LAGUNA BEACH — The favored candidate on Laguna Beach's Nov. 6 ballot has already won the hearts of this coastal city's voters.
That's because the ballot's top draw is Laguna Canyon, a natural resource that has raised the emotions of residents attempting to block the Irvine Co.'s proposed 3,200-home Laguna Laurel development on 2,150 acres in the canyon.
But while residents have expressed strong feelings in favor of saving the canyon--some even have offerred to throw themselves in front of bulldozers--the challenge for city officials is to get two-thirds of the voters to open their pocketbooks and approve Measure H, a $20-million bond proposal to buy the virgin countryside. Under the measure, a home with an assessed value of $200,000 would see an annual average tax increase of about $59.
Support for Measure H ultimately could depend on whether officials for the city and environmental groups can persuade the Irvine Co. to sell the land at a price the city can afford--below the $105-million appraised value.
Negotiations stalled this week when the city balked at the developer's asking price of $90 million, to be paid out over a five-year period.
Measure H campaign manager Paul Freeman, who also has been hired by both sides to try to work out a land buyout deal, predicted voters will approve the measure only if negotiators can reach a long-term financial agreement.
"I am not sure we can get two out of three voters to approve a bond measure without the benefit of knowing how that bond fits into a plan that saves the canyon," Freeman said.
If approved, the $20-million bond issue would set in motion a $10-million donation tentatively offered by the Orange County Board of Supervisors, as well as private donations. The city also is hoping to tap state parks and wildlife funds.
But with talks breaking down, there may not be a campaign. Invitations to a major Measure H fund-raiser, scheduled for Oct. 8, have not been mailed because all official campaign activities are on hold while both the city and the Irvine Co. decide whether to resume negotiations.
Also on the Nov. 6 ballot is Measure G, which would direct the council to prohibit onshore support facilities for offshore oil exploration unless approved by a majority vote of the electorate.
The environmental issue has carried over to the City Council races, where nine candidates--two incumbents, three planning commissioners, two previously unsuccessful candidates and two political newcomers--are jockeying for three open seats.
Councilman Dan Kenney, whose term expires in November, is not seeking reelection.
Mayor Lida Lenney, Councilman Robert F. Gentry and Planning Commissioner Ann Christoph are considered by local political observers to be the favorites in the election.
Lenney and Gentry have been credited with guiding the city in the Laguna Laurel talks, which led, in part, to the proposed bond measure.
Christoph, along with the two incumbents, picked up the endorsement of Village Laguna, the city's most powerful political organization with a solid track record of picking winners.
Having served on the South Laguna Board of Review for six years, Christoph is the only candidate from South Laguna and is considered to have strong backing in her community.
A fourth candidate, Planning Commission Chairman Norm Grossman, almost defeated the mayor for the Village Laguna endorsement--losing in the sixth round of balloting.
Having been active on various committees and boards, Grossman gained countywide recognition as an author of Measure A, the slow-growth initiative on the 1988 ballot.
The Laguna Beach Board of Review broke from its tradition of not issuing endorsements when it announced its support for Planning Commissioner Wayne Peterson.
Beth Leeds, one of the repeat candidates, has been a civic activist in Laguna Beach since she was a teen-ager. She is known for an ability to quickly muster the troops for a protest rally and for her battles against offshore oil drilling.
Candidate Rickey Slater, who has regularly attended council meetings, is making his fifth attempt to capture a council seat. Calling himself the "watchdog of the city," Slater estimates he has attended about 800 city government meetings since moving to Laguna Beach 33 years ago.
Political novice Steven Leonard, at 32 the youngest entry in the race, said he decided to run at the last minute because no other candidate represents his conservative philosophical viewpoint. Leonard is an attorney.
Nancy Kreder, another political neophyte, is a homemaker and PTA member. She is married to Laguna Beach school board member James Kreder.
CANDIDATES FOR LAGUNA BEACH CITY COUNCIL
Occupation: Landscape architect, planning commissioner
Background: Commissioner since January, South Laguna Board of Review member from 1983 until 1989. Designed several city landscape projects, including Aliso Beach children's play area.
Issues: Interested in environmental planning and increasing resident participation in civic affairs.