LocationAlhambra , CA United States
A local non-profit is seeking to limit the area that candidates for Alhambra City Council can campaign in, as well as to cap their campaign contributions.
Grassroots Alhambra in Action notified the City of Alhambra on Tuesday that they would circulate a petition to change Alhambra’s city charter to only allow people to vote for City Council candidates running to represent their district, said Eric Sunada*, one of Grassroots Alhambra in Action’s leaders, in an email.
He added that campaign contributions would be capped at $250 for individuals, corporations and committees, though that number can change depending on inflation.
“The purpose is to remove the influence of money over elected officials and city government,” Sunada said.
This petition reflects increased concern in Los Angeles County and the state of California over the influence that certain groups have in local elections, whether politically or financially.
If enough signatures are obtained, the petition can be placed on the next city ballot for voters to decide on. Alhambra has municipal elections coming up in November of this year.
The City Clerk’s Office said they were reviewing how many signatures Grassroots Alhambra needs for the petition.
Alhambra City Council candidates currently represent a district, but campaign for votes from the entire City in a practice known as an at-large election. These types of elections have been controversial, with claims in various California cities that candidates supported by larger, more powerful groups getting representation over candidates that represent a disenfranchised minority.
One lawyer recently claimed that Elk Grove, Calif.’s at-large elections have allowed Asian candidates to dominate their City Council, to the detriment of its Latino population.
The California Voting Rights Act prohibits at-large elections that dilute the power of minority groups in elections.
As for campaign finance reform, Temple City voted to ban donations from developers and contractors in 2016.
The campaign coffers would be reduced and it would be a step to leveling the playing field,” said Michael Lawrence* of Grassroots Alhambra in Action in an email. “It allows more grassroots candidates to effectively run [and] moneyed interests would not be able to buy votes.”
City Council members and candidates weigh in
Suzi Dunkel-Soto, who is running for City Council in the November 2018 election, said she was open to discussing this proposal, but cautioned against setting a cap that was too low. “There’s a lot that goes into a campaign and you pull from the resources you have,” she said.
She added that candidates could also gain undue influence through their endorsements and other political connections. “Where do you draw the line?” she asked.
As for at-large elections, Dunkel-Soto maintained that they were the best form of representation for Alhambra. “You’re going in for a tough position to represent the city as a whole, not just your neighborhood,” she said.
Adele Andrade-Stadler, who is running for City Council against Dunkel-Soto, said that she supported the potential ballot measure. “This is about Democracy and leveling the playing field,” she wrote in an email.
“Ideally, elections would be based on a candidate’s direct message where in-person conversations are happening,” Sunada said. “By-district elections bring that closer to a reality, instead of the current method which only serves to dilute a candidate’s resources.”
Jeff Maloney, who currently serves on Alhambra’s City Council, praised the current council’s diversity and said that changing the at-large system would make it easier for people to run, but that it would take away voters’ right to have a say in all five council districts. “I think our current system is the best of both worlds – it forces a geographic distribution throughout the city, but also requires that every council member is accountable to every Alhambra resident,” he said via email.
He added that if voters passed this measure, he would commit to making it work.
*Eric Sunada is a member of the Alhambra Source advisory board. Michael Lawrence has contributed articles to the Alhambra Source.
Updated on March 15, 2018 at 9:33 a.m. to include Jeff Maloney’s comments and to take out mention of a “larger” Latino population in discussion of Elk Grove’s at-large voting system.
Updated on March 15, 2018 at 1:05 p.m. to include comments from Adele Andrade-Stadler.
Read the petition below: