Laguna Beach voters returned three incumbents to the City Council in an election year that reverberated nationally with the public's disenchantment with the status quo.
With 26 of Laguna's 26 precincts reported, Kelly Boyd, Elizabeth Pearson and Toni Iseman were reelected for four more years. Results will not be official until the Orange County Registrar of Voters certifies the election, no later than 28 days after the election, with no changes expected.
"My feeling is that people just wanted to keep things the way they were," said Boyd, the top vote-getter with 5,283 votes, or 30.5% of the uncertified count.
Pearson came in second with 4,888 votes, 28.2%.
"The economy was a key factor in the election and I feel good about what the council has done to help our businesses," Pearson said. "And there were no partisan attacks by local political action committees. I think people appreciated that the election was not contentious."
Iseman was reelected with 25.3% of the votes cast for an unprecedented fourth term in Laguna Beach, not to mention the regional and national climate that did not favor incumbents.
"The thing is there was not a person I worked with or met who did not say she was [the council member] who made a difference," said Eileen Algaze, Iseman campaign volunteer. "That's why I volunteered even though I recently moved from Laguna after 20 years."
South Laguna businessman and Chamber of Commerce board member Michael Kinsman called the election at 8:04 p.m., but the tally from the registrar's office lagged behind, frustrating candidates and their supporters. Iseman was still on her computer at 1 a.m., as was Pearson, as results trickled in.
"The absentee ballots mailed in before election day are counted first," said Councilwoman Verna Rollinger, who was City Clerk in the days when Laguna held separate elections.
Rollinger said the results were made public more quickly then.
Now all the precincts load their votes on to a truck that goes to the registrar's office and doesn't leave town until all precincts are in.
"We end up in the back of the line behind cities closer to Santa Ana, and it is the middle of the night before our votes are counted," Rollinger said.
Republican incumbents and supporters whiled away the night at the Marine Room. Democrats Rollinger, Iseman and Jane Egly stopped by early in the evening in a show of unity for fellow council members before joining Iseman supporters to wait for results.
In the uncertified count, 2,781 of the total 17,349 votes cast went to challenger Emanuel Patrascu, meaning at least 16% of the ballots cast included him.
In Rollinger's first and losing campaign for the council, the only election she ever lost, she was supported by more than 4,000 voters; however, more than 21,000 votes were cast by 10,494 voters in that election.
The city has 18,740 registered voters, the number of whom voted in the 2010 election still unknown.
Frank Ricchiazzi attributed the low voter turnout to resident's general cheery frame of mind.
"Everybody is in a feel-good mood," Ricchiazzi said. "They didn't want a year of politicking and that's what they got. Candidates could have spent no more than $12,000 and won. Patrascu spent $10,000 with no name recognition."
Patrascu was not endorsed by the local Republicans or the Laguna Beach Taxpayers Assn., which gave their support to Boyd and Pearson.
"My main interest was getting Kelly and Elizabeth reelected," said Martha Lydick, association president. "Now I am campaigning for Zenyatta as horse of the year."
Patrascu, who was supported by his boss, State Sen. Tom Harman, Mayor Steve Dicterow and chamber board member Dennis Junka, did better than many expected.
"He is personable and he walked the streets," Rollinger said.
But the bottom line, Rollinger said, was experience.
It was an opinion repeated in several variations throughout the evening on both sides of the aisle.
Pearson's treasurer, Matt Lawson, said the incumbents' records paid off in the election.
"The council as a whole has done a responsible job in these tough economic times and all three incumbents deserved to be re-elected."
"The most important thing coming up is the transition from Ken Frank to a new city manager," Iseman said. "Continuity counts."
Pearson's campaign manager, Anne Johnson, concurred.
"With the regime change, an experienced council is an absolute necessity," Johnson said. "It is reflected in the voters' desire for continuity."
Past Chamber of Commerce President Jeff Redeker had a different issue.
"Emanuel is a good guy, but I am a Laguna Beach landowner and I want my elected officials to be Laguna Beach landowners," Redeker said.
Patrascu, who moved to Laguna four years ago, is a renter. He has been active in the community as a representative of Harman on the chamber board and as a volunteer in at events such as the annual pancake breakfasts.
"The voters looked at Emanuel as someone who is not knowledgeable about Laguna," Boyd said.
While some of his campaign strategies resonated with residents, others did not sit well. He accused the council of raising property taxes, which by law they cannot, paid for slate mailers that included the accusation that Iseman had personally raised taxes 11%, and he identified himself as a small business owner, which is true, but did not picture accurately his major source of income as his job with Harman.
"I am tired and I wish the results had been a little bit better, but overall I am pleased with what I was able to do," Patrascu said Wednesday.
"Parts of it were scary, but getting and talking to the people is what I like to do," he said. "I am very happy with the support I had and I will still be around to help Laguna Beach."
Long-time community service and ties to the community were in the favor of Boyd, whose family settled here in the 1800s; Iseman, who moved here in the 1970s; and Pearson, who has lived here for 27 years. All three have participated in civic, business and charitable activities. The newly elected council members will be seated at the Dec. 7 meeting, after being sworn in by City Clerk Martha Anderson.
Local and statewide results can be tracked on OCvote.gov.