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.”

Railroad Heritage at Crowell Library Monday

Wendell “Mort” Mortimer, president of the Los Angeles Railroad Heritage Foundation, said he inherited his lifelong enthusiasm for all things railroad from his father.
“He took us around to see all of the trains, the street cars, the urban cars,” Mortimer recalled in a phone interview last week.
Now, with a lifetime of research and interest on his résumé, Mortimer enjoys sharing the passion that has driven him. His next stop will be before the San Marino Historical Society on Monday, Oct. 24, at 7 p.m. at the Crowell Public Library.
With him, he’ll bring a collection of historical photographs — many a century old — showcasing the glory days of the railroad in Los Angeles County and its influence on the communities, San Marino included.
“Most of these are 100 years old,” Mortimer said. “These are steam trains and urban cars that don’t exist anymore. Many of them shaped the way our communities look.”
The clearest example of that in San Marino, where Mortimer has resided for 50 years, is the median dividing Huntington Drive into two one-way streets. That median once housed the fire engine-red street car so depicted on the mural adjacent to the San Marino Fire Station.
“They really helped dictate where the businesses landed,” Mortimer said on the rail’s influence in its heyday.
Mortimer grew up in South Pasadena and made his name as a lawyer after earning degrees from Occidental College and USC’s Gould School of Law. He also served as a Los Angeles Superior Court judge for 12 years and currently serves on Occidental College’s board of governors.
More locally, Mortimer attends San Marino Community Church and is a past president of San Marino City Club. The aforementioned street car mural has Mortimer’s fingerprints, too — he advised the artist on its rendering and donated relevant wood samples to ensure the artist had the correct colors.
Preceding his talk, Mortimer said he’s gotten a lot of phone calls expressing either excitement at attending or regret for being unable to listen in. Los Angeles, long infamous for infuriating automobile traffic, has started reviving its interest in the rail, Mortimer said.
“That’s definitely the trend,” he said, pointing out the Metro Gold Line’s recent extension along the 210 Freeway to Asuza. “It’s expensive, but it’s getting a lot of riders. It’s a good thing because the freeways are already overburdened.”
Taking the metro to work, to Mortimer, had an air of romantic nostalgia to it. At least, it sounded more relaxing than sitting in traffic.
“You could just sit back, close your eyes, read the paper, catch up on your mail,” he said.
For his talk, Mortimer has prepared a slideshow with a swath of the photographs he was able to unearth through virtue of the Railroad Heritage Foundation.
“We have 12,000 or 13,000 pictures,” he said. “I kind of knew where the ones I wanted to look at were. I was pleasantly surprised at how many there were for San Marino. The pictures, as far as I know, haven’t seen the light of day since they were taken.”

Fire Dept.’s Cardiac Gear Gets a Jolt

Shortly before noon on Oct. 11, a call came in to the San Marino Fire Department about an electrical shock injury, causing several of the first responders to spring into action.
Firefighter Jeff Tsay, who had just wrapped up a demonstration of the department’s brand-new Zoll X-Series Monitor Defibrillator, packed up the cutting-edge piece of equipment and joined his brethren. Continue reading “Fire Dept.’s Cardiac Gear Gets a Jolt”

Having ‘The Talk’ — About Money —With Your Kids

Ron Lieber’s inspiration to author his bestselling “Opposite of Spoiled” drew largely from his readers’ questions, but it dawned much earlier when he asked himself the same questions.
The New York Times columnist, who previously wrote for the Wall Street Journal, said he was confounded when his then-3-year-old daughter asked him about money, specifically their family’s money. Continue reading “Having ‘The Talk’ — About Money —With Your Kids”

Kennedy’s Jewelry: Hope ‘By Your Side’

It had been more than a decade since Jennifer Kennedy survived breast cancer, but last fall she found herself back in another chemotherapy center. She was not dealing with a recurrence. This was worse. The same disease had now afflicted her mother, who was finishing up a round of treatment when Kennedy noticed a sickly young woman in the waiting room. Four hours later, the woman was still sitting there alone. Continue reading “Kennedy’s Jewelry: Hope ‘By Your Side’”