Election 2022: Meet the candidates for Costa Mesa City Council

Eight candidates are running for four seats on the City Council, including the mayor's seat.
Eight candidates are running for four seats on the City Council, including the mayor’s seat. District 4 is uncontested, while opponents face off in districts 3 and 5.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Ahead of the Nov. 8 election, Costa Mesa voters will be sending and mailing ballots or showing up in person to decide who will be the city’s next mayor and who will fill two contested seats on the dais.

For the at-large mayoral seat, which has a term of two years, current Mayor John Stephens faces former Orange County Supervisor and state Sen. John Moorlach. District 3 incumbent Andrea Marr is running against two challengers — Jorge Miron and John Thomas “JT” Patton — while Councilwoman Arlis Reynolds is squaring off against opponent Rob Dickson in District 5.

Councilman Manuel Chavez, elected for the city’s 4th District in 2018, is unopposed in his bid for a second four-year term.


The Orange County Registrar of Voters’ office reports there were 61,476 registered voters in Costa Mesa as of Wednesday. The last day to register to vote in California is Oct. 24.

The Daily Pilot sent a questionnaire to all City Council candidates on the ballot to get an overview on their experience, why they are running and what they feel are the biggest issues affecting Costa Mesa.

We are presenting their responses by district and by alphabetical order by last name. Some responses have been edited for formatting, brevity or clarity.


John Moorlach

John Moorlach
(Courtesy of John Moorlach)

Age: 66

Professional Occupation: Retired, commentary writer on municipal finance and related issues

Education: California State University Long Beach, bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in accounting

Time lived in Costa Mesa: Started working in the city in 1976 and purchased a first home in 1984

Neighborhood in which you reside; how long have you lived there? Mesa Verde, 37 years

Public service, activism, and volunteerism: California State Senator, 37th District (2015-2020), Orange County Supervisor, District 2 (2006-2014). Served as a board member for the Orange County Employees’ Retirement System, California Assn. of County Treasurers and Tax Collectors, California State Assn. of Counties, Mesa Verde Homeowners Assn., Costa Mesa Historical Society and the Costa Mesa Republican Assembly

Immediate family members: Wife Trina, three adult children and seven grandchildren


Name the three issues you believe are the most important facing the city and why:

1. Unfunded pension liabilities and debt reduction. Costa Mesa’s unrestricted net deficit for governmental activities is $243,934,825. The 112,780 residents living in the city would each have to chip in $2,163 to eliminate it. This is due to roughly $378 million in unfunded liabilities for pensions and other post-employment benefits. Costa Mesa’s pension funding ratio, at approximately 61%, is the lowest of Orange County’s 34 cities.

2. Homelessness and related property crime. Although the city has been proactive in addressing homelessness, it has not done enough. Residents intuitively know that it is not getting better. The point in time count is being questioned. Residents are concerned about the prevalence of personal property crime occurring in and around their neighborhoods. A majority of the homeless are dealing with mental health issues. I have built a strong record on dealing with mental illness, including implementing Laura’s Law at the County of Orange, the first county to do so on a voluntary basis. It has been followed by some 30 counties.

3. A balanced approach to adding new housing and addressing potential increased density. In 2016, residents put Measure Y on the ballot by acquiring the required number of signatures. It was a bottom-up effort that received nearly 70% of the vote. Just before the close of the filing period, the City Council hastily put Measure K on the ballot to undo Measure Y (in certain commercial and industrial corridors). There was minimal to no public input. It was a top-down cram down by six of the current city council members to address a state mandate for more housing units in a city that is mostly built out.

John Stephens (incumbent mayor)

John Stephens
(Bryan C Ramsay)

Age: 59

Professional occupation: Mayor, attorney

Education: Cal Poly Pomona, bachelor’s degree in business administration; University of California, Davis, law degree

Time lived in Costa Mesa: 33 years

Neighborhood in which you reside; how long have you lived there? Mesa Verde, 23 years

Public service, activism and volunteerism: Mayor and city council member, city planning commissioner, baseball and softball coach, board member and umpire, St. John the Baptist Finance and Pastoral Council, Santa Claus at city-sponsored Snoopy House, event emcee

Immediate family members: Wife Amy, sons Tom and Nate, daughters Carolyn and Olivia


Name the three issues you believe are the most important facing the city and why:

1. Public safety is always the city’s primary issue. Recruiting and retaining the best first responders is critical. We have increased our police and fire staffing to the highest levels since the Great Recession. They are equipped with the technology needed to keep us safe, including body-worn cameras, a mobile command unit, an armored rescue vehicle, four new ambulances and new training facilities for police and fire personnel. We will soon deploy technology to detect stolen cars that enter Costa Mesa. Road safety for cars, bikes and pedestrians is also important for public safety. We have added stoplights (Randolph and Village Way), protected bike lanes (Bristol and Merrimac), pedestrian interval crosswalks, medians, traffic calming and other street safety measures.

2. Reducing homelessness and stabilizing housing is also critical. We opened a 72-unit bridge shelter, have housed 238 people and reduced street homelessness by 20% since 2019. We allocated $1.7 million for mental health services. We are working on 148 units of housing for seniors and veterans and a first-time homebuyer program. We’ve also provided $1.8 million in rent relief to keep at-risk families housed.

3. Investing in infrastructure and maintaining fiscal health are also important. Our Condition Pavement Index continues to be among the best in Orange County. We have rebuilt almost every alley in Costa Mesa with concrete that will last for 75 to 100 years. We improved Jack Hammett Sports Complex and built pickleball courts and playgrounds at Jordan, Lions and Tanager parks with more park improvements to come. We are also a LEED Gold City and a Tree City U.S.A., installing nine charging stations at City Hall, and continuously planting and maintaining 24,000 public trees. Financially, the city is in excellent condition despite the pandemic with a balanced budget, $53.5 million in reserves and an AA+ credit rating.

District 3

Andrea Marr (incumbent)

Andrea Marr
(Brandy Young)

Age: 39

Professional occupation: Vice President of Willdan Industrial, a division of Willdan Energy Solutions

Education: U.S. Naval Academy, bachelor’s in aerospace engineering; Old Dominion University, master’s in engineering management; University of San Diego, doctoral candidate in leadership studies (in progress)

Time lived in Costa Mesa: 11 years

Neighborhood in which you reside; how long have you lived there? Mesa del Mar since March 2021. Previously owned a townhome behind Neth Park for 5+ years.

Public service, activism and volunteerism: Costa Mesa City Council (2018-2022), Costa Mesa Bikeway and Walkability Committee, chaired the city’s Cultural Arts Committee, COVID-19 food drive organizer with nonprofits Trellis and the Power of One Foundation, member and volunteer with Team Red, White and Blue, a nonprofit veterans organization, climate change advocate/speaker for Veterans Energy Project (formerly Operation Free), 2013 recipient of the “Champions of Change” award by the White House, volunteer with ASOFENIX in 2010, installing small hydro power and solar systems for off-grid communities in Nicaragua

Immediate family members: Husband Scott and dog Lincoln.


Name the three issues you believe are the most important facing the city and why:

1. Homelessness. While we have done a lot (including opening a homeless shelter, adding social workers and support staff and dedicating significant resources), we’ve only reduced the unsheltered population by 20%. That’s not a reason to let up, though. We need to continue to find creative ways to work collaboratively across the region to solve the problem. Doing less is simply not an option. I’m also interested to see how we can work with the CARE Court system for those with mental health and substance use disorders that often decline services offered by the city.
2. Parks. This year I had the opportunity to work with city staff and state Sen. Dave Min to secure $10 million to improve our parks. In my district, the TeWinkle lakes are badly in need of repair, the Tennis Center needs upgrades, Wilson Park is underutilized, and Neth Park has no amenities at all. Unfortunately, a lot of this work is playing catch-up for poor infrastructure funding by previous councils. It’s easy to support projects that result in ribbon cuttings; the hard work is basic upkeep of our existing infrastructure. I’m proud to be a council member who prioritizes investment in the little things that make a big difference.
3. Revitalizing Corridors. I voted to put Measure K on the ballot to allow us to improve our major corridors without touching existing neighborhoods. Every single issue I’ve faced on Council — from homelessness to crime in motels to assisting small businesses — would be helped if we had the tools to improve Harbor and Newport boulevards. Moreover, we are very unlikely to have an approved state-mandated housing plan unless something changes, putting millions of dollars of state funding at risk and resulting in fines and a loss of local control over city planning. We must do something.

Jorge Miron

Jorge Miron
(Courtesy of Jorge Miron)

Age: 41

Professional occupation: Patient care advocate

Education: California State University Fullerton, bachelor’s in criminal justice; Santa Ana College, associate’s in arts/liberal arts

Time lived in Costa Mesa: 9 years

Neighborhood in which you reside; how long have you lived there? Mesa Del Mar since 2014, College Park for one year prior

Public service, activism and volunteerism: Dog rescuer/member of Chesapeake Bay Retriever Relief and Rescue, rallied residents in 2018 against the “Paularino Channel Trail” project that would have put homes in jeopardy of flooding.

Immediate family members: Husband John C. Merrill, and dogs Roxie, Quetxi and Dexter


Name the three issues you believe are the most important facing the city and why:

1. Residential Parking. I often hear, “Will I ever get my residential parking permit back?” or “Why can’t I find parking near my apartment?” Low-income folks don’t have the luxury of living close to work or spending hours walking, biking or on the bus. Working class people need to drive. Some work 60+ hours a week. With high gas prices, nobody should spend valuable time and money looking for a parking spot. I will also work to start a shared parking agreement program between residences and businesses.

2. Development, housing, and lack of transparency. I’m an early supporter of Measure Y, modeled on a state-compliant “right-to-vote” measure in Redondo Beach. In the medical field we say, “Don’t use a sledgehammer when a scalpel is needed.” Measure K is a sledgehammer. Voters will lose their right to vote on entire corridors. Measure K has no affordable housing requirements. Increasing at- or below-market rate homes will stabilize prices, not luxury units.

The crafting of K is a perfect example of the lack of transparency at City Hall. It was rushed through at the last-minute in a backroom with council members and developers. Any change to Measure Y should have been developed in the open with the public involved directly. The only people who will benefit from K are corporate developers, like those who donated $30,000 to promote Measure K.

3. Homelessness. I support a regional approach, and Costa Mesa will take care of our own. I will work to actively communicate with adjacent cities to offer similar-level services to avoid cross-border migration, reducing our city’s burden, and ensure other cities do their fair share. I’ll explore a Joint Powers Authority for long-term cooperation. And if other cities refuse to cooperate, I will support strictly enforcing our anti-camping ordinance to discourage migration from those cities.

John Thomas “JT” Patton

John Thomas "JT" Patton
(Courtesy of JT Patton)

Age: 49

Professional occupation: Financial advisor

Education: Sacramento State University, bachelor’s in kinesiology

Time lived in Costa Mesa: 6 years. I have lived in Newport/Costa Mesa for 30+ years

Neighborhood in which you reside; how long have you lived there? Eastside Costa Mesa, 3 years currently and 1 year previously.

Public service, activism and volunteerism: Past chair and presenter for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, volunteer for the special needs community through Orange Coast College, board member of two nonprofit organizations, chamber of commerce member, volunteer and committee member with Run for Mercy and Veterans Honor Run, member of the Sacramento State Student Veterans Club, recipient of the Veterans Leadership Initiative Medal at Sacramento State, guest speaker in the fitness and addiction communities.

Immediate family members: Wife Mary Lisa, son Jacob, daughter Hannah Rose


Name the three issues you believe are the most important facing the city and why:

1. Homelessness. The city says they’ve taken 200+ people off the street but anyone driving down Newport Boulevard or Wilson will clearly see that there isn’t a reduction. Our family had a homeless woman sleeping in our driveway in 2020 and, although we called the police, she returned. My wife had a 1-year-old at home, and it wasn’t safe. We didn’t know where to turn. If we don’t address the underlying addiction and mental health issues affecting much of the homeless population, we can’t solve the problem. We need compassion and code enforcement. I received 30 signatures to run for office and 15 of the 30 people had experienced property crime.

2. Property crime. Auto theft, car break-ins, and garage break-ins seem to be most common. Violent crime hasn’t come to Costa Mesa ... yet. If we don’t deal with the property crime epidemic, one of these incidents will end tragically.

3. Measure K. Measure K is a clumsy attempt at circumventing measure Y, and it’s deceptive at best. It was co-written by the incumbent in my district and, although championed as an “affordable housing” measure, it does not actually provide for ANY affordable housing. In fact, it doesn’t provide housing for low-income individuals, veterans or the elderly. It does, however, provide high-density developers with a backdoor to measure Y and rewards campaign donors. Costa Mesa has had six years to develop a proper city improvement plan, and a majority of the council failed. I am for revitalization, but we need resident input and proper planning. Measure K was rushed and lacked community involvement. We deserve better!

District 4

Manuel Chavez (incumbent, unopposed)

Manuel Chavez
(Matt Fitt)

Age: 27

Professional occupation: Constituent services manager/field representative for Orange County Board of Supervisors’ District 2

Education: UC Irvine, bachelor’s in political science and religious studies

Time lived in Costa Mesa: Entire life

Neighborhood in which you reside; how long have you lived there? Lifelong Westside resident

Public service, activism and volunteerism: Board member for the Heritage Museum of Orange County and the Costa Mesa Democratic Club, California Democratic Party State Central Committee Delegate, former President of UC Irvine’s College Democrats, former tutor at Costa Mesa’s Save Our Youth (SOY) and former youth leader at Christ Cathedral.

Immediate family members: Father Juan Chavez, mother Elena Perez, sister Delayla Perez and stepfather Alfredo Perez


Name the three issues you believe are the most important facing the city and why:

1. Investing in Westside Costa Mesa. I remain committed to investing in public parks, infrastructure and community organizations in Costa Mesa. During my first year in office, the city received a $1-million grant to help cover the cost of reimagining the Lions Park playground, library and community center by partnering with Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris. Recently, we received another $11.2 million for park improvements — the largest state budget appropriation to Costa Mesa in the history of our city — through a collaboration among the City Council, state Sen. Dave Min and Petrie-Norris. Under our leadership the city has now made it a priority to improve and expand park access for our District 4 neighborhoods. We are doing this work while keeping the city’s budget balanced, increasing general fund reserves and maintaining the city’s AA+ credit rating.

2. Safety in our community. I will continue to support our city’s first responders and public safety personnel. On the council, I have worked to improve trust and safety in our city by supporting a community-oriented approach to outreach in the Westside and restoring depleted department staffing. Costa Mesa’s first responders are provided with state-of-the-art equipment to maintain fast emergency response times for our residents.

3. Tackling the housing crisis. It is vital for our city that future generations can afford to live here, and I will continue working to balance the needs of residents new and old. I’ve been a strong advocate for the creation of more housing and affordable housing. With soaring rents and home prices tied to a rise in homelessness, we need to prioritize lowering the cost of rent while maintaining our quality of life. I have also prioritized infrastructure to increase the walkability and bikeability of streets to reduce traffic and improve our quality of life.

District 5

Robert “Rob” Dickson

Robert "Rob" Dickson
(Courtesy of Rob Dickson)

Age: 54

Professional occupation: Environment, land and resources senior paralegal

Education: Professional certification from UC Irvine

Time lived in Costa Mesa: 29 years

Neighborhood in which you reside; how long have you lived there? Eastside from 1993-2011, Westside since 2011

Public service, activism and volunteerism: Costa Mesa Planning Commission for 6 years, Costa Mesa Redevelopment and Residential Rehabilitation (3R) Committee, board member for Costa Mesa United (Costa Mesa Community Athletics Foundation), member of firm’s Pro Bono Committee, former volunteer mentor

Immediate family members: Wife Jennifer, daughter Rebecca, son George


Name the three issues you believe are the most important facing the city and why:

1. Homelessness. We have a serious problem with human beings living on the street in desperate conditions, hopelessly addicted or mentally ill. Shelter alone does not address homelessness; we see it every day on our streets. The quality of life for those experiencing homelessness and the residents and businesses are greatly impacted. Human beings suffering from addiction and mental illness are subject to abuse, violence, illness and the elements, and some are forced to commit crimes to support themselves. Residents and business owners feel insecure, and our sense of community is impacted. No one should be sleeping on our streets — that is not compassion.

2. Crime. This is an issue that impacts everyone, from bikes stolen off front porches to cars and work vehicles broken into, and impacts livelihoods. Businesses are forced to adjust operations and suffer the impacts of rampant theft. Violent crime is trending upwards. People do not feel safe in their community, and that is incredibly corrosive to our society. How we address crime and safety is critically important.

3. Financial Health. Costa Mesa ranks dead last in the county in real financial health, 34 of 34, due to our unrestricted net deficit. Despite our tremendous commercial vibrancy and tax base, poor fiscal management has led the state auditor to flag our finances. We spend 18% of our revenues on pension obligations, compared to 12% in Santa Ana and 8% in Irvine. Our liabilities — amounting to almost a quarter-billion dollars — impact our ability to provide critical services and make it far harder to weather another recession. We face the risk of bankruptcy or increased taxes and fees. Public safety, roads, parks and infrastructure are all at risk.

Arlis Reynolds (incumbent)

Arlis Reynolds
(Courtesy of Arlis Reynolds)

Age: 38

Professional occupation: Clean energy engineer/consultant.

Education: Graduated from Victoria Elementary, TeWinkle Middle and Estancia High schools; MIT, bachelor’s in mechanical engineering; UC Irvine, master of business administration

Time lived in Costa Mesa: Born and raised in Costa Mesa

Neighborhood in which you reside; how long have you lived there? I live in the Freedom Homes/Canyon Park neighborhood on the westside, on the same street that I grew up on.

Public service, activism and volunteerism: Volunteered as a coach and mentor, led a local grassroots effort to save Banning Ranch, vice chair of Costa Mesa’s Parks and Community Services Commission, elected to the City Council in 2018, serve on the boards of America Walks, Orange County Soccer Club Hispanic Advisory Board and Coast Community College District Enterprise Board.

Immediate family members: Mother Olga Zapata, father Dr. Gary Reynolds, brother Michael Reynolds, dog Zoe and rescue cat Peanut.


Name the three issues you believe are the most important facing the city and why:

1. Homelessness and Housing. A majority of our residents are struggling with housing costs, a challenge that affects every other aspect of their lives and one that hurts the city as a whole. Hoag identified housing instability as one of the top health concerns in Orange County, and residents struggling with housing costs have less time and income to invest into our communities. High housing costs affect all of us. I will continue supporting our effective bridge shelter system, rental assistance programs and efforts to expand opportunities for homes our residents can afford.

2. Safe Streets. Speeding, running red lights and other reckless driving habits have made our streets dangerous, uncomfortable and noisy. People have been killed and injured while walking, biking or in cars, and near-misses are a daily occurrence. This is a public safety issue that we must prioritize to protect lives. I will continue to push for safe street designs, improved sidewalks, crosswalks, and protected bike lanes with emphasis on safe routes to schools and parks.

3. Parks and Community Engagement. We have many great parks in Costa Mesa, but many residents still do not have safe access to a park or open space in their neighborhoods to walk their dogs, enjoy fresh air, connect with nature or connect with neighbors. Access to parks and community spaces is a critical component of a healthy city, and we need to fill in the gaps. We created a Westside Park Fund to address this need, and I will work to ensure that all residents can safely walk to a park within 10 minutes of their homes. I will also expand local community events, such as concerts and movies in parks that invite community members to come together.

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