On November 8, 2016, the nation will elect a new president. At the same time, Alhambra residents will elect two new city council members and three school board members. There’s plenty to worry about, but nothing concerns me more than an uncontested election. Alhambra has had a string of these. In 2014, two of the three city council positions and both school board positions went uncontested. In 2012, half of the council field got a free pass. When asked for their opinion on the lack of challengers, the incumbent council publicly stated that it was simply due to a happy constituency. I disagree.
From my experience speaking with residents, the lack of candidates is hardly the result of bliss with the status quo. The policies and practices of the current council and previous city managers have resulted in a disenfranchised constituency that suffers from a lack of civic outreach. Those that have the time and resources to stay cognizant see serious issues affecting the people of the city. They also see an insurmountable wall of cash in the incumbents’ coffers along with the unethical campaign tactics that it buys—enough to discourage even the most Pollyannaish of do-gooders.
Of course, there are some residents who are very satisfied with the direction the city has gone in over the current council’s tenure, which will span the maximum twelve years. It’s no coincidence that these include many with the wherewithal to fund the type of campaign where money is deemed necessary for votes.
The truth is that far too many of our residents are struggling and the trend is worsening. Take a look at Figure 1 for a general view of how our people have fared over the current council’s tenure.
Why the downward spiral? The reasons are unsettling both for their brazenness and the lack of transparency that enabled them. Examples include an unethical redevelopment program that diverted tax revenues for itself, resulting in the loss of our ESL and adult education programs while at the same time encouraging a concentration of for-profit colleges within the city. Another is a discriminatory affordable housing program where over 95% of affordable units are restricted to a small sub-group comprised of only 13% of those in need, with the number of units stagnated: the city has built over a 1,000 new market-rate, unaffordable housing units through large incentives given to developers, yet we have gotten zero affordable units in return.
More examples? How about the fact that the city has taken a significant portion of federal grant money intended for our lower income groups and has given it to businesses and general infrastructure projects without proper coordination of livable wages. Considering that the amount of funding granted to Alhambra by the federal government is proportional to the number of our struggling households and is intended for them, such uses are equivalent to charging the working poor for living here. Let it also be known that our environment has been deemed a federal Superfund site for the past 30 years without a concerted effort by our city council to clean it up. In the meantime, it’s the people in Figure 1 – those who can least afford it – who are paying for the treatment of our contaminated water supply in perpetuity.
A constituency happy with the status quo? No, it’s more the case of the underlying status quo hidden from the constituency.
So who are those that are happy with the way things have been going, as referenced by our current council? It’s those who directly benefit financially from the council’s decisions, such as brokers who gain from repeated real-estate transactions and developers who are lured by the city with incentives. It’s also those who are doing well financially and enjoy the selection of restaurants and shops. But unless we are to be the shopping and service mecca for those living in more affluent areas, it’s our residents who are being called upon to support these businesses by serving as paying customers. And without disposable income and a conducive infrastructure toward upward mobility, it’s a shell game.
Ask yourself whether you’re satisfied with the direction of the city. If you would like to see a change, find a candidate who shares your vision and can work effectively toward the same goals. Better yet, consider running for city council yourself. It will require hours of uncompensated work and an insurmountable amount of cash backing the incumbent’s chosen successor. But know that you wouldn’t be alone. There are many volunteers out there looking for someone who can work for the people. Maybe it’s you!
How to run for office
The process to run for city council is not as complicated as many make it seem. Here’s what you need to do:
Determine whether you qualify to run. You must be:
- A U.S. citizen 18 years of age or older;
- A registered voter in the council district you wish to represent;
- You must have resided in the city for at least thirty days prior to filing your declaration of intention to run for office
The city is divided into five districts with a councilmember elected from each district for a four-year term. Districts 3 and 4 are up for election this year. Check the map below to see if you are within District 3 or 4.
If you are interested in running for the Alhambra Unified School District Board of Education, District Zones 1, 2 and 3 are up for election and the same rules apply, although the district layouts are different since the AUSD reaches beyond just Alhambra and you must reside in the district for one month prior to your nomination.
If you meet the criteria above, go and visit the Alhambra City Clerk, Lauren Myles, at City Hall. She will provide you with detailed information on the process to get your name on the ballot and brief you on the rules and regulations. She is extremely helpful and can also help you with the required forms to file if you want to raise money for your campaign.Lauren will give you more details, but here are the minimum steps you need to follow to get your name on the ballot.
- File a Declaration of Intention between 8:00 a.m., Monday, June 20 and 5:00 p.m., Tuesday, June 28. The Declaration of Intention is a two-page form that Lauren will supply. It simply asks for your name, office being sought, residence, occupation, name of employer (if any), name and address under which you are a registered voter with the L.A. County Registrar Recorder/County Clerk’s office. Be sure to fill this form out in the presence of Lauren because she will need to sign-off as a witness.
After filing the Declaration of Intention, your nomination papers will be available for pickup starting on July 18. Other than again signing off on your name, occupation and office being sought, your nomination papers involve getting the signatures of fifty registered voters (or seventy-five for School Board) within your district who nominate you to run for office. Those who sign for you are required to print their name as they are registered to vote, sign, and provide their residence address. Although they are not pledging to vote for you, they are not allowed to sign more than one candidate’s nomination papers. Nomination papers with at least fifty (seventy-five for School Board) valid signatures is required to be filed with Lauren’s office between Monday, July 18 and Friday, August 12. The names will be checked by the Alhambra City Clerk’s office using the County of L.A. voter registration records. It’s a good idea to have more signatures than needed in case some turn out to be invalid.
- File a Candidate’s Statement Form and Ballot Designation Worksheet. This is where you can provide a 200-word statement that will appear in the sample ballots that are mailed out to every registered voter by the L.A. County Registrar Recorder/County Clerk. Note that there is a fee for filing a statement. In 2014, it was $1,200 for city council and $1,900 for school board and included a Spanish translation. You can also decide not to file a statement to save funds, but you would still need to submit the Candidate’s Statement Form declaring that option.
So that’s basically it. Assuming you have the valid nominating signatures and filed these forms correctly, you are now a candidate for public office in the November 8 general election. Of course there is much more to be done such as communicating your vision with residents and listening to their concerns. But the main point is that you’re making the effort to effect change. Good luck!