Burbank’s City Council met in a special session on Wednesday to discuss the next steps in potentially changing the election Burbank from at-large voting to setting up Council Districts, electing one representative from each District to serve on the Council.
There were two items on the agenda. Both items received an actual vote, with neither item being resolved.
The first item they voted on was to ask the L.A. County Registrar to look into how to administer an election based on ranked-based voting. Currently, there are no cities in the County of Los Angeles that use that system, and the vote asked the County to look into how they could, or if they could administer that. Ranked-based voting has the voter ranking candidates in order, with points given to each candidate based on the order the voter selects. With Mayor Anthony not present due to a prior family obligation, the Council voted to delay the official notification to the County (which told the City of Burbank previously that they would not start to research it without an official request) to after the March election by a 3 to 1 vote, with Councilmember Tamala Takahashi voting against the delay, saying they should put the request in now.
Next up was the ordinance to select a map and put the wheels in motion to switch to a new election process.
There are still multiple questions that have to be answered. Should they pick a specific map? Should there be only five Council Districts, or maybe six with a full-time Mayor elected? Do they elect council members by districts or implement ranked-choice voting? What should the public vote on in March as far as Charter Amendments go?
With the Mayor absent, the Council decided that there was too much at stake and wanted all five members present to make the decision so they voted to push the decisions back to their next scheduled meeting on September 12 to reexamine the process and also have time to study the decision by the California Supreme Court that was to be released the next day (Thursday) to see what their next move should be.
What the the California Supreme Court did on Thursday is actually throw the entire situation into further chaos not ruling one way or another, but sending the case back to the Appeal Court.
According to the Burbank City Attorney’s Office, “The California Supreme Court sided with the Pico Neighborhood Association and against the City of Santa Monica in its challenge to Santa Monica’s at-large system of electing its council. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the Court of Appeal for an analysis of the issues consistent with their ruling.
You can read the full ruling here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/S263972.PDF.”
The court “reversed a ruling by lower courts that had favored the City of Santa Monica, but the Justices specifically said they were not picking a winner in the case. Instead, the case should be reheard and re-evaluated under different criteria,” according to the Santa Monica Daily Press.
They also said that the Santa Monica case, “Pico Neighborhood Association et al. v. City of Santa Monica, centers on the contention that the city’s at-large voting system disproportionately discriminates against Latino voters and violates the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA). The plaintiffs argue that district-based voting should be implemented to rectify the alleged bias. The court rejected the City’s arguments about the “near majority” requirement on several fronts. However, the ruling specifically states that the decision to overturn the lower court does not mean the City’s system is invalid nor did it endorse district-based voting. Rather, it said the lower court failed to evaluate the dilution claim appropriately. So, in summary, the California Supreme Court has sent the case back to be re-evaluated under different criteria, but has not made a final decision on whether or not district-based voting should be implemented in Santa Monica.”
So, what does this mean for Burbank?
Basically, without a clear decision by the courts at this time, the ball is back in the City Council’s court. They will still have to decide if they will go to districts, what the districts will be, and how the voting will occur. The goal is to have something ready for the March 2024 election that Burbank citizens can weigh in on.
For now, the next step will be at the September 12 City Council meeting. The City Attorney’s office is preparing two different ordinances for the Council to consider:
Ordinance to adopt a 5-district map and sequencing of elections for a transition city council election from at-large to by-district elections.
Ordinance to amend the elections provisions of the Burbank Municipal Code to align with by-district elections.
The Council will also have to decide afterward as to the look and feel of districts will be initiated, or they can decide to fight in the court system to keep the at-large election system in place that has served Burbank well for 100 years.
Either way, this will affect Burbank residents for generations to come.