Burbank City Council to Nick Gutierrez, “Let’s Talk”

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At the Tuesday, October 3 City Council meeting, the subject of council districts was again on the agenda as the Council was to adopt for proposed Council Districts, which would be a complete upheaval of how Burbank has conducted elections for the past 100 years.

After listening to presentations and getting an update on the State Supreme Court’s ruling on the districting case in Santa Monica, Council members did a pivot and started to ask some of the questions that have been asked by many members of the public, who exactly is Nick Gutierrez, the man that the law firm Radcliff Mayes LLP says is their plaintiff.

Councilmembers asked City Attorney Joe McDougall if any member of the law firm or Gutierrez has ever contacted the City of Burbank in any way to discuss the case, how he feels disenfranchised, or what remedies he would like to see put in place to correct what he sees as a problem.

According to McDougall, since the letter was first sent to City Manager Justin Hess, dated August 20, 2022, no contact has been made by Gutierrez or any of his representatives.

Vice Mayor Nick Schultz was the first to question the process they had started and where it was going. Instead of adopting a map that would have broken the city into five council districts, he wanted to look at all of the options and explore different ways that not only elections but how the City of Burbank is governed in years to come.

His feeling was that if Burbank were, indeed, to overturn its voting system, all options should be explored. Some of the suggestions he said both the Council and the Charter Review Committee should explore include five, seven, or even more council districts, or council districts made up of part-time councilmembers and a full-time elected mayor. He wanted everything on the table.

Currently, Burbank elects five council members in an ‘at-large’ election, meaning that one vote is cast for each open seat. For example, if two seats are open and eight people are running, a voter will get two votes, with the top two candidates being elected. These elections are held every two years for a term of four years, with three seats available in one election cycle and two, two later in the other cycle. The election is open to all voters city-wide.

Currently, council members can only hire a City Attorney and a City Manager. The City Manager is then tasked with doing all the other hiring of department heads in the city and is responsible for the day-to-day operations.

With districts, you would only vote for the candidates in the district that you live in and would only vote once every four years.

Councilmembers also want to hear from Gutierrez. Most times, when someone brings up a lawsuit of this type, they want a seat at the table to discuss what they see as a problem and how they want it fixed.

The letter sent to the city has several flaws and some misinformation. In the letter, it says “The terms of existing directors would not be affected by the move to district elections.” Burbank elected officials are called Councilmembers, not Directors. The letter’s author, Jason Dominguez, also says, “There are many benefits that public agencies receive from district elections, including higher voter turn-out and more community participation.” This is nothing more than an opinion.

He also states that “Reimbursement costs are capped at around $30,000, provided the City adopts a resolution of intent to implement district elections.” Is this money that Gutierrez is looking for or the law firm?

In the draft of the Superior Court Complaint for Violation of the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 Against the City of Burbank, Dominguez points out the following:

Racial Polarization’s Impact on the City of Burbank:

Elections held within the City of Burbank are characterized by racially polarized voting.

Racially polarized voting occurs when members of a protected class –as defined by California Elections Code Sec. 14025(d) –vote for candidates or other electoral choices that differ from the rest of the electorate.

Racially polarized voting exists within the City of Burbank. There is a clear difference between the choice of candidates and other electoral choices that are preferred by voters from protected classes and the choice of candidates and other electoral choices that are preferred by voters in the rest of the electorate.

Racially polarized voting consists of both voter cohesion on the part of members of protected classes and voter cohesion by the non-protected class electorate against the choices of protected class voters.

There is no evidence, and officials have now proved that even if they were able to create council districts, Burbank is so small and the population so diverse throughout the city that it would be impossible to create a district in which any protected class would have an advantage.

Next in the draft is something that Councilmember Tamala Takahashi took exception to. The draft said “The effects of the City of Burbank’s at-large method of election are apparent and compelling. Notwithstanding that approximately 43% of the population of City of Burbank are members of protected classes, apparently only three members of protected classes have been elected to the City of Burbank City Council since 2001. The deficiency of members from protected classes as candidates elected to the City of Burbank City Council reveals the lack of access to the political process.

Voters from protected classes are harmed by racially polarized voting. 20. At least three members of protected classes would have been nominated for or elected to the City Council in the City of Burbank since 2001: John Dominguez in 2001, Juan Guillen in 2015, and Tamala Takahashi in 2020.”

Takahashi pointed out that her last name is her married name and she is not a part of the protected class referenced here. This means the writer of the letter has little knowledge of Burbank. Also, by including those three names, many others were left off, such as Jess Talamantes or Bob Frutos, who both just observed on the Council, or even Marsha Ramos who served as Mayor twice. A search of the records for the past 20 years would find many Councilmembers and candidates were in the protected class.

At the end of the meeting the Council unanimously voted to ask the City Manager to come back to them at a later time with reports on the following:

  • Contact the Los Angeles County Clerk regarding the feasibility of cumulative voting for residents and return with a first-step report on cumulative voting that addresses any expected impact on voter representation in Burbank.
  • Direct the Charter Review Committee to consider the size and composition of the City Council, consider various iterations of districts, the possibility of a separately elected Mayor, and a re-districting process.
  • Invite the prospective plaintiff to participate in the future discussion to ensure any potential outcome addresses the concerns posed by the initial notice.

Burbank’s next election cycle is November of 2024, with both Nick Schultz and Konstantine Anthony up for reelection.

Councilmembers also inquired if the Burbank Unified School District had taken this up and were told that not only have they discussed it, but they have already passed District Elections.

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