Voters may weigh in on voting change

The decision whether to keep the city’s at-large voting system or split the community into districts could be up to local voters next spring as the Glendale City Council is leaning toward placing the question on a ballot.

The council on Tuesday directed City Atty. Mike Garcia to draft several versions of what the ballot language could look like to be brought back for a vote next week.

Last December, the city received a letter from lawyer Kevin Shenkman threatening to sue because he claimed Glendale discriminates against Latinos because they have poor representation on the dais, an alleged violation of the California Voting Rights Act.

Garcia said Shenkman would have to demonstrate how voting was racially polarized, which is at the center of lawsuits that have been filed against several other Southland communities.

“We feel like we have a very strong case if we were ever challenged under the California Voting Rights Act,” Garcia said. “Our demographics, as you are well aware, are very different than the Palmdales and Santa Claritas and Whittiers that were subject to this lawsuit.”

But to ensure the city won’t be sued, Garcia said Glendale could switch to council districts.

The current at-large system lets residents vote for a council member regardless of where they live in the city, while the district system would draw up boundaries to possibly give minorities a better chance of winning representation by voting for someone from their own neighborhood.

Such a change would require a charter amendment, which must be approved by voters.

Garcia presented several examples of how the district could be split up, such as creating five districts, seven districts or even a hybrid of an at-large system and council districts.

If council districts were put in place, the earliest a council member could be elected under the new system would be in the 2017 election, when three seats will up for grabs.

But the process of how to draw up boundaries will be decided later because, as for now, council members want to bring the question of “yes” or “no” on districts before voters in April.

“We’re not ready tonight to put anything further on the ballot,” said Councilwoman Laura Friedman. “We need a lot more input from the public. We need to take it one step at a time.”

Garcia said he would bring back several alternatives to be considered, including one version that would let voters decide whether they want the final say on how the boundaries would look.

Mayor Zareh Sinanyan said the final decision on what kind of districting is to be employed should be up to constituents.

Councilman Ara Najarian said one concern he had about crossing over to council districts was because citizens would go from having five representatives on the council to one. He then gave an example of how council representation works in Los Angeles.

“If you are living in a council district in Los Angeles, you are represented by one person only and, God forbid, that council person does not listen to you,” he said. “You are not going to go to any other council district because it’s hands off. There is an unwritten rule that no other council person is going to interfere in that other council person’s district.”

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