The San Marino City Council will hold its next two regularly scheduled elections—in November of 2017 and 2019—as planned, and transition to even-numbered years in November of 2022.
The council’s decision will not extend the terms of any of its sitting members; however, council members elected in 2017 and 2019 will serve five-year terms.
Council Members Steve Talt and Steven Huang, both of whom were elected in 2015, are eligible to run for reelection in 2019, which would result in a five-year second term for both men.
The unanimous decision was in response to a new state law, which prohibits cities and other political subdivisions from holding their elections on dates not concurrent with statewide elections, if holding elections on non-concurrent dates previously resulted in “a significant decrease in voter turnout.” Significant decrease in voter turnout is described as voter turnout at least 25 percent less than the average voter turnout for the previous four statewide general elections.
Though the council unanimously approved the change, Talt was not initially on board to decide the matter at the Dec. 14 council meeting.
“To rush in and do something when indeed we don’t need to do something until Jan. 1, 2018 may be ill-advised at this point,” said Talt, stating that the city should hold elections in Nov. 2017 and Nov. 2019 before transitioning to even-numbered years. “I’m personally not convinced that turnout is necessarily all the time greater,” he noted, referring to voter turnout in November, a general election, compared to voter turnout in June, a primary election.
“There are also problems with having our electorate lose sight as to our city council election. Battling against a presidential election can be very difficult. There’s a lot of noise out there,” Talt added. “I’m not convinced we have adequate research at this point to ascertain what would be the best,” he summarized, requesting more research in regards to potential cost savings related to the June and November options.
“I think its better if we make that decision right now, then we could let the voters decide,” Huang countered. “I think the purpose for making this change is to increase voter participation, so I think November is better than June.”
Huang also asked Talt to “bear in mind [that] in June it might be vacation time.”
Talt eventually conceded, “If our elder statesmen want to move forward, I’m more than happy to.”
Mayor Richard Sun and Council Member Allan Yung both indicated their intentions to act on the matter that evening.
“Between June and November, November would be the one that I would prefer,” Sun said, noting that the “the perception is better.”
“The earlier we make the decision the more time they have to prepare themselves,” Sun added, referring to residents interested in running for one of three open seats in Nov., 2017.
Comments made during the public comments portion of the meeting confirmed Sun’s statement.
“I’m seriously looking at running next year and having that clarity would help,” said San Marino resident Ken Ude.
“In fairness to the citizens who are thinking about running now for council in Nov. 2017, I think it would be important to make that decision as early as possible for their sake and the city’s,” said Dale Pederson.
Four more residents also expressed support for the earliest possible determination by the council.
City Attorney Steve Dorsey addressed the council’s concerns regarding the election change’s impact on the city’s utility user tax, which expires in March, 2027, and public safety tax, which expires in June, 2020.
“Under Proposition 218, the city council has to hold an election on raising taxes or certain kinds of fees, at an election at which council members are elected, unless the city council, by a unanimous vote, declares that there’s a fiscal emergency, and then [the council] can call a special election,” Dorsey said.
Vice Mayor Richard Ward, who remained quiet during the conversation, rounded out the council’s discussion.
“I find it ironic that three councilmen who already voted them six extra months in office already, now have it in their power to extend their term yet another 12 months. It’s delicious,” Ward said, referring to the council’s decision to move its election from March to November after the city’s 2009 election.
The San Marino School Board decided two months ago to transition to even-numbered year elections beginning in Nov. 2018, which extends the terms of all sitting school board members.