Democrats of Greater Irvine’s City Council Candidate Forum. Where Do The Candidates Stand On the Issues?

Recently, the Democrats of Greater Irvine (DGI) held a candidate forum and took a straw poll vote on Irvine issues including housing, transportation, OCPA, veterans cemetery, and more. The straw poll is intended to provide local input on Irvine’s city council races for the Democratic Party of Orange County (DPOC) who will ultimately decide which candidates will receive the Democratic party endorsement and resources. It is unclear at this time if and when the DPOC will make an endorsement in Irvine City Council races.

Irvine’s largest Democratic club, DGI, uses ranked choice voting for its endorsement process and candidates must meet a 60% threshold to be officially endorsed. None of the candidates in Districts 1, 2, and 3 were able to meet the 60% threshold, which results in a “no endorsement” recommendation to the DPOC. Ayn Craciun, candidate for District 4, received the early endorsement from the DPOC prior to this meeting and thus no vote was taken for District 4.

See the final results of the election here. To watch candidate intro statements, click here. For candidates’ self-introduction and tabulated answers during Q&A, click here.

Candidates

District 1 Democratic Candidates:
Jackie Kan
Jeff Kitchen
Melinda Liu
Zainab Saadi

Note: Republican candidates for District 1 include John Park who is endorsed by the OCGOP. Michelle Johnson is also another non-Democratic candidate vying for the D1 seat.

District 2 Democratic Candidates:

William Go
Alex Mohajer
Jeff Starke

Note: Republican candidate Simon Moon has recently declared his candidacy as well as Parrisa Yasdani, who is an independent.

District 3 Democratic Candidates:

Jing Sun
Tom Chomyn

Note: James Mai is running with the OCGOP endorsement.

District 4 Democratic Candidate

For District 4, Ayn Craciun, Chair of the Sustainability Commission, was recently early-endorsed by the DPOC and therefore is presumed endorsed by DGI as well. Her opponent is Republican incumbent Councilmember Mike Caroll.

Candidates’ Responses to Rapid Fire Yes/No Questions

Housing

The 2045 General Plan Update has been a source of contention in the community, particularly with Councilmember Mike Carroll rallying residents to oppose the approval of the planning document for where the RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Allocation, pronounced REE-na) will be placed within the City.

The General Plan Update currently contemplates placing mixed-use housing in the two dense, jobs/industrial centers of the Irvine Spectrum, the Irvine Business Complex, and small portions of the Great Park with an emphasis on housing more focused on walkability, bikeability, and public transit. By doing this, this avoids zoning for additional homes in the traditional villages of Irvine. The Housing Element portion of the General Plan Update was approved two years ago already by the City Council (which has to be updated every 8 years according to state law), and the entire General Plan (which is required to be updated every 20 years) needs simple approving along with all the updates related to other General Plan Elements.

The May 16th Planning Commission meeting saw 49 public commenters and a tense room of most advocating for the approval of the General Plan and many who wish for the City to reject it– largely divided by young/older generation and by the homeowner/renter class.

The City has undergone numerous appeals throughout several years to try to reduce its RHNA number, including as early as 2021 in a failed court challenge by Irvine that has become case law in other jurisdictions.

Some in the community wish for the City to fight the RHNA allocation similar to what is happening in Huntington Beach, despite Irvine city staff having exhausted every avenue for appeals available to the City throughout the last few years.

Failure to approve the General Plan Update will result in a decertified housing element, which will subjugate the City to severe loss of local control, including Builder’s Remedy–the complete loss of zoning authority from the city and thus loss of mechanisms to control development patterns and incentivize affordable housing, no mechanism to protect open space per Irvine ordinances (the State is not obliged to follow to local ordinances), no mechanism to preserve Irvine’s traditional villages, and hundreds of thousands of dollars of fines and court fees for every month the Housing Element fails to be approved.

See 2045 General Plan Update: 10 Facts for more information.

See the candidates’ recorded responses on the approval of the General Plan. The voting record below reflects how significantly housing policy discussions around the housing crisis have changed in Irvine and indicates slow-growth beliefs are fading among the Irvine electorate– a large portion of which are renters who are facing never before felt housing pressures.

According to the OC Business Journal, there are approximately 117,000 housing units in Irvine. The staff-prepared City of Irvine 2045 General Plan Update states: “The 2021-2029 Housing Element Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) allocation for the City is 23,610 units. To ensure consistency with housing statute, including no-net loss and affirmatively furthering fair housing requirements, the 2021-2029 Housing Element identified adequate sites to accommodate 57,656 new residential units.”

Do you support the full number of 57,656 additional housing units that the General Plan Update identifies as required to create more affordable housing in Irvine?

District 1 Jackie Kan Y
Jeff Kitchen A
Melinda Liu Y
Dr. Zainab Saadi Y
District 2 Wiliam Go Y
Alex Mohajer Y
Jeff Starke Y
District 3 Tom Chomyn N
Jing Sun Y

Or, do you support a lower housing number and try to negotiate this with the State?

District 1 Jackie Kan N
Jeff Kitchen Y
Melinda Liu N
Dr. Zainab Saadi A
District 2 Wiliam Go N
Alex Mohajer N
Jeff Starke N
District 3 Tom Chomyn Y
Jing Sun N

Orange County Power Authority

The Orange County Power Authority (OCPA) has seen large controversies related to incompetent and corrupt governance. However, since the firing of controversial figure Brian Probolsky and the recent changes in leadership on the Board, OCPA has undergone many reform efforts to address transparency concerns and carried out most of the suggestions made in many of the audits OCPA has undergone. A growing number of people who had concerns over OCPA leadership now believe it has been considerably turned around and continue to wish to support the clean energy enterprise to meet climate goals. As a result of those reforms, some Orange County cities are beginning to express interest in joining the agency. However, some continue to view it as irreversibly corrupted and wish to leave the authority, who continue to see the agency as a financial liability to the City who loaned money to start the agency.

The City of Irvine is currently enrolled in the 100% renewable tier of electricity from the Orange County Power Authority.  This costs Irvine an estimated $1 million more per year compared to baseline SCE rates. Do you support staying in the OCPA at the 100% renewable level?

District 1 Jackie Kan N
Jeff Kitchen N
Melinda Liu Y
Dr. Zainab Saadi Y
District 2 Wiliam Go Y
Alex Mohajer Y
Jeff Starke Y
District 3 Tom Chomyn N
Jing Sun Y

Do you support staying in the OCPA but at a reduced renewables or basic level?

District 1 Jackie Kan Y
Jeff Kitchen N
Melinda Liu N
Dr. Zainab Saadi Y
District 2 Wiliam Go Y
Alex Mohajer Y
Jeff Starke N
District 3 Tom Chomyn N
Jing Sun N

Do you support leaving the OCPA altogether and signing back up with Southern California Edison?

District 1 Jackie Kan N
Jeff Kitchen Y
Melinda Liu N
Dr. Zainab Saadi N
District 2 Wiliam Go N
Alex Mohajer N
Jeff Starke N
District 3 Tom Chomyn Y
Jing Sun N

State Veterans Cemetery in Orange County

Context: the Veteran’s Cemetery has been an issue for a long time in Irvine with developers and nearby homeowners support the current planned site at Gypsum Canyon while some, including the Build the Veterans Cemetery group, continue to support the cemetery at the ARDA site in the Great Park.

Do you support the veterans cemetery going into the Gypsum Canyon site?

District 1 Jackie Kan Y
Jeff Kitchen A
Melinda Liu Y
Dr. Zainab Saadi A
District 2 Wiliam Go Y
Alex Mohajer Y
Jeff Starke Y
District 3 Tom Chomyn N
Jing Sun Y

Conflicts of Interest and Lobbying Measurest

Should Councilmembers who have a personal or financial relationship with a vendor or organization be required to publicly disclose such relationships and potentially abstain from voting on matters involving those entities? 

District 1 Jackie Kan Y
Jeff Kitchen Y
Melinda Liu Y
Dr. Zainab Saadi Y
District 2 Wiliam Go Y
Alex Mohajer Y
Jeff Starke Y
District 3 Tom Chomyn Y
Jing Sun Y

Do you advocate for stricter anti-lobbying disclosure requirements during City Council Public Comment or presentations? For example, in situations where individuals, such as lobbyist Patrick Strader who worked for Live Nation and publicly advocated for the Live Nation amphitheater at a city council meeting?

District 1 Jackie Kan Y
Jeff Kitchen Y
Melinda Liu Y
Dr. Zainab Saadi Y
District 2 Wiliam Go Y
Alex Mohajer Y
Jeff Starke Y
District 3 Tom Chomyn Y
Jing Sun Y

Questions related to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza:

Context: For several months, Irvine City Council meetings have been overwhelmed with public commenters asking the City Council to pass a resolution calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war. For several months, the City Council did not agendize such a resolution despite consistent public commenters on both sides of the debate consuming hours of public meetings, causing bitter division within the community– with many wishing for Irvine to not participate in international affairs and matters outside the city matter jurisdiction. The City Council also struggled to achieve a quorum for public commenters to proceed, further angering ceasefire activists.

Limiting Public Comments to Agenda Items and City-Related Issues

Since the inception of our City, public comments have been permitted during City Council meetings, allowing attendees to express their views on any topic of concern.

Do you support modifying this tradition by restricting public comments to agenda items and only city-related issues?

District 1 Jackie Kan N
Jeff Kitchen Y
Melinda Liu Y
Dr. Zainab Saadi N
District 2 Wiliam Go A
Alex Mohajer N
Jeff Starke Y
District 3 Tom Chomyn N
Jing Sun Y

Attendance at Dais

If you are elected to Irvine’s City Council, will you promise to remain at the dais and appear – or try to appear – attentive, even if people speak about topics (in a non-threatening way) during public comments that make you feel uncomfortable or that you disagree with? 

District 1 Jackie Kan Y
Jeff Kitchen Y
Melinda Liu Y
Dr. Zainab Saadi Y
District 2 Wiliam Go Y
Alex Mohajer Y
Jeff Starke Y
District 3 Tom Chomyn Y
Jing Sun Y

Length of Residency in Irvine

How long have you continuously been a resident in the City of Irvine?

District 1 Jackie Kan Between 3 to 10 years
Jeff Kitchen More than ten years
Melinda Liu More than ten years
Dr. Zainab Saadi More than ten years
District 2 Wiliam Go More than ten years
Alex Mohajer Between 1 year and 3 years
Jeff Starke Between 3 to 10 years
District 3 Tom Chomyn More than ten years
Jing Sun More than ten years

How long have you continuously been a resident in the district that you are running in?

District 1 Jackie Kan Between 3 and 10 years
Jeff Kitchen Between 3 and 10 years
Melinda Liu Between 3 and 10 years
Dr. Zainab Saadi More than ten years
District 2 Wiliam Go Between 1 year and 3 years
Alex Mohajer Less than 1 year
Jeff Starke Between 3 and 10 years
District 3 Tom Chomyn More than ten years
Jing Sun More than ten years

Speaking at City Council Meetings

Raise your green paddle to indicate if you ever attended an Irvine City Council meeting (live or on Zoom) and made any public comments:

In 2023 or earlier:

District 1 Jackie Kan Y
Jeff Kitchen Y
Melinda Liu N
Dr. Zainab Saadi N
District 2 Wiliam Go N
Alex Mohajer N
Jeff Starke N
District 3 Tom Chomyn Y
Jing Sun N

This year in 2024:

District 1 Jackie Kan N
Jeff Kitchen N
Melinda Liu Y
Dr. Zainab Saadi Y
District 2 Wiliam Go N
Alex Mohajer Y
Jeff Starke N
District 3 Tom Chomyn Y
Jing Sun Y

Attendance at City Council Meetings

Raise your green paddle to indicate if you have ever attended an Irvine City Council meeting in-person at City Hall, even if you didn’t speak:

Before the COVID pandemic – i.e., before March 2020?

District 1 Jackie Kan N
Jeff Kitchen N
Melinda Liu N
Dr. Zainab Saadi N
District 2 Wiliam Go N
Alex Mohajer ?
Jeff Starke N
District 3 Tom Chomyn Y
Jing Sun Y

Since in-person attendance was permitted on June 22, 2021?

District 1 Jackie Kan Y
Jeff Kitchen N
Melinda Liu Y
Dr. Zainab Saadi Y
District 2 Wiliam Go Y
Alex Mohajer Y
Jeff Starke Y*
District 3 Tom Chomyn Y
Jing Sun Y

*corrected by after the meeting, as Zoom attendance was included as attending

Collaboration with Colleagues on Council

Do you promise to reach out to your fellow City Councilmembers and have monthly or regular one-on-one meetings to discuss various issues and attempt to find common ground, even if you don’t agree with their views or some of their stances? That is, will you put policy above politics and work with any Councilmember collaboratively on any issue?

District 1 Jackie Kan Y
Jeff Kitchen Y
Melinda Liu Y
Dr. Zainab Saadi Y
District 2 Wiliam Go Y
Alex Mohajer Y
Jeff Starke Y
District 3 Tom Chomyn Y
Jing Sun Y