The Glendale City Council held a special meeting on Tuesday where councilmembers discussed the public’s perception of the proposed vote-by-district plan, which would create six council districts throughout the city.
Within the updated system, voters would elect one representative who lives in their district to serve on Council, and all Glendale voters would vote directly for the city’s next mayor.
During the meeting on Tuesday, Allan Durham, a Glendale resident of 30 years, spoke about a consensus of uncertainty he feels the public is experiencing with the district plan, saying the Council has only given “oblique” reasoning as to why it’s introducing the idea of creating Council districts. He went on to explain his own understanding of the situation that he wishes his fellow community members knew.
“I think a lot of this is the threat of a lawsuit that would force the city to district anyway and we can either do it voluntarily through a ballot measure, or the City Council can do it via ordinance through the state code, or we could get into a lawsuit that could be very costly and we might not prevail and then a court might draw the maps,” Durham said, adding that if residents are given the option to vote down the plan, they might not understand the city could be forced to change the process anyway.
Councilmembers expressed appreciation for Durham’s comments and went on to further explain their thought processes on introducing the change to elections.
“I know that everyone feels that this is sudden, but I can assure you that it’s been a long time coming. We’re fortunate to not have had this forced upon us up until now,” Councilman Ardy Kassakhian said. “And it’s correct that we haven’t been sued, but as the city attorney and others have mentioned before, we’ve received letters expressing concerns about our noncompliance with the [state] Voting Rights Act … It’s not perfect, but I think it’s better to be the masters of our destiny if we’re going to go through this process.”
City Attorney Michael Garcia elaborated on points brought up by Durham and Kassakhian, using events in Santa Monica as an example. In 2019, Santa Monica lost a Voting Rights Act lawsuit, which forced them to adopt Council districts.
“I just want people to be aware of the worst-case scenario, which is what happened in Santa Monica at the trial court level,” Garcia said. “Not only did they lose, meaning they had to go to districts in that case, but the Superior Court ordered the city to adopt the district plan that the plaintiffs were proposing with no input from its residents and with no input from the city itself … I would imagine everyone here would think that’s a terrible outcome.”
Another issue brought up during the meeting was the perceived murkiness surrounding the role of a directly elected mayor.
“How can you go to the public and talk to them when they have no idea — and we have no idea — what the role of the [elected] mayor would be … what is the point of the public outreach if we can’t give them that information?” Councilman Ara Najarian asked.
In response to this, Garcia said he would work to come up with a more concrete proposal of the mayor’s role — including the specific duties, term lengths and term limits, and whether or not the mayor would be a voting member of the City Council. These details will be based on surveying other cities that have a directly elected mayor in their charter and community workshop discussions, and will be ready to present at the second City Council public hearing on July 11 at 6 p.m. in City Hall.
For more information and dates of community meetings, visit MapGlendale.org.
First published in the June 24 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.