Misreading Santa Ana Recall Defeat

Misreading Santa Ana Recall Defeat

Santa Ana Mayor Pro Tem Jessie Lopez and Councilwoman Thai Viet Pham speak about recall efforts against them at the city hall of Santa Ana, Calif., on Jan. 30, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

John Seiler

John Seiler


Updated: 12/21/2023


I’ve been skeptical of recalls since the ouster of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 led to the disastrous administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Which I wrote about in these pages in, “The Media Is Helping Schwarzenegger Rewrite His Governorship.”
So it was natural I expressed my skepticism of the attempted recall of Santa Ana Mayor Pro Tem Jessie Lopez in three articles, “Voters to Decide Extent of Union Dominance in Santa Ana,” “Santa Ana Recall Is About Union Power—Only,” and “Unions Defeated in Santa Ana Council Recall Attempt.”
Unfortunately, I’m forced to disagree with most of the election analysis of Gustavo Arellano, one of the best journalists in California, in his Los Angeles Times column, “A failed recall heralds a new era for Latino politics in Orange County.”
I’ll get straight to the point. If he and other Latinos, especially elected officials, don’t understand the “progressive” politics they champion will destroy the city for poor Latinos, then that’s just what’s going to happen. Public skepticism about a union-led recall campaign will not change that. However, it does provide an opportunity for reflection.
Here’s a key phrase in which he praises Ms. Lopez: “Since she took office in 2020, the Santa Ana city council has passed the aforementioned rent control ordinance (the only one of its kind in Orange County) and established a permanent fund to help residents fight deportation. Last month, the council put a measure on the 2024 ballot allowing noncitizen residents the right to vote in municipal elections, which would be a first in California if it passes.”
If that happens, the new voters will be even more progressive than the current ones.
Here’s what rent control always does: It discourages building upkeep and encourages turning apartments into condos. You think the homeless problem in Santa Ana is bad? Wait till rent control rips up what’s left of cheap housing there.
The blowback from rent control also bleeds into neighboring communities, such as Irvine, where I now live, encouraging them to impose their own folly of rent control. Especially as Irvine’s City Council, like Santa Ana’s, now is majority Democrat.

Rent Control Backfires

Guess which American city has the highest rents? According to Insider Monkey, it’s New York, New York, at $3,570 for a one bedroom apartment. Yet the Big Apple has imposed rent control since World War II. It was supposed to be “temporary” for the war effort. But 78 years after Hitler killed himself, they’re still imposing it.
It’s simple economics: If you regulate something too much, you get less of it and the price rises for what’s left. Indeed, deregulation is the rationale behind some of the decent legislation passed in recent years by liberal Democrats in the California Legislature to ease the housing crisis by securing more property rights.
For example, Senate Bill 330 from 2019 allows more accessory dwelling units, also called granny flats or casitas, to be built next to existing housing. When I drive around Santa Ana, I often see signs advertising a “casita.”
And this year Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law 56 housing bills, including several that reform the unwieldy California Environmental Quality Act—which still needs a complete overhaul. So some of this new legislation actually might not be that bad.

Rent Control Guarantees Gentrification

The fact is California, despite millions leaving the state in recent years, remains a highly desirable place whose population soon will be increasing again. It’s what I call the Manhattanization of California. Nobody goes to New York City thinking it will be cheap. They go for other reasons. Those who once lived there cheaply left long ago.
California, especially the coastal areas, is now becoming like that. Millions have headed to Texas, Florida, Tennessee, and other states for cheaper living. But those who stay will have adapted to the higher costs.
Rent control also works differently in rich areas than in poor ones, where it breeds decay and slums. In rich areas, which Santa Ana now is, rent control brings more rapid gentrification, meaning rich people displacing the poor. Rent control will make that happen even faster.
As Mr. Arellano has celebrated many times, including in this new article, Santa Ana sports a vibrant downtown especially attractive to young people.
It’s also the county seat with numerous federal, state, and local government buildings, including court houses. That makes it attractive to government workers, lawyers, and other high-paid officials seeking to avoid a commute. They can afford an overpriced condo converted from a rent-controlled apartment.
Mr. Arellano writes, “Critics, fueled by nearly $800,000 from real estate groups and the city’s powerful police union, painted Lopez as an out-of-touch radical because she had voted for rent control and a civilian police oversight commission. Lopez, 34, who is in her first term, was one of four unabashed progressives on the council and seen as the easiest one to take out.”
He misses something: the “strange bedfellows” partnership of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association (POA) and the Apartment Association of Orange County (AAOC). Usually this and other apartment associations oppose police and other public-employee unions, who always want to increase taxes and regulations.
Indeed, it was the POA which led the 2020 recall of Councilmember Ceci Iglesias—a conservative Republican not remembered by Mr. Arellano. The POA despised her for opposing the sales tax increase to pay for their lavish pay, perks, and pensions. She also opposed rent control.
I think this is the first time I’ve opposed the AAOC on an issue. Some good friends of mine in Santa Ana also strongly disagreed with my stance that the unions are the problem, not Ms. Lopez’s leftism. In any case, she can still be replaced beginning with the primary election arriving quickly next March 5.

Conclusion: Latinos Need Free Markets Too

Mr. Arellano writes a lot about Latinos and politics. So let me end on a positive note in that department. Argentina just elected President Javier Milei, a self-described “anarcho-capitalist” and follower of libertarian economist Murray Rothbard, naming one of his English Mastiffs “Murray.” Mr. Milei even has donned a superhero uniform and called himself General AnCap (for anarcho-capitalist).
At one campaign rally, he wielded a chainsaw, promising to use it to cut up the country’s taxes and regulations that are even more convoluted than Santa Ana’s.
Spanish Libertarians Jesus Huerta de Soto and Philipp Bagus congratulated the new president:
“In our own name and in the name of the rest of the Spanish libertarians and anarcho-capitalists we want to send Javier Milei our most enthusiastic congratulations,” they wrote.
“Today is a historic day for liberty only comparable to the fall of the Berlin Wall and communism. For the first time in history an anarcho-capitalist has won the Presidency of a country as important as Argentina. This shows that in the end the ideas of liberty against statism, left or right, end up prevailing. [Ludwig von] Mises, [Nobel economics laureate Friedrich] Hayek, Rothbard and the great thinkers and theoreticians of liberty planted the ideas that Milei have had the enormous merit of making attractive to the broadest layers of the population and, especially, to the most vulnerable who are always the main victims of the manipulations of socialists and interventionists of all stripes.”
Mr. Arellano and Ms. Lopez should lead the rest of the council and other major city officials to Mr. Milei’s inauguration in Buenos Aires on Dec. 10. Then they can learn firsthand how freedom is the real way to help the poor—and everybody.
John Seiler

John Seiler


John Seiler is a veteran California opinion writer. Mr. Seiler has written editorials for The Orange County Register for almost 30 years. He is a U.S. Army veteran and former press secretary for California state Sen. John Moorlach. He blogs at and his email is

Author's Selected Articles
California Insider
Sign up here for our email newsletter!
©2024 California Insider All Rights Reserved. California Insider is a part of Epoch Media Group.