The forums are done, and now it's all about campaigning.
For the second night in a row, candidates for City Council in Rancho Santa Margarita commanded center stage in the ballroom of the Bell Tower Regional Community Center.
They addressed the issues and occasionally they addressed each other, but for the most part they stuck to a structured program in which they defended or expanded on written answers they had provided to a questionaire from the collective of home owners associations, the Community Associations of Rancho.
- Click on the PDF to download the advance questions of the candidates and their responses
- Click here to read about the first forum
- Check back on Patch for more analysis and video
There were plenty of HOA questions, such as how the City and CAR can work together, as well as finding out the candidates' thoughts on the city's infrastructure and what it means to be a councilmember.
Moderator Don Chadd explained to the Tuesday night crowd of about 80 that he committed to the participants that there wouldn't be "any 'gotcha' questions" asked of the candidates.
"The questions are intended to inform and further identify their positions on issues," Chadd said.
The forum lacked some of the spontaneity from the previous night's forum presented by Rancho Santa Margarita Patch and the RSM Chamber of Commerce, but the two-hour program—98 minutes of it in the hands of the candidates—was long on information and not without a couple of dicey moments.
For the first time in either forum, Kenney Hrabik was present and had a chance to address the public; he missed the forum Monday to tend to a family medical issue.
Also present were Hrabik's opponents for two four-year seats that are up for election, Mayor Tony Beall and councilwoman Carol Gamble, and the three men vying for a single two-year seat, Glenn Acosta, Larry McCook and Brad McGirr.
Hrabik brought an audible gasp from the crowd when he said council members should recuse themselves from voting on city contracts when they've taken money from the vendors.
Without clarification, the implication appeared to be that council members were on the take. After the forum, Hrabik clarified that he meant campaign contributions from vendors.
"In my worst day, I wouldn't accuse that," Hrabik said."Most politicians, when they vote on contracts, they’ve been given a donation to their campaign. I don’t know about the trash contract, I threw that out, but the trash contract wasn’t up until 2015 and we expanded it to 2020. I don’t know if any of these people have taken money from the trash collectors."
Gamble addressed the item with some extra time she had from a subsequent question and explained the city evaluates each contract approximately 90 days prior to the option of contract renewal.
"There are surveys done with surrounding cities to determine if the value of the contract services we secure in Rancho Santa Margarita is equal to or less than comparable cities. …," Gamble said. "It was evidenced last with our trash hauling contract when we secured better rates than we have today."
The closest the forum got to a debate format was an exchange after Beall decided to "correct for the record" Hrabik's description of a $50,000 settlement the City paid to Hrabik at the end of the Dove Canyon Courtyard permitting process. The DCC is a wedding/banquet venue owned by Hrabik, who called the settlement a "refund" of most of the $60,000 in fees he paid the City.
Beall had two minutes to answer a question about the types of business he would most like to attract. He answered quickly that he was for any businesses that "want to come here. ... Big business, small business, I'm for all of them. Our job is to provide the business friendly environment."
Beall then launched into an explanation of why Hrabik's fees were so great and the clash between DCC and some of its residential neighbors who complained the noise was "destroying their quality of life."
"In the end, after 3 1/2 years where our staff worked very, very hard, (he) received the conditional use permit he sought. ...." Beall said. "He didn't say thank you, he threatened to sue his own city for close to half a million dollars. ... Entering into that settlement agreement is the biggest regret that I have because I had hoped it would help our community to heal and the bitterness obviously continues."
Hrabik: "Don can I respond to that?"
Chadd: "What I would like to do at this point, I want to encourage each of the candidates to respond to the questions."
Hrabik: "Don, I think it would be fair if I had a response to this."
Chadd: "You will have two minutes at the end for your closing remarks. I would encourage the candidates—we've been doing good so far, let's stay on the path that we're on."
Hrabik: "But when there's false information put out, I think I need to correct it."
Chadd: "We'll give you two minutes at the end. Thanks, Kenney."
Hrabik later reiterated that the $50,000, though called a settlement, was really a refund for most of the $60,000 he paid the City in the 28 months it took him to get his CUP.
Both the incumbents came across as knowledgeable, and each pointed to their roles in making the city a success—Beall over the last eight years, and Gamble in its formative years.
Among those competing for the two-year seat, McGirr continued to draw a distinction between himself and McCook, most notably about their respective visions for Chiquita Ridge. McCook wants to bring a Fortune 500 type of company—and its jobs—to the city and put it in the complex, which must include a sports park.
"I am adamantly against providing any industry of any type in those pristine hills behind Canada Vista Park ...," McGirr said. "If you moved here to Rancho Santa Margarita because you want to drive down Antonio to look at a manufacturing plant ... you're in the wrong town. You're not in my town."