By Amanda Beck
Development interests provided about 41 percent of all donations in the 2004 City Council race, a Yorba Linda Star analysis shows.
The data, gleaned from campaign reports filed through Jan. 31 and inquiries, highlights the role developers play in funding local campaigns.
In all, $29,800 was given to four of the five candidates seeking seats on the council. The fifth took no donations.
The 2004 campaign was dominated by the discussion of a new Town Center redevelopment project.
At City Council meetings, representatives are reminded that "developers have no say here," and even council members themselves have floated the idea of limiting contributions -- if only to limit the speculation. However, so far no action has been taken.
The largest single donor was Alan Cummins, who along with his wife, Yvonne, contributed a total of $5,000 to the incumbents in the race.
Cummins is a vice president with Shappell Industries, which over the years has built more than 2,500 homes in East Lake Village and plans to build about 500 more single-family homes on 300 acres west of Fairmont Boulevard, according to the Yorba Linda Planning Department.
Cummins did not respond to three requests for comment on this story.
Neither did 11 other contractors, roofers and other workers who help construct new tract homes and who contributed the bulk of the funding -- total of $12,500.
In all, these 12 donors financed about 24 percent of the City Council race. Contributions from building investment and real estate political committees represented another 6 percent of the nearly $72,000 donated this year.
This data was gleaned from phone calls to all business contributors and individuals who identified occupations in the construction industry. It was not determined how many firms or people are engaged in or bidding on Yorba Linda work.
Incumbent Councilmen Allen Castellano and Mike Duvall received the largest share of these donations, which comprised 63 percent and 48 percent of their campaigns, respectively.
They were followed by in cumbent Councilman Jim Winder, 26 percent; challenger Ed Rakochy, 13 percent; and challenger Mike Burns, who accepted less than $1,000 in total donations.
In a recent city-sponsored survey, 51 percent of those asked said growth issues were the most important ones facing the city.
In this atmosphere, several residents have also inquired about the influence of developer campaign donations on municipal decisions.
In October 2003, Yorba Linda's then-Mayor Jim Winder took a moment at a City Council meeting to say he was troubled by a growing phenomenon.
"In recent months, many people at public hearings ... have questioned the objectivity of some of our council members because of the size of prior campaign contributions," Winder said.
He referred to the public perception that donations from those in the development industry influence decisions made at the dais -- particularly when officials consider new projects.
Winder called upon his colleagues to investigate a city campaign contribution limit of $1,000.
However, his suggestion fell flat -- without even a comment from the other sitting members.
In separate interviews, Castellano and Duvall said donations come from people who already trust a candidate's judgment, not from those who wish to influence it.
Castellano, a Los Angles County sheriff's deputy, dismissed the idea that he would sacrifice his reputation for something as small as a campaign donation.
"I wouldn't even run for a position if I thought that's what was expected of me," Castellano said. "My whole career ... is based on my integrity."
He and Duvall added it requires money to run a successful and informative Yorba Linda campaign and -- especially if their vote is not negotiable -- it doesn't really matter where the funding comes from.
"I don't think that anybody should put any limit on what I do to run a campaign to win an election," Duvall said. "I think this is America, and we ought to be able to pursue what we should be able to do."
These two men were also among those who stayed silent when Winder proposed creating a committee to review campaign finance rules in other cities, such as Anaheim and Orange, where contributions are limited to $1,000 and $500, respectively.
This year, Winder enacted his own campaign reform by restricting all of his contributions to $1,000 or less.
His total contributions were lower than those of his fellow council members, as were his donations from those in the development industry.
"I thought I raised enough money to get elected, and I didn't need to do more than that," Winder said.
Duvall said that if citizens were troubled by the implications of his campaign money, they could have voted him out of office.
"It was the same people who gave me money, the same contractors," Duvall said, remarking that controversy over campaign funding is something that rises every two years.
"And if the people of Yorba Linda didn't like it, they didn't have to re-elect me."