During the July 11 City Council meeting, the city held its second public hearing regarding the drawing of district maps as a part of the Council’s proposed plan to switch to a vote-by-district system for Council elections.
While the ballot measure to change the city’s charter to create six Council districts with one directly elected mayor won’t be voted on until March 2024, City Attorney Michael Garcia believes that having the proposed district lines ahead of the vote will allow the voters to make a more informed decision.
“We’ve previously asked the voters ‘Do you want to go to districts?’ without a district plan, just ‘yes or no,’ and it didn’t pass,” Garcia said. “And part of the reason I think we’re here is to do it together so the voters can see what the districts will look like while they make a decision.”
The hearing began with a presentation from Doug Johnson, the president of National Demographics Corporation and chosen demographer for Glendale’s proposed districting process, who outlined various considerations when drawing district maps, as well as the schedule moving forward for this process.
To successfully create districts, Glendale must follow both federal and California state law requirements. To abide by federal law, Glendale’s districts must consist of roughly the same population; in the six-district model, this means each district would have around 32,830 people.
Resident Mike Mohill spoke at the Council meeting on his beliefs regarding the role of population in creating districts.
“I am for Council districts. I know we have to include population in this, but my dream is that every section of the city should be represented on City Council,” Mohill said. “Where I live in Glendale’s canyon is different from the woman who lives in South Glendale or the man who lives in North Glendale. [We] all have different interests.”
The city must also follow the Federal Voting Rights Act, “which means no dividing up or packing of what the law calls ‘a protected class’ … none of those groups can be packed in a way that dilutes their voting strength,” said Johnson. A protected class refers to a group protected by anti-discrimination laws, such as women, minorities, people with disabilities and more. There also cannot be any forms of racial gerrymandering.
In line with the California Fair Maps Act, district boundaries should be made using the following recommendations listed in order of priority: districts should be geographically contiguous; they should minimize division of local neighborhoods or communities of interest, which are populations that share common social or economic interests that should be included within a single district for purposes of effective and fair representation; district boundaries should be easily identifiable and understandable by residents; and they should be compact.
“Again, those four are in priority order so you can have a non-compact district if it’s in order to keep together a neighborhood,” said Johnson, adding that the districts also must be drawn in a nonpartisan way.
Johnson also discussed a few racial groups and how they will be considered in district maps. Because there is no part of the city with a heavy African American population, Johnson isn’t worried about splitting up a predominantly Black neighborhood. While there is a slight concentration of Latinos along the I-5 corridor and Los Angeles border, Johnson said there won’t be a district that is majority Latino “any way we draw the lines.”
There are two concentrations of Asian Americans in the north and in Rancho San Rafael. Since those areas are not close by, Johnson says they will likely be in separate districts, but the city will work to ensure the individual areas will not be divided in a way to dilute the Asian American voting strength.
While Armenians are not a designated protected class federally, they will be a community of interest in Glendale’s district map drawing process. Other potential communities of interest identified by Johnson include people who have children at home, speak Spanish at home, have an annual household income of more than $75,000, live in multifamily housing and renters.
Johnson highly encourages residents to come forward at community workshops to define their own neighborhoods and boundaries, as well as share if they believe they belong to a community of interest.
“Whatever kind of story about a community you can tell probably is a good [resource],” Johnson said.
So far, workshop participants suggested the following communities of interest: Crescenta Highlands, renters, Adams Hill, Northwest, Montrose and El Miradero. Johnson also emphasized his and the city’s desire to have the map drawing process be community based.
“We really want residents to draw the maps, to step up and share their thoughts,” Johnson said. “However residents want to draw maps, we want to see them. If you want to sketch one on a napkin, we’ll take it.” To learn more about specific tools for drawing district maps, visit mapglendale.org/draw-a-map/.
Johnson provided an unofficial breakdown of neighborhoods throughout Glendale, as shown in the map on page one.
“The city also has an unofficial guide to neighborhoods — kind of how people often refer to their neighborhoods,” he said. “This is a conversation starter map and we’re looking for residents to confirm or disagree with how it identifies different neighborhoods before we consider them official for purposes of the Fair Maps Act.”
Councilman Ara Najarian, who has spoken against the Council’s proposed vote-by-district plan, said he does not think district maps should be drawn before the ballot measure passes. He views this as “jumping the gun.”
“Your involving of the community in the creation of districting is an inherent campaign for districting,” he said to Johnson. “Don’t tell me otherwise. That’s as clear as it can be. We’re doing this backward.” He suggested there be another committee to explain Glendale’s current at-large system.
Garcia responded to this by saying the city did not hire Johnson for advocacy work, but as a demographer to guide residents through community workshops.
Residents Allan Durham and Guillermo Prieto agreed with Najarian.
“I thought [Najarian’s] suggestion was actually a good one,” Durham said. “I suggested that these outreach programs start with background information on the proposal to go to districting … I think a lot of people in Glendale … don’t even understand our at-large voting system currently. … I think you have to start at square one and you really can’t assume the attendees know anything.”
“I don’t think that this whole entire program should be placed in front of the public,” Prieto, who is in support of moving to Council districts, said. “And that’s me being fair from the other side.” Prieto suggested that all outreach for drawing district maps stop.
Stephanie Mkhlian, senior administrative analyst from the city manager’s office, discussed outreach and engagement results thus far. The attendance for the community workshops was between three and eight. Two residents have submitted maps via email and six have reached out via email to oppose districts altogether.
Johnson and Tripepi Smith, an outreach consultant, said that low attendance is typical for this stage of the process and will likely pick up once there are maps available to discuss.
Mkhlian announced upcoming outreach efforts at community pop-up events: National Night Out on Aug. 1, Summer Concerts on Aug. 25 and Touch-a-Truck on Sept. 16.
The initial deadline for residents to submit district maps is Aug. 5 and the deadline for the city to post all map drafts on the project website is Aug. 8. The first round of maps will be formally considered by the public and City Council at the third public hearing on Aug. 15 where the Council will select “focus” maps and/or request new or revised maps.
The second round of community forums will take place between Aug. 17 and Sept. 16 where community members can share their likes and dislikes of the focus maps. The second deadline to submit new or revised maps will be Sept. 28 and those maps will be presented at the fourth public hearing on Oct. 10, where the Council will select one map to proceed with. The last step is the final public hearing where the map will be officially adopted into the proposed plan to switch to Council districts for residents to vote on in March 2024.
First published in the July 22 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.