OC YIMBY Election Reflection
November 2020 marked People for Housing OC’s very first election cycle! We endorsed 18 local candidates across 13 cities, and weighed in on 5 ballot prop initiatives. Here’s what we learned - and what’s next in our fight to win Orange County elections for the pro-housing movement. Get involved today!
Our endorsements and candidate forums put housing on the map as a key electoral issue.
In previous cycles, candidates weren’t widely talking about their stances on housing. This election was different. Our housing candidate forums, which drew collectively more than 50 candidates between our North OC forum and South OC forum, called on candidates to publicly declare their views on affordable housing, density, and other key YIMBY issues. Our endorsement process served as an additional forcing mechanism for candidates, with the 60 candidates who completed our questionnaire called to explain and defend their perspectives on housing. Our candidate forums and endorsements shifted the discourse even beyond these candidates, with other opponents in the race publicly declaring their own housing stances in response (for better or for worse).
Our work illuminating candidates’ positions on housing met a need in the electorate. Our candidate forums drew more than 250 participants collectively and attracted a diverse coalition of partners, including affordable housers, business groups, and both the OC Young Democrats and the OC Young Republicans. Our endorsements were viewed or shared hundreds of times.
Now newly elected leaders have put their positions on housing on the record, and we are ready to hold leaders accountable to approve projects and enact pro-housing policies. Up next: we will be hosting forums with several of our winning candidates, calling on them to lay out their vision for housing in their communities. We will also be ramping up our organizing around the Housing Elements and individual housing projects, and asking City Councils to enact new pro-housing legislation, such enabling housing on religious properties and redeveloping underperforming commercial properties into housing.
Cities that are now on a new path.
Electoral victories, particularly in North and Central County, mean that some key cities have political climates that are now much more favorable to housing. Some highlights:
Costa Mesa: Mayor Katrina Foley, who has led the city’s response to homelessness, was reelected. Two newly elected council candidates-- Loren Gamerous and Jeff Harlan -- also both bring a commitment to affordable housing and streamlining development. This means that Costa Mesa City Council now has a pro-housing majority. The city is facing the competing pressures of its significantly up-sized RHNA number and its existing ballot-box-zoning Measure Y, which requires developments of 40+ homes to be approved by voters. With the pro-housing majority in place, we have high hopes that this council will circumvent or dismantle Measure Y to make room for more housing in Costa Mesa.
Huntington Beach: Both of our endorsed candidates won-- Dan Kalmick and Natalie Moser. Huntington Beach also has a high RHNA number and strong constituent demand to address homelessness in the city. We are hopeful that Councilmembers Kalmick and Moser can translate this energy into wins for housing.
Garden Grove: Garden Grove Councilwoman Kim Nguyen was reelected in a landslide. Garden Grove has one of the highest RHNA numbers in OC, and Councilwoman Nguyen has been vocal about her commitment to affordable housing. In addition, the new OC Streetcar light rail goes through Garden Grove, representing an opportunity for new, creative housing plans.
Santa Ana: Our endorsed first-time-councilmember Thai Viet Phan won Ward 1. She is the first Vietnamese person elected to the Santa Ana city council, a municipal lawyer by trade, and strongly pro-housing. In Santa Ana, we are also excited about the election of Vicente Sarmiento to the Mayor’s office.
Tustin: In Tustin, our endorsed candidate and first-time-councilman Ryan Gallagher won. He has a commitment to seeing more housing redeveloped at the city’s major opportunity site, the repurposed Tustin airbase, renamed Tustin Legacy. On a council that has heretofore been reluctant to approve new housing, Councilman Gallagher’s addition will change the tone and open up pathways for new housing in Tustin.
We are also happy to see the reelection of our several endorsed Councilmembers Sandy Rains (Laguna Niguel), Tim Shaw (La Habra) and Rhonda Shader (Placentia), all of whom have shown past commitments to housing, and in cities all have opportunities for infill redevelopment of under performing commercial properties. None of these cities appealed their RHNA numbers; they appear ready to start planning for new housing, and these leaders can make that happen.
We still have a lot of work to do.
Despite these significant wins, NIMBYism is still formidable in Orange County. This election, Measure X passed in La Habra, requiring that voters approve any housing project that would redevelop privately owned land zoned open space. Measure X will, as we’ve argued, depress housing production while also burdening cities with new costs and potential legal action. Indeed, in Orange, the defeat of Measure AA demonstrates what happens when we require voters to approve individual housing development projects at the ballot box: they say no, and much-needed housing doesn’t get built.
The good news is that if our movement continues to grow, these NIMBY victories will be the last gasps of a dying era. This election showcased the appetite for pro-housing messages and the momentum behind pro-housing candidates. More and more voters are appalled by Orange County’s homelessness crisis, stifled by their inability to own a home, and ready to say “yes” to more housing.
We can parlay this energy into real pro-housing reform in Orange County - but we need you to get involved. Between this election and next, we will be recruiting new activists and building bigger pro-housing communities in all parts of the county. We will be mobilizing to speak up at project hearings, advocate for more housing in cities’ Housing Elements, and push elected officials to pass pro-housing legislation. We need your voice and your skills. Become a member today!