City Council to Discuss Election Plans Friday

The City Council is apparently considering a few options to make the city compliant with a state law that mandates which years elections are held.
The law, which was enacted last year as Senate Bill 415, requires political subdivisions, such as cities and school boards, that hold elections in odd-numbered years to switch to even-year elections if most recent voter turnouts are 25% less than the average of the last four turnouts for statewide elections.
The council will discuss a handful of options Friday, Oct. 28, including one that would simply tack on an extra year to each of the sitting council members. Interim City Manager Collins pointed to a similar move in 2010, when the city moved its 2011 election from March to November to match that of the San Marino Unified School District.
“There’s precedent that at that point, they had extended the council’s term,” Collins said.
Three City Council seats — those held by Mayor Dr. Allan Yung, Vice Mayor Dr. Richard Sun and Richard Ward — are set to expire next year and be filled by a November 2017 election. Councilmen Dr. Steven Huang and Steve Talt were elected last year and have terms through 2019.
State election code allows governing bodies to vote to modify their elected terms by no more than 12 months.
The San Marino Unified School District board this week voted on a resolution mirroring the one-year extension proposal. Superintendent Dr. Alex Cherniss said discussions leading to that plan were fairly straightforward.
“It wasn’t a matter of whether we do it,” he said. “It was a matter of when.”
Alternatives the city is considering include conducting the 2017 election as planned and either adding or cutting a year for Huang’s and Talt’s current terms or conducting the 2017 and 2019 elections as planned. There are also variances for these plans that would instead slot the city’s elections during the statewide June primary.
“Most cities that I’ve talked to are choosing to extend [terms],” said City Clerk Veronica Ruiz.
One group of residents takes issue with that plan, specifically at the idea of sitting politicians voting to extend their terms without the public’s opinion. They also pointed out that Yung, Sun and Ward are termed out of running for re-election and could potentially vote to essentially delay that by a year.
“We believe it’s time to get some new people on the council,” said resident Dale Pederson, speaking for other residents. “How can an incumbent city council member elect to extend his own term by a year?”
Pederson said he and others plan to propose to the Council that the 2017 election should proceed as normal and there should be a separate item for voters to modify Huang’s and Talt’s terms accordingly.
“I think that’s the only fair way to do it,” Pederson said.
Election data shows San Marino well exceeds the 25% threshold tied to this law. Most recently, the 2015 election, which put Huang and Talt on the City Council (there were no contested school board seats), drew a 38% turnout of the 8,419 registered voters.
By comparison, voters in San Marino showed up in droves for the last four statewide and national races. Although only 42% of the 8,592 voters showed up to polls in 2014, an enormous 72%, 61% and 81% voted in 2012, 2010 and 2008, respectively. The 2012 and 2008 elections were, of course, presidential elections.
With those averages, the city would have to have had at least a 48% turnout last year, according to the city’s data. Instead, it fell more than 10% below that.
Additional data shows this is generally the trend. The 2013 election (in which there were no City Council seats contested), the turnout was 22% out of 8,738 voters. Before that, 2011’s election saw a 30% turnout, 2009’s a 24% turnout and 2007’s a paltry 13% turnout.
Pederson has supported the move of elections to even years because of the potential to draw more voters for the local issues and candidates.
“I don’t think you can ever argue against that,” he said. “Typically the more people who vote, the better.”

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