Threatened with a lawsuit that claims its electoral system discriminates against Latino voters, the Glendale City Council will consider next month whether to place a measure on the spring ballot that would scrap the city’s at-large voting system in favor of council districts.
Attorney Kevin Shenkman recently sent a letter to the city threatening to file suit, alleging that the city’s election system violates the California Voting Rights Act. Shenkman wants the city to create specific geographic council districts to replace the current system.
The City Council is scheduled to decide at its Dec. 9 meeting whether to put the issue to a vote next April.
During a public discussion about the issue at City Hall last week, City Atty. Michael Garcia said that Shenkman would have to show specifically how the city’s electoral system is discriminatory and how it results in polarized voting.
Garcia pointed out that Latinos have been elected to the council in the past.
Latinos represent about 17% of Glendale’s 196,000 residents, according to U.S. Census data.
“If you look at the demographics in our city as it pertains to Latinos, you would not create a district where you would increase the likelihood of a Latino council member,” Garcia said.
He also noted, however, that no California city has won a lawsuit challenging its at-large election system. Anaheim residents earlier this month voted to create city council districts; the measure was placed on the ballot after a similar lawsuit was filed against the city. The cities of Bell and Palmdale have also been sued over their at-large systems.
In October, the Glendale Community College Board of Trustees passed a resolution to switch from an at-large to a district system, while the Glendale Board of Education will also vote Dec. 9 on whether to put the issue before voters.
For Glendale, fighting a lawsuit over its election system could cost the city between $3.5 million and $5 million, Garcia said.
“I feel very confident that we would have a very strong case if we were sued on this particular statute, but I can’t guarantee it,” he said.
One resident said she was unhappy that no current council members lived near her Adams Hill neighborhood.
“Those councilmen all live in the far north, so of course they have no interest in our end of town,” said Margaret Hammond.
But others questioned the need for a change. Though there have been several candidates in recent years from south Glendale, none have won.
“I don’t think the mentality of the voters of south Glendale is ‘let’s have a candidate from our area,’ because the choice was there,” said Vartan Gharpetian, a former resident of the area.
Gharpetian, who now lives north of the 134 Freeway, has announced his intention to run for council in April.
Mikailian writes for Times Community News.