be hotter than blazes--or colder than ice.
In Irvine, where three city measures are on the ballot, the election may prove to be a showdown between longtime political foes.
But the county's five school board contests have generated little excitement, if the low-key speeches and door-to-door campaigns of the past month are any indication.
Besides a school board election, Irvine voters are facing three ballot measures--two of which could have a profound impact on the course of development and the ability of the city's largest landholder to proceed with several master-planned communities.
The only non-growth-related item on Irvine's city ballot is Measure A, which would change the way that certain open seats on the City Council are filled. Irvine's current election law allows council members with two years left in their terms to run for the elected mayoral seat. Running for mayor does not require them to resign their seat on the council unless they win.
A victorious mayoral candidate would create an unexpected council opening with two years remaining on the term. If Measure A passes, it would allow voters to choose three candidates when two council seats are open and one of the sitting council members is running for mayor.
Should the the council member win the mayor's race, the two top finishers would take the open council seats and the candidate who ran third would assume the unexpired council term of the new mayor.
Supporters of Measure A contend that it will fix a 1988 election law that has led to lawsuits after each City Council election. Opponents, who fear the measure could violate the "one-man, one-vote" principle, say it will simply lead to more legal tangles, as losing council candidates challenge Measure A's constitutionality.
Glen N. Greener, chairman of the now-defunct Election Reform Committee, said Measure A is the easiest and cheapest way of filling the possible opening on the council. His committee was formed by the council to solve problems with the city's election law.
Citizens would understand the need for a third vote when a sitting council member ran for mayor because "the possibility of an open seat wouldn't be a surprise to anybody," Greener said.
But Bruce Peotter, an attorney who served on the Election Reform Committee, said he did not think Measure A was a "clean solution" and could result in lawsuits, given Irvine's contentious political atmosphere.
A better solution, Peotter said, would be procedures used by most Orange County cities. When an opening occurs on the council due to a resignation, the council should have the power to appoint a replacement. If no agreement can be reached, then a special election could be held.
Measure B is a referendum which asks voters to approve Village 38--also known as Westpark II--an Irvine Co. proposal for 3,850 homes between Woodbridge and the Tustin Marine Corps Helicopter Air Station.
The City Council passed the project in December, but a citizens' group, Irvine Tomorrow, gathered about 8,000 signatures of registered voters to force the issue onto the ballot.
Also up for voter consideration is Measure C, proposed by Councilman Bill Vardoulis. It is a non-binding advisory vote on the city's 3-year-old agreement with the Irvine Co. to set aside open space in exchange for development rights in other areas more suitable for construction. Voters have ratified that agreement by a wide margin.
Though one of the city's smallest planned communities, Village 38 has plunged Irvine's political factions and its largest landholder into a broad, sometimes emotional debate over the city's open-space agreement and how much voters should participate in city planning decisions.
At stake too is the fate of other Irvine Co. projects, such as Northwood 5, which Irvine Tomorrow says it may target for other referendums, especially if its drive against Village 38 is successful.
Irvine Tomorrow, led by a group of supporters of former Mayor Larry Agran, asserts that the project is simply bad planning and will lead to a host of urban woes, despite Irvine Co. assurances that those problems have been addressed.
Group members say they have a broad base of support and contend that the majority of local voters have grown tired of development in Southern California and no longer want to live in a city with politics and planning decisions dominated by The Irvine Co.
To supporters of Village 38, a vote against the project will create what developers perceive as a potentially disastrous domino effect for builders and other Irvine Co. projects. The referendum, they say, has added great uncertainty in a previously stable and secure atmosphere for managed, carefully planned growth.
The Irvine Co., partially through its campaign committee Irvine Yes, had at last count spent more than $400,000 in its effort to get Village 38 approved. Irvine Tomorrow's campaign committee, Irvine Citizens Against Rampant Growth, had spent $1,504 as of last week.
Irvine Co. executives say Village 38 is needed to meet a steady demand for low- and moderately-priced homes. They also have vowed to provide adequate roads and school sites, sound attenuation for helicopter noise and measures to reduce exposure to electromagnetic fields from power lines near the project.
Irvine Tomorrow has accused the Irvine Co. and its supporters of using scare tactics by claiming that a vote against Village 38 will undermine the city's open-space agreement, which will set aside about 9,000 acres for public use.
The group contends the plan is not contingent upon the fate of Village 38 and that voters have a right to turn it down because the open-space agreement does not mean every project has to be approved.
Supporters of Village 38 argue that the project is the first development approved under the open-space agreement and its defeat could trigger a string of project denials that would undermine the pact.
While the battle over the Irvine measures has been tense, this year's school board elections, with 28 candidates and incumbents vying for 15 open seats in five districts, has been decidedly low-key.
One of the few exceptions is in Orange, where a flyer distributed by the campaign for Trustee Area 2 candidate Maureen Aschoff raised eyebrows last week. The flyer, which invited Taft Elementary School students to a Halloween party and asked parents who attended for a $25 campaign contribution, was sharply criticized by parents and opponents.
Aschoff, running for her first political office, has been actively backed by Assemblyman Mickey Conroy (R-Santa Ana). The teachers' union backs businessman Lawrence Robert Labrado. Other contenders in Area 2 are Daniel Matranga and businessman John McCain. In Trustee Area 6, incumbent Russell Barrios, an aide to County Supervisor Don R. Roth, will compete against Robert H. Viviano.
In Newport-Mesa Unified, the most vocal race has been between incumbent Tom Williams, a developer, and Martha Fluor, a community volunteer. They have repeatedly clashed in town hall meetings on subjects ranging from budgets to bilingual education.
Community volunteer Terry D. Simon and Edward H. Decker, a college dean, are also running in the district's Trustee Area 1.
In Santa Ana Unified, incumbents Audrey Yamagata Noji, Sal Mendoza, and Geraldo Mouet, the last of whom was appointed, face off against challengers Rosemarie Avila, a teacher, and Ted R. Moreno, a budget analyst aide. Three at-large seats are open.
Five candidates are running for three seats in Garden Grove Unified. Incumbents Joyce T. Johnson, Kenneth Hugh Slimmer and Lynn Hamtil have been challenged by businessman Terry A. Horwitz and engineer Watson Lewis Warren.
In Irvine, three seats are open. Incumbents Mike Regele and Mary Ellen Hadley face six challengers. They are airport coordinator William P. Long, management consultant Thomas J. Burnham, research scientist George M. Gallagher, communications executive Annita A. Sharpe, mechanical engineer Genovica Niculescu-Balteanu, and salesman William M. Dunkelberger.
Voter turnout is expected to be low among the county's 362,458 registered voters.
1991 Orange County Elections
Tuesday is Election Day. A city election will be held in Irvine with three ballot measures, and school board candidates will face off in areas served by the Garden Grove, Irvine, Newport-Mesa, Orange and Santa Ana unified school districts.
In Irvine, voters will decide on three measures. Measure A would change the way that certain open seats on the City Council are filled; Measure B asks Irvine voters whether the Irvine Co. should be allowed to proceed with its 3,850-home Westpark II, or Village 38, project that the City Council approved last December; Measure C asks voters whether the city's 3-year-old open-space agreement with the Irvine Co. should be implemented.
In the Garden Grove Unified School District, which also covers parts of Santa Ana, Westminster and Fountain Valley, voters will choose from five candidates to fill three seats.
In Irvine Unified, eight candidates are vying for three school board seats.
In Newport-Mesa Unified, which covers Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, voters will elect one candidate in Trustee Area 1 and one in Trustee Area 3, with two candidates running in each area.
In Orange Unified, which also covers Villa Park and parts of Anaheim, Santa Ana, Silverado Canyon and Garden Grove, four candidates are competing for a seat in Trustee Area 2 and two are vying for a spot in Trustee Area 6.
In Santa Ana Unified, voters will choose from five candidates to fill three seats.
Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. For information about polling places, call the registrar of voters office at (714) 567-7600.