San Clemente City Council will hold Nov. 5 election to fill a vacancy, following the death of Mayor Steven Swartz

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  • Gene W. James, the next highest vote getter for City Council who was not elected during the last election, and the clear favorite to be appointed to fill the recent vacancy in the council left by the unexpected death of Mayor Steve Swartz by those in attendance at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, addresses the council regarding the city’s homelessness problem on May 21, 2019. (Photo By Jeff Antenore, Contributing Photographer)

  • San Clemente residents hold up signs in support of appointing Gene W. James to the City Council to fill the vacancy left by the unexpected death of Mayor Steve Swartz during the first council meeting since Swartz’s passing on Wednesday, May 21, 2019. James was the next highest vote getter in the most recent election. (Photo By Jeff Antenore, Contributing Photographer)

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  • San Clemente Mayor Pro Tem Dan Bane leads a City Council meeting on Tuesday, May 21, 2019 as the chair next to him sits empty following the recent, unexpected death of Mayor Steve Swartz. (Photo By Jeff Antenore, Contributing Photographer)



SAN CLEMENTE — City officials decided on Tuesday, May 21, that a fifth council seat — made vacant by the sudden death of Mayor Steven Swartz — will require a citywide election to be held Nov. 5.

Swartz died May 8, at age 71, while on vacation in Palm Springs. He was in his first term on the City Council.

The San Clemente City Council is bound by a city law that requires the vacant post to be filled by an election rather than appointing someone. The special election will cost the city up to $293,000 for a stand-alone election and about $160,000 for a mail ballot, if the election is not consolidated into another county election.

The city will not know that status until August.

In the meantime, the City Council could have appointed a fifth council member to fill Swartz’s seat but chose to table the appointment to a later date. Before postponing the selection, the Council split 2-2 to name Gene James, who placed fourth in the November City Council race, to fill the vacancy.

Many residents spoke on James’ behalf, filling the chambers with chants for James and carrying his election signs in support.

Mayor Pro Tem Dan Banes and City Councilwoman Laura Ferguson supported appointing James. Councilman Chris Hamm and Councilwoman Kathy Ward said they needed more time.

“I support the voters’ rights,” said Hamm. “Unfortunately, we lost our mayor. He was the glue holding the city together. I think there will be a lot of dark days. I look forward to seeing who the voters chose.”

Resident Linda Williams questioned the decision to spend the city’s money on the special election.

“We had a lot of great people who ran in the last election,” she said, favoring James’ appointment.

Resident Jim Dahl agreed, saying, “We had a really sad couple of weeks in San Clemente history. I want the council to make a quick decision. Appoint the next person in line or go through an appointment process. Please, do it in the next couple of months.”

Resident Wendy Shrove told the council that 600 people in the last six days had signed a petition supporting James for the vacant seat at the dais.

“We’re not replacing Steve,” she said. “We’re putting someone in a chair to help you guys. Who you appoint should be no different than how you got there. If we had people who already ran, use that paperwork. I’m very concerned it will take a couple of months. We don’t have that kind of time. The voters spoke.”