By Daniel Langhorne
Candidates for mayor and Orange City Council introduced themselves to a packed audience Oct. 2 in the Council Chambers to debate on issues facing the city, including the future growth of Chapman University, pension debt, and homelessness.
The Old Towne Preservation Association, United Neighborhoods of Orange, Respect Orange, and the Foothills Sentry hosted the candidate forum, which was attended by mayoral candidates Mark Murphy, a veteran city council member and former mayor; John Russo, a college student who identified himself on the ballot as a youth coach; and Doug Vogel, director of development at the Laguna Playhouse.
Candidates for two open seats on the City Council also showed up to debate, including planning commissioner Daniel Correa, Zachary Collins, a self-described cost estimator; Jon Dumitru, a firefighters communications coordinator; Betty Valencia, vice president of operations at American Auto Financing; Council member Kim Nichols; Chip Monaco, regional government affairs manager at Waste Management of Southern California; and Adrienne Gladson, planning commissioner and land use consultant.
The city council candidates elected to the Orange City Council on Nov. 6 are expected to vote on Chapman University’s specific plan amendment, a document that establishes guidelines for how the University can grow over the next decade.
Under the Specific Plan Amendment proposed by Chapman, the maximum student enrollment would increase from 8,700 to 11,650 students. University officials could also redevelop the Bhathal Student Services Center and Demille Hall if the City Council approves the Specific Plan Amendment.
Murphy, who was first elected the City Council in 1993, said he tried to balance Chapman’s desire to grow with residents concerns’ about impacts of the university operations when he reviewed Chapman’s previous specific plan amendments.
“We’re already seeing the results quite candidly of the University’s effort to house 50 percent of the undergrads and any … proposed updates, for my support, would have to be a balance with benefits to the community and infrastructure matched or hopefully surpassing any additional growth,” Murphy said.
It’s likely Murphy was referring to Chapman’s purchase of a 399-unit apartment building at Katella Avenue and Lewis Street in Anaheim that was opened to students this fall. A new dormitory building hosting 402 beds is also under construction next to the former Villa Park Orchards Packing House at Cypress Street and Palm Avenue.
Russo tried to dispel some residents’ belief that Chapman students are bad neighbors.
“Ninety-eight percent of Chapman students are great,” he said. “They’re great for our community. They add a good value. The two percent that are not need to be looked at and my question for Chapman is why are there no repercussions for those who act out.”
Beyond student conduct, Russo also questioned when university officials plan to stop building because residents were told previous specific plan amendments represented a completed buildout of the campus.
If Chapman says it’s going to do something to limit its impact on the surrounding neighborhoods it’s City Council’s job to hold their feet to the fire, Valencia said.
“I do know this, Chapman is quite powerful because they have grown so much because they’ve been allowed to grow into our neighborhoods,” she said.
Correa touted that he was the only member of the Planning Commission to oppose the redevelopment of the Killefer School site into a 34-unit apartment project because it will essentially be a dormitory for students due to its proximity to the campus. However, it’s important to note that Chapman doesn’t own the property and hasn’t partnered with the developer.
Monaco, who is also chairman of the Orange County Taxpayers Association, said requiring the University to house more students seems fair and reasonable.
“Items like housing requirements are certainly something I’m going to be looking for and holding Chapman University itself accountable for its students’ conduct are simple things I want to see in any future plan coming forward,” he said.
Nichols also echoed the calls from other candidates for Chapman to do even more to house more students and hopefully crack down on house parties that attract hundreds of students to single-family neighborhoods late at night.
“If we’re looking at any possible plans from Chapman it’s important that we look at the housing of the students, where they’re going to be and where the students are going to live so that our beautiful Old Towne Orange does not turn into a major dorm,” she said.