The Glendale City Council recently decided to postpone its plan to put forth a ballot measure on changing the city’s charter to a vote-by-districts system on the March 2024 general municipal election, instead opting to press forward with the measure on the November 2024 election ballot.
Last week, the Council selected three focus maps from the 42 district draft maps created by community members and the National Demographics Corporation.
If the ballot measure is brought to voters and passed in November 2024, the vote-by-district system would split the city into six districts, each with one Councilmember. There would be one directly elected mayor at large.
The decision to delay the ballot measure to November of next year is in part due to a lack of community involvement in the various districting meetings and the need for more community outreach, Council said. The cost of putting the measure to change the city’s charter on the November ballot ranges from $422,000 to $440,000, while the cost for March would have been $8,000 to $25,000.
“Even though it does cost a considerable amount of money, it is a very important decision for our city,” Mayor Dan Brotman said at an Oct. 24 special City Council meeting. “… There is a benefit to taking our time and connecting with all the groups that would have an interest in this process.”
The three focus maps — 106B, 125 and 126D — selected by Councilmembers during a Nov. 7 meeting, are meant to be used as a tool during future community outreach efforts to get residents involved in discussions about their neighborhoods and preferences for the city’s potential districts. These maps can be found at mapglendale.org/draft-maps, along with demographic information related to each drafted district.
Important considerations when determining these maps included keeping neighborhoods together and evenly distributing the population among each district.
The district breakdown of all three focus maps would place Brotman and Councilman Ara Najarian in the same district; in map 125, Councilwomen Paula Devine and Elen Asatryan would be in the same district.
Doug Johnson, a demographer with NDC, emphasized that these maps are non-binding.
“You can really think of focus maps as purely a communications tool to get people engaged… We don’t expect [the community] to like and pick one of these three maps,” Johnson said during the Nov. 7 meeting. “We actually want them to dislike the three maps so that they can give us concrete feedback that can translate to either a new map that they draw from scratch or [a revised map] that we take their direction on.”
Brotman also said that being more deliberate with the districts process would give the city more time to understand the implications of the California Voting Rights Act, which works to protect minority voices from being diluted in at-large election systems.
A main reason why the city is preparing plans to move to districts is to avoid a potential lawsuit for violating the CVRA, which many cities throughout California have experienced, including Burbank and Santa Monica.
In the lawsuit, The Pico Neighborhood Association et al. v. City of Santa Monica, the city was sued for violating the CVRA for allegedly diluting the Latino vote. The trial court ruled with the plaintiff and the city was ordered to adopt a by-district voting system. Santa Monica appealed this decision and won in the court of appeals, at which point, the case was submitted for review to the California Supreme Court, who remanded the case back to the court of appeals because they believed that court “misconstrued the CVRA” in their judgment.
During the Oct. 24 special meeting, attorney Marguerite Leoni shared insights on the implications of the Pico Neighborhood case as they relate to Glendale and discussed whether other voting systems could protect the city from CVRA violations.
She explained that to prove that an alternative voting system — such as ranked choice, limited and cumulative elections— would satisfy the CVRA, there must be proof that a protected class could elect the official of their choice if that particular system were implemented.
Johnson said that based on Glendale’s racial demographic makeup, a protected class would not have the voting power to elect their official in cumulative, limited or ranked choice voting systems unless all six Council seats were up at once. Thus, unless the city were to change its staggered system, these voting systems would still leave Glendale vulnerable to a CVRA lawsuit.
“This means you could have the entire Council turn over… Every four years, you could have a brand-new Council, which eliminates any of that in-house knowledge and experience that you get with the staggered system. …It can also mean that with one big scandal, everyone is gone,” Johnson said.
According to Leoni, once a by-district system is adopted, a city is safe from ever being sued for a CVRA violation because the CVRA does not apply to single-member districts, or an electoral district represented by a single officeholder. This means that even if a single-member district fails to elect the preferred candidate of a protected class, the city cannot be punished under the purview of the CVRA.
The city has held five public hearings on districts as well as a number of community meetings, however, public commenters from a Nov. 7 Council meeting argued that these efforts were not convenient for residents to attend.
During public comment, one community member emphasized the high percentage of renters in the city, which, according to Data USA, was 66% as of 2021. She urged the Council to prioritize renter representation when choosing districts. Another public commenter, Julia Hatten, shared similar concerns.
“The majority of our city is renters and that is not reflected in our leadership,” Hatten said. “It’s clear that the problems renters face here are often unknown or unacknowledged by City Council… We (renters) deserve to have government officials that see and experience the issues in our neighborhoods.”
To follow future community meetings and public hearings surrounding the districts process, visit mapglendale.org/schedule.
First published in the November 18 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.