Election results: Newcomer McGarrey, incumbents Evans and Peña lead for La Quinta council

Both incumbents on the La Quinta City Council — Mayor Linda Evans and member John Peña — were on a comfortable track toward reelection, while a newcomer with support from the current council held a huge lead for the other available seat.

Evans sought a fifth term against Robert Sylk, an Army veteran and community activist, and Alan Woodruff, an animal rights advocate and former Palm Desert High School track coach.

In a separate race for two seats on the La Quinta City Council, Peña and four newcomers — three of whom have run for local office before — vied to represent the city's residents on the dais.

The other incumbent, Robert Radi, decided earlier this year not to run again.

More: Election 2022: La Quinta voters deciding whether to ban most short-term vacation rentals

The four new candidates are Richard Gray, Brian Hanrahan, Joe Johnson and Deborah McGarrey. In La Quinta, council members serve four-year terms, while the mayor is elected every two years.

The results so far showed both Evans and Peña with substantial leads. Evans was up by more than 4,000 votes and had 73% of voters' support to Sylk's 14% and Woodruff's 13%.

In an interview Tuesday night, Evans thanked the residents of La Quinta for continuing to trust her leadership on the council, where she has served since 2009.

"This clearly speaks to the fact that they’re happy with the direction of our city," Evans said.

In the council race, Peña was leading with 4,576 votes, while McGarrey was in second with 3,525 votes, according to initial results from the Riverside County Registrar of Voters. Johnson was trailing in third place, with 1,345 votes. Updated vote totals were scheduled to be posted Wednesday evening.

McGarrey, who was endorsed by every current city council member as well as other valley elected officials, said Wednesday she was "blessed and honored" to receive the support of city residents.

"I believe the many years as a community leader has assisted me with a good foundation to begin my role as the next La Quinta council member," McGarrey said in a statement.

Before the election, both Evans and Peña, who have served on the council for more than a decade, told The Desert Sun they sought reelection to get some development efforts over the finish line.

The incumbent noted recent progress with the Talus project, formerly known as the SilverRock resort, where construction of two Montage-brand luxury hotels is underway within the city. The project has suffered delays due to the pandemic and supply chain issues

The project has suffered delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other supply chain issues — “We still have to push (the developer) sometimes on timeliness,” Evans said — but she noted recent progress at the site has been encouraging.

Woodruff, who has lived in the area for 33 years, said he worries about the type of development being approved by the current council, and he would focus on preserving the “wide open spaces” in the mountains that edge much of the city.

Sylk, founder of Concerned Citizens of La Quinta, ran for mayor in 2020, but lost in a head-to-head matchup with Evans, gaining roughly 18% of the vote to her 82%. He said he decided to run again because he sees the city as “adrift without direction,” and he wants to see more municipal programs for small businesses.

“I'm really ashamed that we have no incentives for small businesses that come in,” Sylk said, adding he would push for local tax initiatives and other benefits for employers that hire locally.

Unlike her two challengers, Evans opposed the ballot measure that would ban most short-term rentals, noting La Quinta has seen a significant dip in the number of rental-related complaints since implementing higher fees and stiffer fines.

“I believe that our city has made tremendous strides and has worked very hard to implement rules and restrictions, and enforcements that have really squashed the complaints that we saw right in the peak of the pandemic,” Evans said.

Both of her challengers supported the ballot initiative, with Woodruff calling the rentals “motels in the middle of communities.” Sylk has said he’s fine with the rentals — as long as they're properly regulated — in the areas where they would continue to operate under the proposed ban.

In the council race, the newcomer with the most institutional support was McGarrey, who has worked in public affairs for Southern California Gas for 13 years. She told The Desert Sun her campaign focus was keeping the city on its current trajectory, including “maintaining a balanced and fiscally strong, responsible budget.”

The other three candidates on the ballot have ran for a council seat in the past. Johnson, a former consumer affairs investigator for Los Angeles County who ran in 2016 and 2018, criticized the city’s current approach toward development projects, arguing they sometimes prioritize revenue over residents’ quality of life.

Hanrahan, a retired local teacher, also ran for council in 2018. His priorities include establishing a standalone police force for La Quinta, which now contracts with the Riverside County sheriff for police services, and expanding the hours of the Fritz Burns Pool.

Gray, a retired U.S. diplomat, lost a bid to join the city council in 2020. A supporter of Measure A and a critic of the traffic roundabouts recently constructed in the city, Gray said the "old guard” in La Quinta should be voted out.

Tom Coulter covers the cities of Palm Desert, La Quinta, Rancho Mirage and Indian Wells. Reach him at thomas.coulter@desertsun.com or on Twitter @tomcoulter_.

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Election results: La Quinta incumbents Linda Evans, John Peña leading