Election 2020: Costa Mesa voters select 1 incumbent, 3 newcomers in City Council races

Voters cast their ballots Tuesday at the Costa Mesa City Hall voting center.
Voters cast their ballots Tuesday at the Costa Mesa City Hall voting center.
(Scott Smeltzer/ Staff Photographer)

Preliminary results in the race for four seats on the Costa Mesa City Council were split between those with civic experience and relative newcomers, as one incumbent, one planning commissioner and two freshman candidates ranked among the top vote getters.

Mayor Katrina Foley led the pack in the contest for mayor as of 11 p.m., coming in at 53.2% with 21,382 votes. Councilwoman Sandy Genis earned 22.75% with 9,145 votes. About 40,192 mayoral votes have been counted so far, reflecting 65.2% of all registered voters.

In District 1, challenger Don Harper overcame Mayor Pro Tem John Stephens to secure a 42.66% lead with 3,680 votes. Stephens, who led early on, slipped to second place with 41.84% of the vote and 3,609 ballots cast.

Newcomer Loren Gameros was leading in District 2 with just over 49.82% with 3,231 votes, followed by Ben Chapman at 30.16%

In District 6, Planning Commissioner Jeff Harlan had earned 48.19% of votes tallied with 3,913 ballots case, followed by Jeff Pettis, who earned 19.88%.

Mayor Katrina Foley speaks during a Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce event celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month.
Mayor Katrina Foley speaks during a Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce event celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month at La Vida Cantina in Costa Mesa on Oct. 14.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The target of an attack ad, whose home has been the site of protests against the city’s $100 no-mask fine, Foley said she felt good about her efforts.

“We did everything we could, under the circumstances, to run a safe campaign,” Foley said. “I’m at my best when I’m talking to voters at the door, writing down their issues and responding, and we didn’t get to do that this time. I’m optimistic, but you never know — It’s a crazy year.”

Harlan conveyed via text message his excitement about the night ahead.

“It has been both thrilling and daunting to run for office, and I’m humbled by all the enthusiasm and support for our campaign,” Harlan said. “I’m eager to see what the election reveals for us in Costa Mesa, the state and the nation.”

Candidates waiting for the first round of results didn’t have to wait long — across Costa Mesa’s six voting districts, 40,569 ballots had been received early Tuesday, representing nearly 66% of the city’s 61,607 registered voters.

Still, despite the high return rate of mail-in ballots, many residents turned out at Costa Mesa City Hall on Election Day to cast votes in person. Among them was first-time voter Angela Salgado, 18, of Costa Mesa, who said she was eager to engage in the civic process.

“I think it’s really important, because every voice counts no matter what age you are,” she said.

Salgado waited in line for about 20 minutes and found the process simple and straightforward. For her, the most important race was the contest between incumbent President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Sandra Franco outside the Coast College Community District voting center on Tuesday, November 3.
Sandra Franco, right, dons a Make America Great Again hat outside the Coast College Community District voting center on Tuesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Another first-timer, 19-year-old Justin Henderson, of Costa Mesa came to vote with mom Carrie. Like Salgado, he enjoyed the experience and plans to participate in future elections.

“It’s kind of cool to vote, actually,” he said.

Mother and son recently sat down to discuss state ballot measures and local races that will decide the composition of the Costa Mesa City Council and whether retail cannabis sales and delivery will be legalized in the coming year.

Henderson said he wasn’t bothered by friends who decided not to vote.

Rep. Harley Rouda is slightly behind challenger Michelle Steel in the race for the 48th Congressional District, which comprises much of the Orange County coastline, including Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach and Newport Beach.

“Do whatever you want,” he reasoned. “If you don’t feel passionate about it, that’s OK.”

“That’s the beauty of America,” Carrie Henderson added.

The state of America weighed on the mind of Sara Garcia, a 32-year-old Costa Mesan who became a U.S. citizen two years ago. Garcia came out with 16-year-old niece Alison Huicochea to cast her ballot.

“It’s my duty to vote,” she said in Spanish with Huicochea translating. “We’re Mexican, so immigration reform and everything that’s happening right now — ICE detentions, the police, Trump — that’s important to me.”

Voters wait in line to cast their ballots at the Costa Mesa City Hall voting center.
Voters wait in line to cast their ballots at the Costa Mesa City Hall voting center.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Costa Mesa’s Felipe Garcia, 37, (no relation) voted for the first time, in part, because of ballot measures involving tax increases and decisions that could affect older residents like his parents.

“I’ve always thought my vote doesn’t matter. Now that I’m a little older and I know a little more, I felt it was important to come,” he said. “I was a little nervous, but it feels good. Now, I can voice my opinion because I actually did vote.”

School board election results for the Newport-Mesa Unified, Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach City, Huntington Beach Union and Laguna Beach Unified school districts.

For as much as voters studied up on local issues and races, Costa Mesa City Council candidates tried in equal measure to bring their messages to voters at a time when public forums, door-knocking campaigns and events were largely prohibited.

“We usually do a lot of walking and knocking and talking with voters, and we decided not to do that this year,” Stephens said Tuesday evening, adding his campaign leaned on social media and phone banking this time around.

“I feel like we left it all out on the field. Everything we could possibly do we did,” he added. “The message is out there — it’s just a question of whether it resonated.”

Check for continuing election coverage and results.

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