By Mary O’KEEFE
The Glendale City Council meeting was canceled this week but last week’s marathon meeting, lasting more than seven hours, provided enough information for residents to digest.
The issue of moving from citywide elections to district elections of councilmembers was discussed at the July 11 meeting. At present there are five members of the Glendale City Council who are elected by all eligible Glendale resident voters. The mayor’s position is on a rotating basis in which every councilmember gets a turn.
The proposed change suggested by the council would see Glendale divided into six districts. Residents in each district would vote for their own representation on the council, much like district voting that already occurs within Glendale Unified School District and the Glendale Community College board of trustees. Proponents state this would give voice to those who live in areas of the City they feel are not represented on council. Those who opposed the change stated that citywide elections have worked well so far and there is no need for change. The proposed change would be placed on the ballot during the March 2024 election.
The real impetus of this proposal though comes from the numerous cities across the state that are being challenged in court for holding citywide elections. The City of Santa Monica, which has been in a legal battle for years concerning citywide election, is often referenced. The first of this month saw the California Supreme Court almost ready to come forward with a decision for the case of Pico Neighborhood Association vs. City of Santa Monica where the Association claims the city’s at-large, or citywide, election system dilutes the voting power of Latino voters. It alleges the citywide election is in violation of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA). The state’s Supreme Court heard oral arguments at the end of June. An opinion is expected in September.
Councilmember Ardy Kassakhian and Mayor Dan Brotman cite this and other cases as reasons to convert to district voting. They said they want to avoid the legal fees that the City will incur not if but when it is sued for having a citywide election system, and if a lawsuit is brought and lost then a judge will be responsible for setting up districts.
Kassakhian has stated he wants to keep the power of that decision in the hands of Glendale and not a judge.
The suggested proposal would have a council made up of six councilmembers from six separate districts from throughout the City, voted on by that district’s eligible Glendale resident voters. The mayor would be directly elected by all Glendale voters. But to do this, or make any changes, will not be easy and at the July 11 council meeting Council members heard what they would have to decide on when amending the City’s charter.
This, according to City Attorney Michael Garcia, includes questions like how long will the mayor’s term be – two or four years – and will the mayor have veto privileges and what exact role will the mayor play?
For example, at present the city manager is the director of emergency services but the question was raised if that responsibility would move to a mayor. Salaries, including possible increases for councilmembers, were examined as was the salary of a mayor.
Staff looked at about 35 cities that have similar councilmembers and mayor positions and shared those findings with the Council.
“This is a lot for us to consider,” Kassakhian said.
But it is not just a lot of information that the Council has to review; it is also being taken to the public for its opinion. There have been several workshops (with more scheduled) that encourage Glendale residents to share their opinions on where they would like to see districts drawn.
Glendale residents are encouraged to attend these workshops to not only share their opinions but to also get their questions answered.
However there were some issues brought up by a resident during public comment about the community meetings/workshops. The speaker shared his opinion on how the workshop was conducted including the way the meeting began with demographic maps and how districts could be drawn. The speaker suggested the leaders of the workshops should instead explain why the City is looking into this change in the first place, to start with the reason why and then move on to how it can be done.
July 11 was the second public hearing for this proposed council election change. The next public hearing will be on Aug. 15 at 6 p.m. in the Glendale City Council chambers, 613 E Broadway. For those who have questions or comments they can email MAPGlendale@glendaleca.org or call (818) 548-4811 ext. 1.
On Aug. 17 a meeting via Zoom will be conducted at 6:30 p.m.; visit mapglendale.org to get more information.
Additional workshops will be held today, Thursday, July 20 at 6:30 p.m. at Brand Library, 1601 W Mountain St.; July 22 at 10 a.m. at Griffith Manor Park, 1551 Flower St.; July 22 at 2 p.m. at Maple Park, 802 E. Maple St.; July 27 at 6:30 p.m. at Chevy Chase Library, 3301 E. Chevy Chase Drive. On Aug. 1 at 5 p.m. a pop-up booth will be part of National Night Out at Pacific Park, 501 S. Pacific Ave.; Aug. 19 at 10 a.m. at Chevy Chase Library, 3301 E. Chevy Chase Drive; Aug. 19 at 2:30 p.m. at the Adult Recreation Center, 201 E. Colorado St.; Aug. 21 at 6:30 p.m. at Griffith Manor Park, 1551 Flower St.; Aug. 25 at 7 p.m. at Brand Park, 1601 W. Mountain St.; Aug. 30 at 6:30 p.m. at Sparr Heights Community Center, 1613 Glencoe Way; Aug. 31 at 6:30 p.m. at Chevy Chase Library, 3301 E. Chevy Chase Drive; Sept. 7 at 6:30 p.m. at Griffith Manor Park, 1551 Flower St. On Sept. 16 at 9 a.m. a pop-up booth will be set up at the Elks Lodge, 120 E. Colorado St. as part of the Touch a Truck event.