Council, School Board Grapple with New Election Dates, Models

State voting changes called ‘most fundamentally transformational election revisions in many years’; Students present Youth Master Plan

Published : Friday, February 17, 2017 | 6:12 AM

Appropriately enough, elections and schools were the main topics of conversation Thursday evening as the Pasadena City Council and the Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education met for a joint meeting in Council Chambers at City Hall.

The first item in a short but busy agenda was a set of two state bills that LA County Registrar/Recorder Division Manager  Aaron Nevarez called the “most fundamentally transformational election revisions in many years.”

The first—Senate Bill 415, known as the “California Voter Participation Rights Act”—approved by Governor September 1, 2015 to take effect January 2018, would mandate that odd year elections or elections other than those held in June or November are no longer “statewide elections.”June or November even-year elections would be considered “statewide elections,” according to a presentation by Nevarez.

The new Elections Code section 14052 would prohibit local cities or school districts from holding elections on non-statewide dates if the turnout in any one of the four previous elections is 25% less than the average of the last four statewide elections.

According to Nevarez’s report, the new arrangement maximizes election turnout potential, since typically, November statewide elections have thehighest participation) Also, said Nevarez, election costs would likely be lower since more entities have elections on this date and the costs would be spread over a larger group.

And, according to a staff report by the City Clerk’s office, the new election code requires that all local elections that occur on “off-year” election dates to shift to statewide election dates—June and November of even years—when local voter turnout rates average 25% less than statewide rates for the same political subdivision.

In order to comply with the law, general law cities and local agencies in the state will be required to transition to statewide election dates by no later than the November 2022 election cycle, the report stated. For Los Angeles County, this change will affect nearly all of the 88 cities that hold off-year elections, including Pasadena. A number of cities have already transitioned to statewide election dates.

The deadline for cities to declare an intention to transition to statewide dates is set for January 1, 2018.

The second bill, SB 450, known as the “California Voter’s Choice Act (CVCA)” will significantly change the the way elections are held in California.

The Voter’s Choice Act will offers options to counties such as all-mail ballot elections, or large voting centers utilizing a ten-day voting window.

According to the City Clerk’s report, this voting model is based on one developed and used in Colorado, where turnout rates and voter participation are among the highest levels in the country. In place of neighborhood voting sites, larger voting centers will be open for 10 days, will offer a wide range of election services to assist voters, and utilize modern voting equipment designed to be more accessible and voter friendly. Ballots and voting booths would be far more interactive in the new elections, said Nevarez.

Since Pasadena is a charter city with a City Manager and a mayor, City staff requested a clarification from the State Attorney General’s Office on the applicability of the California Voter Participation Rights Act (CVPRA) on charter cities, including when Board of Education elections are governed and contained in a city charter, as is the case for PUSD, said the Clerk’s report.

The Attorney General’s Office has been so far been unable to review and provide the determination.

The City Clerk’s report also noted that the City’s current election vendor, Martin & Chapman, “has been negatively affected by the recent changes in law. “

Although, said the clerk’s report, it now appears that the City’s vendor will be available to provide election consultant services through the 2019 election cycle, “anything beyond that point is uncertain.”

The report noted that the City Clerk’s Office is not structured, nor is it in a position, to handle election services on an in-house basis, so the obvious and best positioned entity (if no other viable vendor exists) is the County of Los Angeles’ Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk.

Councilmember Steve Madison expressed some discomfort with the new laws, noting that he did not necessarily want the City to be a “first adopter” of the new technology, and called the new rules “negative changes.”

Madison also expressed concern over what he termed “crowded ballots” and the effect the new ballots would have on down-ballot candidates and issues.

Councilmember Victor Gordo also agreed with Madison to some extent, and noted that Pasadena is a “complex city,” and he wanted some assurance that Pasadena “have say every step of the way” as dates are selected and new elections changes are implemented.

Councilmember Gene Masuda also perhaps found the new changes daunting, saying, “I’m concerned about the effect of longer ballots on seniors who might find this all confusing.”

Margaret McAustin noted the interactive aspect of the new ballots, and said, “I really like the new technology.” Having had a chance to try it out before the meeting, she said, “It was graphically so much better, and regardless of your age, it’s intuitive, and you have the chance to go forward and backward, and change your mind, and you don’t have check those tiny dots, and I think it’s exciting.”

McAustin also expressed concern, however, over what she termed the loss of local control.

“If we had to go to June and November for our elections, that would be terrible for our voters,” she said, explaining, “the municipal election would lose importance on the ballot, and it would be difficult for us as a city to keep our issues at the forefront.”

Meanwhile, the leaders and students behind the new Youth Master Plan for young students in Pasadena presented their promised update before the crowded meeting and chamber.

As led by Christy Zamani and a number of local high school students from Pasadena schools, the 25-page Master Plan, which was developed over the past year, centered on the vision that “All of Pasadena’s children and youth can succeed today and tomorrow.”

Zamani also noted that the Master Plan, as presented, would require no fiscal contribution from either the School District or the City Council.

As the report read, “So often, a vision focuses on a future outcome; however, it is important to note that many of the young people who participated in the process asked that everyone remain mindful that succeeding today is also important. The more the YMP Planning Team discussed the barriers to progress from the community’s perspective, the more evident it became that the Team needed to identify a set of guiding principles to complete this work. Community members wanted to make certain that the team would craft a plan that focuses on all young people from birth through 18 who reside in the city of Pasadena.”

Presented by three young Pasadena students, the Youth Master Plan “recognizes and addresses the inequities that limit the life chances of some young people and the lack of services to address these inequities, and establishes a comprehensive, measurable set of goals that include (but are not limited to) academic success.”

The Plan also identifies a range of solutions – from broad strategies that will increase economic opportunities to focused strategies that will augment youth resilience – all aimed at improving youth outcomes across the board.

Noting that the wide-ranging, comprehensive Plan requires commitment and collaboration across youth-serving organizations, systems and sectors, and accountability by the city’s elected and public officials, the plan recognizes the need to collect useful data, as well as to better train service providers and officials to use the data to prioritize resources and improve services.

The Master Plan Planning Team, comprised of more than 100 youth, parents, administrative and community leaders, generated six priority areas and defined a specific set of goals under each Priority Area, along with strategies for accomplishing each goal.

The Master Plan also identified six major priority goals:

  • Access to Healthy Food environments: youth should have access to a variety of choices and have high-quality foods available to them at all times.
  • Life Ready: a Pasadena community that is committed to support opportunities for enrichment, higher education, and careers for all youth.
  • Feeling Free To Be Me:ensure all Pasadena youth are living/thriving in a safe, supportive, and bully-free environment, especially at home, school and other places where they interact in our community.
  • United youth support: create a comprehensive support system that connects all aspects of youth development.
  • Buses & Bikes: access for all youth to an effective and more affordable public transportation system and viable methods to get around Pasadena.
  • Drugs, alcohol & Tobacco: Pasadena is committed to advancing positive health by providing youth friendly alcohol and drug prevention, intervention, and support services to youth.
  • The team identified five outcomes for children, youth and families, as well as the organizations that serve them in the City of Pasadena, noting that every child will be physically safe and healthy, every child will be academically successful and career-ready, and that every child will be socially connected, emotionally secure and culturally competent.

The Plan also noted that every family will be equipped and empowered to support the well-being of their children. Pasadena’s systems and institutions will be responsive, coordinated, efficient and effective in service to children and families.

Students presented real-life scenarios to the Board and Council, which recognized that the smallest factors have enormous effects on a student’s daily. As related to the council, conditions for PUSD students commonly range from not enough money for a bus pass to school, to going throughout a school day without a nutritious meal.

The Master Plan hopes to change those scenarios.

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