PREVIEW: Moorlach, Stephens run for mayor in Costa Mesa

Costa Mesa will elect its mayor on Nov. 8. The elected mayor will serve a term of two years.

The mayoral candidates are Democrat and incumbent John Stephens and Republican John Moorlach. The following profiles describe their backgrounds, qualifications, perspectives on pressing issues and how they might impact the OCC community.

John Moorlach


Why are you running for this office?

Moorlach plans to help Costa Mesa gain stronger fiscal sustainability by reducing its nearly $250 million unrestricted net deficit.

“The major reason for me, as an accountant, my background, is that the [balance sheet] for the city is in poor shape,” said Moorlach. “I’ve invested most of my life in this city, and I have the skill sets and experience to address that concern.”

What qualifies you for this office?

Moorlach started his public career as a licensed certified public accountant and a certified financial planner and served as the treasurer-tax collector for Orange County from 1994-2006. He also served as the county supervisor from 2006-2015 and a state senator from 2015-2020.

When Orange County filed for bankruptcy in 1994, Moorlach stepped in to assist its exit from Chapter 9 bankruptcy in 18 months without a sales tax hike, according to his website. He made the Treasurer’s Office more efficient by banning derivatives and creating two treasury oversight committees that implemented new oversight and supervision.

What is your stance on the accessibility of reproductive healthcare?

After wondering why students weren’t more concerned about homelessness or crime, Moorlach said, “my position is I’m pro life,”

How do you plan on combating climate change?

In an attempt to reduce the amount of wildfires in California, Moorlach authored SB 1463 in 2016. This bill would prioritize the protection of largely populated communities who are especially prone to wildfire hazards due to overhead electrical lines and equipment.

“I’ve made reducing wildfires a big priority,” Moorlach said..

The bill got through the senate and assembly, but then-Governor Jerry Brown vetoed it.

What steps will you take to alleviate the effects of inflation on college students?

With inflation being dictated by economic trends around the world, it’s an issue that’s hard to tackle at a city level, according to Moorlach.

Moorlach has financial experience, though, by managing a $7-billion portfolio for 20 years.

Why would an OCC student vote for you?

Moorlach is primarily concerned with reducing Costa Mesa’s fiscal distress. He said the OCC community is worried about “existential threats like climate change,” but increasing financial sustainability is what he’s most interested in tackling.

How can I find more information about your candidacy?

Voters can find more information about John Moorlach on his website and blog.

John Stephens


Why are you running for this office?

Stephens is running a mayoral campaign “focused on the issues that are important to Costa Mesa residents and businesses,” according to his website.

“I want it to be a strong and vibrant city not just for the present day but into the future as well,” Stephens said in an interview with Coast Report. “So I think I'm in a position where I can, with the help of our council and our great city staff, I can make that happen.”

What qualifies you for this office?

Stephens was elected to the Costa Mesa City Council in 2016 and has been mayor since March 2021. He practiced as a business trial attorney for 33 years and graduated from UC Davis Law School in 1989. He currently owns his own law firm.

“Having that perspective of being an attorney, knowing the law, and a litigation attorney, or a trial attorney, is very important because many of our greatest threats in the city come from legal issues and potential litigation,” Stephens said. “Having somebody with my perspective is very important.”

Along with the city council and staff, he has tackled issues such as silver living homes, homelessness and public safety issues.

Stephens, the city council, and the city staff have opened a temporary Bridge Shelter, which has permanently housed 215 people who were previously homeless. They also developed 60 units of affordable senior housing with the Jamboree Housing Corporation. In 2018, Stephens was the Chair of the Association of California Cities-Orange County Homelessness Task Force.

What is your stance on the accessibility of reproductive healthcare?

Stephens is endorsed by Planned Parenthood and is a supporter of Proposition 1.

“I was very disappointed when the DOBBS decision came out and eliminated the constitutional protection under Roe v. Wade,” Stephens said. “ I will do everything to protect reproductive healthcare and access to abortions in Costa Mesa and anything I can do regionally as well.”

How do you plan on combating climate change?

Stephens has helped create nine electric vehicle charging stations at City Hall, placed protected bike lanes on Merrimac Way to make the city safer and transitioned some of the city fleet and motor patrol into electric vehicles.

During Stephens’ time as mayor, Costa Mesa became the first city in California with a LEED Gold certification for addressing climate change by making efforts to improve sustainability.

He plans to put in place a comprehensive climate action plan that will address the environmental issues Costa Mesa is facing, what has been done about them and the plan going forward.

“There are very few cities that have a comprehensive climate action plan,” Stephens said. “However I'd like Costa Mesa to be a leader in this area,” said Stephens.

What steps will you take to alleviate the effects of inflation on college students?

Since inflation is primarily a macroeconomic issue, mayors don’t have much power to address the effects of inflation locally, but Stephens said that what could potentially alleviate inflation is streamlining the city government to reduce barriers to business. 

“If they’re operating safely then [that] gives them a lot of autonomy and freedom to run the business that they need to run and that brings their cost down, because local government is not an impediment that causes additional costs and that cost can be passed down to the consumer,” Stephens said.

Why would an OCC student vote for you?

Stephens has helped put 0.5% of the 7% Measure Q tax – the cannabis tax – towards a first-time homebuyers program for students who were raised or currently live in Costa Mesa. This program was created to aid students who want to stay in Costa Mesa but cannot afford to do so.

“The rents are too high in Costa Mesa,” Stephens said. “It’s too expensive to live here, to rent here, to buy here and we as the city government need to continue to look at ways to reduce the cost of housing now and in the future.”

He is also a strong advocate for Measure K, which aims to create additional affordable housing units.

How can I find more information about your candidacy?

More information can be found about John Stephens’ candidacy on his website, his Facebook page, and Instagram.


Editor’s Note: Coast Report is covering 2022 election races and proposition issues that are expected to have a meaningful impact on our audience, change the balance of power in government and/or be particularly compelling and competitive. Coast Report’s election coverage is intended to inform voters – specifically OCC student voters – and promote the democratic process of free and fair elections. 

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