Residents Weigh in on City’s District-Based Electoral System

Four draft maps were unveiled last Saturday as the City of South Pasadena works to develop boundaries following the City Council’s controversial decision in July to implement a district-based electoral system.

“The City Council’s ordinance is going to include language that says this City Council’s intent is that if the CVRA (California Voting Rights Act) is amended, it will revert back,” said City Clerk Anthony Mejia. “However, that is not binding on the council that will be in place at the time. You can’t ever bind a future city council’s actions based on a council that is in office today.”

WISPPA’s Betty Emirhanian and Bianca Richards voiced their concerns to City Clerk Anthony Mejia at Saturday’s public hearing on district boundaries, held in the council chambers. Photos by Harry Yadav

The City Council Chambers were nearly full during Saturday’s workshop as the city sought community input on dividing the city into five geographical regions for future elections.

“It was an opportunity for people to give feedback, as it is critically important to ensure that neighborhoods are adequately represented for the next General Municipal Election,” said Interim City Manager Elaine Aguilar.

Council members continued to seek input from the public during a public hearing during their regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday night.  On Oct. 4, the City Council plans to select a preferred district map and introduce an ordinance to transition to district-based elections.

“The council will be deciding on one of the four maps or will create another,” explained Aguilar. “They may want to modify one of these maps before deciding on a final one.”

Each of the four maps has detailed demographic information, showing the ethnicity and population breakdown for each district. “The public can be reassured the four maps meet the legal requirements to conform with the parameters that we operate under,” added Aguilar. “We want to make sure the maps reflect the community interest our residents believe should be considered in each of these districts.”

In July, the South Pasadena City Council adopted a resolution declaring its intent to move toward district-based elections in response to a threat of litigation from a Malibu attorney asserting a violation of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA). “While the City maintains its position that its election system does not violate the CVRA or any other provision of law, the cost of litigation is prohibitive and the public interest would be better served by transitioning to a district-based electoral system,” said Aguilar.

City clerk Anthony Mejia answered the public’s questions during Saturday morning’s public hearings on new district boundaries.

The final public comment of the morning came from city resident and renter, John Srebalus. In a letter published recently in the Review, Srebalus voiced support for the City’s transition to districting. He didn’t intend to speak at Saturday’s meeting, but decided to at the request of David Beadle, who expressed his distaste for the transition in an earlier testimony.

“I am in favor of this [transition],” said Srebalus. “Regardless of the motivation of Mr. Shenkman (the attorney who filed the charges) and the issues that he raises…I’ve been working on tenant issues and that tends to dovetail with lower-income tenants. Lower-income people don’t really have any representation in the city. I mean, look at what happened with rent control. We have 57 percent of the population and yet on that issue we didn’t stand a chance.”

Srebalus went on to call the City’s use of federal block grants a “glaring example” of it’s neglect of renters. “The way [federal block grants] get spent in this city is on repairing sidewalks for single family, higher income neighborhoods,” he said. “So, I think with this plan…if we have one person to speak to, we have a real opportunity to hold this person accountable and have them voice our issues.”

Since adopting the resolution declaring its intent to transition to district-based elections, the City has held three public hearings and Saturday’s community workshop on the matter.

For more information, contact the City Clerk’s office at (626) 403-7230.

Assistant editor Harry Yadav contributed to this report.