With the retirement of a pair of longtime members, the June election will create the most significant leadership overhaul the county's Board of Supervisors has undergone in nearly 15 years.
"There's definitely a feeling that there will be a change of chemistry on the board," said Supervisor William G. Steiner, the only incumbent on the ballot. "I think there will be different prospectives and chances for different leadership. But whoever is there will have their work cut out for them."
Three seats are up for grabs, and at least two will be filled by newcomers.
Many county observers say the replacements for veteran Supervisors Harriett M. Wieder and Thomas F. Riley could greatly change the direction the current board has mapped out on key issues such as the county's budget, the future of El Toro Marine Air Station, development at Bolsa Chica, jail overcrowding and various transportation projects.
"It's going to be extraordinary," said Stan Oftelie, the Orange County Transportation chief executive. "It's going to be a fresh board with fresh eyes. Some real talented people are leaving, but there are some great opportunities ahead."
The most hotly contested race is for Wieder's 2nd District seat in a contest that has become a power struggle among several current and former Huntington Beach council members. Wieder, who been on the board for 15 years, has hand-picked former county planning commissioner Haydee V. Tillotson as her successor. Whether or not her endorsement will be a factor is yet to be seen.
Vying for the seat are: Raymond Thomas Littrell, a president of the Midway City Sanitary District and former Garden Grove city councilman; Linda Moulton Patterson, the mayor of Huntington Beach who also sits on Huntington Beach Union High School Board; Jim Silva, a high school teacher and Huntington Beach city councilman; John A. Thomas, a founder of Thomas Crane and Trucking Co.; and Tillotson, a partner with her husband in a local property management company and transportation firm.
Riley's 5th District seat is expected to go to current state Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach), who is running unopposed. County officials believe she is the most politically savvy board candidate who would wield considerable influence in county government.
"She's going to hit the ground running," Riley said. "She's an experienced legislator and she's aware of all the significant problems in the area."
In the final board race, for the 4th District seat, Steiner will be running against Phillip Knypstra, a college business professor and former policeman. Steiner was appointed to the board March 1993 after supervisor Don R. Roth resigned his seat and pleaded guilty to seven misdemeanor charges of conflicts of interest.
The last time two new supervisors joined the board at the same time was in 1981 when Supervisor Roger R. Stanton and former Supervisor Bruce Nestande were sworn into office.
County administrative officer Ernie Schneider said the county will miss Wieder and Riley. On the other hand, he said, "I think anytime there is a opportunity for new blood it's positive."
Supervisor's positions have long been coveted by county politicians because of the $82,000 annual salary, generous health benefits and county car. Once elected, supervisors tend to remain long in office.
One of the most vexing issues the board faces is how to convert the El Toro base, scheduled to close by 1999. A controversy revolves around whether to convert the air base into a commercial airport. Many South County residents are opposed to the conversion while many in North County favor the idea.The board's recommendations on the base will be forwarded to the Department of Defense for a final decision.
Another significant challenge ahead for the new board is balancing the county's budget. In the past several years, the county's financial resources have dwindled, forcing severe cuts and downsizing in county government.
"Each year it gets more difficult when you get less money. And when cuts have to be made that affect people it gets even harder," Riley said. "We don't know how the budget is going to work out and it's going to be tough issue for who's ever on the board."
Anaheim Mayor Tom Daly said he hopes the new board will continue "a recent trend" by county officials to "share power" with cities.