Non-Binding Tally Shows Majority of Councilmembers Favor Adopting State Election Cycle

Informal tally shows support for not challenging Attorney General’s Election Date opinion, but questions remain

Published : Tuesday, October 17, 2017 | 5:41 AM

Following a long meeting which ran past midnight Monday evening, an informal “straw poll” by the Pasadena City Council revealed the body will likely not challenge the California Attorney General’s opinion that Pasadena should change its election cycles to match State and Federal elections.

Dissenting, Councilmembers John Kennedy, Gene Masuda and Tyron Hampton said the City should challenge the legal opinion.

The poll was informal and non-binding.

Should the City Council eventually decide to offer a change in the City Charter to voters, it would be to clarify the types of elections to be held and when those elections will be held, according to comments Monday.

The Council’s discussion was prompted by State Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s Opinion No. 16-603, which said that the California Voter Participation Rights Act applies to charter cities and school districts whose elections are governed by City Charter, as are Pasadena’s.

The Act “prohibits a political subdivision (Such as the City of Pasadena), as defined, from holding an election other than on a statewide election date, if holding an election on a nonconcurrent date has previously resulted in voter turnout for a regularly scheduled election in that political subdivision being at least 25% less than the average voter turnout within the political subdivision for the previous 4 statewide general elections, except as specified.”

City Attorney Michele Bagneris allowed during the discussions that she thought the State ruling was “erroneous.”

“We have a ways to travel,” said Mayor Terry Tornek after the meeting, “but the majority of the Council seems to feel that, because of all the pieces involved here, that we’re going to have to move to the State dates.”

The decision to move to adopt the State recommendation would still leave a number of questions to be answered, the Mayor explained.

“The questions relate to which dates we go to,” said Tornek. “For example, will we still insist on having a primary and a runoff, which would now be (held in) March and November? Or do we move, as many cities have, to a plurality election, with no runoff, and that could be either March or November.”

“Any changes we make or recommend,” Tornek continued, “mean we have to take the question to the voters, and that’s likely to happen in May or June of 2018.”

Tornek said that the City would also have to decide what would happen to current Councilmembers’ terms.

“Do we extend them? Do we cut them off?,” he asked, rhetorically.

Much of the Council discussion centered around the cost of the City holding its own elections, which City Clerk Mark Jomsky told the Council would initially cost upwards of $540,000 for just the initial investment in the equipment and materials required.

The City’s current election vendor, when LA County does not manage their election, is Martin & Chapman, who, according to Jomsky, is now in danger of folding, due to the current consolidation of elections.

A number of cities have already voted to coincide their elections with the state dates, including Long Beach, which originally voted to hold their own city-run elections, but then eventually decided to consolidate with the state dates.

Election costs of consolidated elections would be shared by all cities or districts holding elections at the same time, said Jomsky.

“We could always buy materials from Long Beach,” joked Councilmember Steve Madison.

Should the City Council eventually change direction, and decide to continue to attempt to hold its own elections, it would be subject to to a lawsuit by the State, which could be also be initiated by a voter.

Responding to Councilmember John Kennedy’s question as to the cost of challenging the Attorney General opinion, a representative of the City Attorney’s office, said, “We don’t challenge them. We simply hold our own elections, and we wait for them to sue us.”

Separately, the City Council also engaged in a lengthy discussion over a staff recommendation to begin exploring new park space in the Playhouse District. A number of business owners in the area implored to the council not to remove any more parking spaces, as their businesses are dependent on their existence.

The Council stopped short of a formal recommendation to begin exploring park locations, opting instead to direct City staff to “explore possible park locations, but look closely at the economic issues involved,” as Councilmember John Kennedy directed.

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