Starting next year, La Verne voters will no longer directly elect their mayor, which will result in the city’s transition to district-based voting.
On Monday, November 15, the city council voted 3–2 to adopt an ordinance to convert the current mayor seat to a council seat, increasing the number of council seats from four to five.
Under the new format, the city will be divided into five districts, and each voter within the district can cast one vote for a candidate living within that district. The seat of the mayor will be rotated among the members of the council.
Council members Robin Carder, Wendy Lau and Muir Davis voted in favor of the five districts, while Mayor Tim Hepburn and council member Rick Crosby dissented.
The council also selected a five-district map to be used in the next election cycle. The city had to select a map by December 15, 2021, for the general municipal election in June 2022 to take effect.
The map adopted by the council mostly uses Wheeler Avenue, Foothill Boulevard and D Street as the dividing line between the districts.
With the approval of the new map, seats in Districts 1, 3 and 4 – the ones that exist today, will be held by Davis, Carder and Hepburn respectively – will be up for election in June 2022. Elections in Districts 2 and 5 – which would be conducted by Crosby and Lau, respectively, if they were already in effect – will take place in March 2024.
If the city had retained its four council districts, it would still have been protected from potential lawsuits over state and federal Voting Rights Acts, said Douglas Johnson, president of the National Demographics Corp., which is guiding the city through the redistribution process. Is. On the other hand, Johnson said, having fewer than five council districts would reduce Latino voting power in parts of the city.
Overall, 36% of residents in La Verne are Latino, Johnson said.
“NDC’s recommendation remains that a five-district map is not required under the letter of California and the Federal Voting Rights Act, but that a five-district map would better follow the spirit of those laws than a four-district map. ,” read a city report
Under federal law, voting districts must refrain from racial gendermandering. Public agencies can be prosecuted whenever “racially polarized voting” can be shown in the system of electing their representatives according to the Act.
Davis said the decision to change the way La Verne’s mayor is elected “will move the community into a more secure governance formation.” He said the mayor’s seat is a “formal position” that has become heavily polarized in recent years.
“This road is the best way forward. It’s not a perfect path but we’re not a perfect body and we’re not a perfect city,” Davis said. “Our city and our community are hurting and we need to move forward together.”
Hepburn, who was elected mayor in March 2020, disagreed. Allowing voters to directly elect their mayor, he said, allows them to “have a voice” when the mayor works with local, state and congressional officials.
“I want to make it clear that mayor is not a formal office,” Hepburn said. “You have a direct line to that elected official, it makes a big difference.”
Since 1974, the city has held mass elections, a tradition Crosby said he wanted to keep.
Carder said the change would give every council member a chance to lead.
“We will still operate as a council,” Carder said.
The issue has become a flashpoint in recent meetings, with many residents upset over losing a directly elected mayor. Most of those who spoke at the meeting on Monday urged the council to uphold the position of the mayor.
As a resident of La Verne since 1974, Judi Negri stated that changes to the electoral system would ruin the makeup of the foothills city.
“I love this city, it means a lot to me but I don’t understand why at my age it has to change,” Negri said tearfully. “I’m proud of this city and proud to say that I live here but I don’t understand why we can’t just leave things alone. It’s working, it’s not broken.”
Former La Verne council member Steve Johnson, whose father, Frank Johnson, was mayor for 20 years, said the move was “very personal” for him.
“I want to elect a mayor for the city,” he said. “We should have that right as a resident.”
The decision to change the city’s election format began after meetings in December 2020 to review La Verne’s obligations under the state’s voting rights law.
In California, more than 150 of the state’s 482 cities have transitioned from large to district-based elections. Locally, most neighboring cities have switched to district-based voting or have agreed to do so, including San Dimas, Clermont, Ontario, Upland, Rancho Cucamonga, Chino, Chino Hills and Fontana. There have been district elections in Pomona since the 1990s.
This story has been updated to correct which elected officials will represent each of the new city council districts.