Following a laborious two-and-half month effort, which included a series of public hearings and a well-attended workshop to allow the public an opportunity to weigh in on the issue, the South Pasadena City Council Wednesday night reluctantly adopted an ordinance to change the City’s electoral system from at-large to by-district elections in the future.
What began with four draft maps considered for a district-based electoral system had been reduced to two prior to the regularly scheduled council meeting at City Hall. From two, the council unanimously agreed 5-0 to use a “modified green” districting map.
In July, the City Council adopted an ordinance declaring its intention to transition from at-large to district based elections that will now begin with the Nov. 18, 2018 general municipal election.
As part of an aggressive public outreach campaign by the City, four required hearings seeking input from residents regarding composition of district boundaries were held on Aug. 16, Sept. 6, Sept. 20 and on Wednesday night.
South Pasadena City Manager Elaine Aguilar said there’s little difference in the Green map and the Modified Green map version selected by the council. She said the modified green maps will keep central South Pasadena in one district.
Added South Pasadena Chief City Clerk Anthony Mejia: “The green map was based on the concept that each district would run from north to south of the city so each councilmember would have a say in the majority of matters that would address the city. However, the modified green map, based on the green map, itself, modified some of the districts, particularly in District 2, they expanded to include a little bump out, to ensure a central, south neighborhood stayed in one district. That was at the request of many citizens who came to a community forum. They requested that the library park area stay within the same district and not be split up. So, when the council did that, they had to modify some of the other areas. For example, all of Huntington south stays within one district, based on some comments from Councilwoman (Diana) Mahmud. District 4 is a little more compact, based on some comments from Mayor (Michael) Cacciotti.”
The South Pasadena City Council never wanted to get here, feeling the frustration and anxiety of being boxed in a corner by a lawyer looking to capitalize financially. “People are still talking about how angry they are that we’re here with this districting thing,” said Councilmember Dr. Marina Khubesrian, who was out in the community last weekend listening to concerns. “Of course we all share this frustration. We really don’t have a choice. We have entertained all the risks and all the possibilities and we are reluctantly but firmly convinced this is the best course to go for our city.”
She said the city would seek a “legislative fix” seeking support from politicians at a higher level for support to return to at-large elections. “While we may be conceding the battle, we’re not conceding the war on this,” said Mahmud.
In June, the city received a letter from a Malibu attorney alleging violations of the California Voting Rights Act. “Although the letter had allegations that were unfounded,” said Mejia, “the cost of litigation is very extreme.”
Following receipt of the letter, the City of South Pasadena was given a 90-day safe harbor period to conduct four public hearings “so that we may adopt the ordinance and select a map,” explained Mejia.
In Kevin Shenkman’s letter, the attorney alleged that there was Latino polarized voting in South Pasadena. “We found out that was not the case, however, the plaintiff would be entitled for reimbursement of his attorney fees and expert witness costs if he prevailed,” said Mejia, explaining the estimated cost to defend the city is $500,000. “If the plaintiff were to prevail it could cost $2 million.”
Mejia said the City of Palmdale spent more than $7 million to defend a similar case and lost. “Every single city that has gone into litigation over this matter has lost. There’s no path to success when it comes to the CVRA.”
Based on its actions at the fourth public hearing on the topic Wednesday night, and adopting to transition to a district-based electoral system, the City of South Pasadena is required to reimburse the plaintiff for its actual and documented attorney’s fees of no more than $30,000 and pay for a demographic consultant, who drew up all four maps.