Legal Hitch May Keep Thousands In District 4 From Voting For New City Councilmember
CAVANAUGH: The legal hitch that may keep some residents of the newly drawn San Diego City Council district 4 from voting in a special election. Katie Orr explains. (Audio Recording) ORR: Former San Diego City Council president Tony Young started out his new year by officially tendering his resignation. He left the council to take over the local chapter of the American red cross. Now the clock has started ticking. San Diego has less than 90 days to hold a special election to replace Young in district 4. Council president Todd Gloria says the city is looking at a tentative date of March 26th. NEW SPEAKER: We're working to try and consolidate that special election with another state special election which would have the benefit of saving the city approximately $100,000. ORR: Recent city redistricting is also complicating the election. Gloria says city code mandates, candidates, and voters for those candidates live within the old boundaries of district 4 that. Means anyone living in the newly added neighborhoods of Redwood village and Rolando park cannot take park in the district election. That code will likely not be fixed in time for the election. But all district 4 residents, he says, will be represented. NEW SPEAKER: For the people of district 4, they will continue to be well-served by the people that have been serving them for many years now. They should continue to call and e-mail the office the way they have in the past until the new council members get it. ORR: He expects the City Council to formally declare a vacancy in district 4 next week. CAVANAUGH: And joining me to talk about how this transition will take place is Katie Keach, communications director for City Council president Todd Gloria. KEACH: Thank you so much. CAVANAUGH: We heard in Katie Orr's piece that Todd Gloria will oversee the district 4 staff between now and the time a new council member is chosen. What does that oversight entail? KEACH: Well, I think the most important thing to say is that district 4 continues to be open for service. They know the neighborhoods, they know the people, and they know the issues. So we're pretty confident that they will be able to continue to serve that community well. For council president Gloria, that means he is there to assist in any way possible, he is there to provide oversight and guidance. CAVANAUGH: Right. Now, if someone in district 4 would need help, would they just go to the district 4 website? KEACH: Absolutely. CAVANAUGH: As usual? KEACH: Absolutely. And the same phone number works. 619-236-6344. The e-mail address has changed. It is now council district4@SanDiego.gov. The old ones will be forwarded though. CAVANAUGH: And what about the district 4 office on Euclid? KEACH: That I'm not sure about yet. CAVANAUGH: How will votes be conducted at the City Council without a district 4 representative? KEACH: Council president Gloria, as much as he's looking forward to having a full compliment of nine council members when the new one is seated, San Diegans deserve and expect their city government to continue to function. We can't press the pause button for four months. So as far as district 4 folks having a say, definitely contact their council office, contact the president's office with any input they have on policy issue, and they'll be taken into consideration when the council votes. CAVANAUGH: And do you foresee or does Gloria foresee any votes being delayed because there's one council member that's basically absent? KEACH: At this time, we're going forward with the full docket. But of course we'll take things as they come as we always do with the city. CAVANAUGH: Talk to us a little bit about what's going to happen at the City Council next Monday about this vacancy left by Tony Young's departure. KEACH: The City Council will have to decide when to hold the special election. It has to be within 90 days of the vacancy. And as Katie Orr's piece started, the city clerk is recommending an election date of March 26th, which may allow it to be consolidated with the state Senate special election. CAVANAUGH: Which would save us -- KEACH: About $100,000. CAVANAUGH: Will the council also be hearing from the city attorney's office about this flap about who is eligible to vote in this special election? KEACH: Absolutely. Council president Gloria is very sympathetic to this issue as someone who had to move to run for reelection because of the new district lines. We're not sure if we'll be able to clean this up in time for a special election this time. But if we can get some clarity from the city attorney about what we can do to clean this up for the future, that's what we're looking for. CAVANAUGH: Katie, what do you understand as the rationale behind redistricting the vote to voters in the old district 4 boundaries? KEACH: What I understand, because this is to finish a term of a council member who is already seated using the old district lines, the new person will just be filling in, basically, and has to be elected using the same lines. CAVANAUGH: So basically the same pool of voters who voted in Tony Young should be the voters who vote in his successor according to this little hitch in the municipal code. KEACH: It sounds like that's what the people who wrote that law thought, that it would make some sense. Now in practice, as with so many other things, they might not seem very logical, then as soon as we have to use them, they raise a lot of questions. CAVANAUGH: Just to be clear, the council members in the various districts are now representing people in the newly redrawn boundary, right? KEACH: Correct. So the new district 4 representative, no matter what lines they are voted through, will be representing the new lines. They will be representing areas that they might not have even gotten votes from. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Did anybody expect this to be so complicated? KEACH: I don't think so. [ LAUGHTER ] CAVANAUGH: One last question for you, we say that the City Council has 90 days to hold this special election. But if there are a lot of candidates, might there be a runoff? KEACH: Correct. And that would have to happen within 45 more days. CAVANAUGH: So it might be a considerable stretch of time while district 4 finds itself without its proper kind of representation? Although City Councilman Todd Gloria is going to try his best to fold down the fort there. KEACH: True. We look forward to having a full compliment of City Council members, but we'll do our best in the interim. CAVANAUGH: I'd like to welcome the president of the redwood village council. Anna, welcome. ORZEL-ARNITA: Thank you, Maureen. CAVANAUGH: Your neighborhood is likely one of those to be excluded from the vote that we just talked about. How do residents feel about that? ORZEL-ARNITA: I am hearing from residents all the time now. How would you feel if you were told you would not be able to vote for the representative who's going to represent you in your district? We were totally taken by surprise with this ordinance and didn't even find out about it until 12 / 31, I think it came to light. Community members want to vote. They have the constitutional right, and they feel like they should be able to vote in this new election for their district. CAVANAUGH: Do we have any idea of how many people who are in the newly drawn district 4 might be disenfranchised? ORZEL-ARNITA: I have an estimate. Roughly the district is about 143,000 people. We're about 7% of that population between redwood village and Rolando park. It's about 10,000 community member, and about five thousand of those are registered voters. So what happened when the change occurred, roughly 92% of the voters have remained the same. But there were some communities like Mount Hope and a portion of Mount View and South crest that are west of it, and they moved into district 9. But about 6,000 voters went to district 9, and then with the addition of redwood village and Rolando park we added about 5,000 voters. It's interesting. Redwood village and Rolando park now will not get a vote in the special election. But those community members, I believe, that have moved to district 9 not only voted for district 9, but now they will be in addition able to vote for a council member who will not represent their district. So they're getting two votes, and we get zero. It's just not right! [ LAUGHTER ] CAVANAUGH: I have read stories about this where people explain this as saying that the people who voted for Tony Young, that voter pool should be the ones that vote for his replacement and that this is the way special elections are held when people resign, and you have to vote for someone to finish a particular term. Does that argument resonate with you at all? ORZEL-ARNITA: You know, it doesn't. Only because we're a new district. We're broken up differently now. We've got new members in there. And we're going forward. New district, new year, new council member. CAVANAUGH: Now, were you thinking of running for this council seat? ORZEL-ARNITA: I actually was. I intended to run in 2014 when Tony Young stepped down. Of course his resignation changed the timeline. CAVANAUGH: Right. And you are therefore in this special election not eligible? ORZEL-ARNITA: I am not eligible according to the ordinance. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Because you would have to live in the old district. ORZEL-ARNITA: The old district boundaries, yes. When I spoke with Elizabeth at the city clerk's office, she showed me the ordinance. CAVANAUGH: That must have been a great conversation! [ LAUGHTER ] ORZEL-ARNITA: Well, it was just a surprise. When I found out that the election was going to be run along the old boundary line, which is exactly what she told me, and we looked at the ordinance and it said candidates must reside within the old district lines. And so I understood that, you know, I'm not going to be able to run at this time. CAVANAUGH: Now, were the communities excluded from voting by the municipal code for this special election in district 4, are they typically active? ORZEL-ARNITA: They're very active. Both redwood village and Rolando park have amazing constituents. We have members sitting on the eastern area community planning committee, we had them on the crossroads pac, the mobility study. We have so many projects that we are concerned about, and that we've been active in, and just having our voice out there. The turnout is amazing. CAVANAUGH: And what district did you used to be in? ORZEL-ARNITA: We used to be in district 7 under Marti Emerald. CAVANAUGH: Did you work with her on projects? ORZEL-ARNITA: Oh, yes. We just recently did one as well with Tony Young. We did a community enhancement project where we introduced a bunch of public art into our community. We painted in conjunction with Grossmont college art student, we painted 14 electrical boxes and trash cans to enhance the neighborhood. And thank you very much to council member young and his staff, they were able to help secure funding through connecting us with a local business. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So it makes it doubly a problem for you, the fact that you are so active in city politics to be potentially excluded from this vote. ORZEL-ARNITA: Yes, excluded from the vote. I am very appreciative that Todd Gloria has stepped up and said that we would still have the same continuity in services. CAVANAUGH: Now, we heard that the City Council is going to be hearing about this on Monday. ORZEL-ARNITA: Yes. CAVANAUGH: They're going to be hearing from the city attorney's office and deciding on a special election date. Are you going to be attending that meeting? ORZEL-ARNITA: I will be attending that meeting. And I do know that many redwood village and Rolando park community members will be attending as well. They just want to say give us our vote. We want to be able to vote for our representative. So the City Council will hear from them. CAVANAUGH: From what you've heard so far, is there a chance that this might be turned around? Or is it too late for this particular vote? ORZEL-ARNITA: Maureen, I always like to think that there's a chance. [ LAUGHTER ] ORZEL-ARNITA: I'm an optimist. Let's see. We want to approach the City Council. Can something be done? We look forward to hearing from the city attorney as to whether something could be done. And we don't want to delay an election or anything, but we certainly want to know if there's a chance to get our 5,000 votes in there. CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much. ORZEL-ARNITA: Thank you so much.
A perfect storm of unusual election events may keep some residents of the newly redistricted San Diego City Council District 4 from being able to vote for their own City Council representative.
Former San Diego City Council President, and District 4 representative, Tony Young is leaving the council, which means San Diego has less than 90 days to hold a special election to replace him. But redistricting has changed the boundaries of District 4, and city code mandates voters live within the old boundaries of District 4. That means anyone living in the newly added neighborhoods of Redwood Village and Rolando Park cannot take part in the district election.
Council President Todd Gloria called the result "an unfair situation." He said he's still researching the reasoning behind this code.
"It's my understanding that it was at some direction of the state of California," he told KPBS.
Redwood Village and Rolando Park residents have been vocal in calling this situation unfair, and Gloria said he agrees with them.
"When it brought to my attention, I just couldn't believe it," he said. "But it's what we're dealing with."
Some residents of the new District 9 will also get to vote in the District 4 election, which means voting for a representative who will never represent them.
Also excluded from the District 4 election are candidates residing in Redwood Village and Rolando Park. Anna Orzel-Arnita, president of the Redwood Village Community Council, told KPBS she would have liked to run but is excluded because of these rules.
"I intended to run in 2014 when Tony Young stepped down," she said. "Of course his resignation changed the timeline."
Orzel-Arnita estimates about 5,000 registered voters live in the two disenfranchised neighborhoods, or about 7 percent of the district's population. She said those residents are very civically active.
"Both Redwood Village and Rolando Park have amazing constituents," she said. "We have so many projects that we are concerned about, and that we've been active in, and just having our voice out there. The turnout is amazing."
Gloria said City Council can change the code, which he hopes to do, but said the code's origination with the state may make it difficult to do. He said they are consulting with the city attorney, and will be presented with a number of options, "hopefully all of them legal," at Monday's City Council meeting.
On Monday, the City Council will vote on when to hold the special election. The city clerk is recommending an election date of March 26, which could allow it to be consolidated with a special election to fill state Senator Juan Vargas' seat.
Gloria said that code will likely not be fixed in time for the election. But he said all District 4 residents will be represented by the same staff until a new councilmember is elected.
Orzel-Arnita said many residents of Redwood Village and Rolando Park will be at the Monday meeting, and said she still harbors hope that the code can change.
"I'm an optimist. Let's see," she said. "We want to approach the City Council. Can something be done? We look forward to hearing from the city attorney as to whether something could be done. And we don't want to delay an election or anything, but we certainly want to know if there's a chance to get our 5,000 votes in there."