Due to state compliance requirements and rising election costs, the Glendale City Council decided the city can no longer run its own general municipal elections every odd year in April and voted Tuesday to craft an amendment to the city charter that would consolidate them with state primaries.
The proposal, which is expected to head to Glendale voters in the upcoming general election in April as a ballot measure, would amend the city charter to align with Senate Bill 415, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015. It requires statewide elections to consolidate.
Also known as the California Voter Participation Rights Act, SB 415 prohibits local governments from holding a municipal election on a date other than a statewide election if the voter turnout for the previous four local elections is "at least 25% less than the average voter turnout for the previous four statewide elections."
According to a staff report, the turnout rates for Glendale's elections "fall short of any threshold that would allow exemption from the law," and therefore, the city should consolidate elections or face potential legal challenges.
Although Glendale's elections are run by city charter, City Clerk Ardy Kassakhian said that in a July opinion by state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, it was concluded that the state act "applies to charter cities, and to local school districts whose elections are governed by city charters."
The council also had to consider that, according to Kassakhian, the Anaheim-based election consultant that administers Glendale's municipal elections, Martin & Chapman Co., has only committed to providing its services to California cities until 2019.
If Glendale were to maintain an April election date as it has currently, the costs would be between $1.3 million and $2.3 million, depending on the number of seats on the ballot. L.A. County estimates a consolidated election would cost around $250,000 during primaries or about $230,000 during general elections.
"The costs of the last three Glendale elections have been rising, in part, because … the CVPRA has been implemented and more cities have been consolidating with the county," Kassakhian said.
With a few options on the table, council members decided to consolidate local elections with whenever California runs its primaries — in this case, March 2020 and 2022.
The change would extend the terms of council members elected in 2015 — Vartan Gharpetian and Paula Devine — and those elected this year — Vrej Agajanian, Zareh Sinanyan and Ara Najarian — by 11 months.
The City Clerk and City Treasurer terms would also be extended the same amount of time.
Najarian, Gharpetian, Sinanyan and Agajanian opted to consolidate with the county during state primaries over concerns that local issues would get muffled by national issues and state measures that normally accompany November elections.
"If we have the type of presidential election we had last year, our local elections are going to be completely subsumed by national elections and the statewide elections," Sinanyan said. "Our local issues will become … overshadowed by the issues that are out there on a national level … We want to retain some autonomy … in our ability to put our local issues out there for voters."
Devine preferred to consolidate during general elections, citing state Sen. Anthony Portantino's (D-La Cañada Flintridge) Senate Bill 25, which proposes to switch the order of ballots in general elections so local offices and measures appear first.
Devine, however, joined her colleagues for a unanimous vote to consolidate with state primaries.
City staff will return with a proposed amendment in January for voters to decide in April. However, City Atty. Mike Garcia said even if voters reject consolidation, there is still "a very strong argument" that state law would preempt the voters' decision.